Mallikarjun Kharge, 80-year-leader from Karnataka, was elected president of the Indian National Congress (INC) on Wednesday, October 19. Kharge, seen as close to the Gandhi family, was always a favourite in the presidential polls. His victory was seen as a foregone conclusion. The Karnataka Congress leader, a lawyer by profession, is the first non-Gandhi president of the Congress party since Sitaram Kesri

Shashi Tharoor reportedly won 1,072 votes while 7,897 votes went to Mallikarjun Kharge, NDTV reported quoting Karti Chidambaram. 

Mallikarjun Kharge filed his nomination for the Congress president post when Ashok Gehlot, the Rajasthan chief minister, withdrew his candidature from the elections. Until then, it was Gehlot who was seen as the Gandhi family pick. Ashok Gehlot later went on to endorse Mallikarjun Kharge for the president post. 

Shashi Tharoor released a statement after the election results were reported. “It is a great honour & a huge responsibility to be President of @INC India & I wish @Kharge ji all success in that task. It was a privilege to have received the support of over a thousand colleagues, & to carry the hopes & aspirations of so many well-wishers of Congress across India.” 

The Shashi Tharoor camp has complained of irregularities in the election process. The complaint arrived right after the counting of votes started. The Tharoor camp said the election process in Uttar Pradesh, which counts for nearly 1,000 votes, was irregular. The camp sought that the UP votes be discounted.

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Rahul Gandhi, former Congress president and the de-facto leader of the party, addressed a press conference ahead of the declaration of results. He said the Congress party is proud to have a framework that allows for inner-party democracy. 

Kharge has maintained that he will keep consulting the Gandhi family on party matters. 

Shashi Tharoor, whose campaign was focussed on doing away with the party’s “high-command culture”, had earlier said that the odds seem to be stacked against him. 

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The election of Mallikarjun Kharge as Congress president is the beginning of a new chapter in the party’s history. Sonia Gandhi, wife of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, has led the party for nearly two decades. She later gave up power to her son. But successive electoral defeats led Rahul Gandhi to resign from the post after the 2019 Union elections. How Mallikarjun Kharge reinvigorates a weary Congress party remains to be seen.