Launching his campaign for the Congress presidency, Rajya Sabha MP and party veteran Mallikarjun Kharge Sunday said he was “the candidate of all” and disclosed that he had told his opponent and Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor that it would be better if one person emerged as the consensus name for the post. Tharoor, he said, replied that there should be a fight in a democracy. “I said fine.”
Kharge’s remarks are interesting as Tharoor had quoted Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi as having told him that “a democratic contest will only strengthen the party”. The party had also framed the contest as an example of vibrant inner party democracy which, it emphasised, was absent in other parties.
At the same time, addressing a press conference at his Rajaji Marg residence in Delhi, Kharge said the perception that he was the establishment candidate was misplaced. Calling Tharoor his younger brother, Kharge said he has not entered the poll to oppose anyone but to bring his “thoughts” into the party and to strengthen it and the Congress ideology.
Kharge, who launched his campaign on the day marking the birth anniversaries of Mahatma Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri, plans to visit some key states in the coming days to canvass votes of the PCC delegates who will vote in the Congress presidential poll.
While AICC general secretary in-charge of communication Jairam Ramesh and AICC general secretary Shaktisinh Gohil were at Kharge’s residence as he launched his campaign, they did not join him on the dais to showcase neutrality. The three national spokespersons of the party who were on the dais — Deepender Hooda, Syed Naseer Hussain and Gourav Vallabh — declared at the start of the press conference that they had resigned from their posts to coordinate Kharge’s campaign.
Asked about the perception that he was an “unofficial official candidate”, Kharge said: “Many of our leaders, senior and young leaders, people from states, told me that when the Gandhi family has no candidate, that they don’t want to contest… you should fight… The courage that they gave me, the encouragement that they gave, unke kehne par mein election lad raha hoon (I am contesting at their behest),” he said.
Kharge said that many leaders implored him over the phone and even personally, offering all cooperation in the absence of a Gandhi family member in the fray. He noted that all senior leaders had come out in his support on the day of filing of nominations.
He also pointed out that those campaigning for him will quit party posts for the time being. “So this perception that is being created… that he has the support of these people, that people… Of course I have the support of the people, of leaders. Remove this (misconception)… Hum sabhi ke candidate hain, sabhi log humein support karte hain (I am the candidate of all, everyone supports me).”
Asked whether he would ask Tharoor to withdraw, Kharge said: “It is up to him. I cannot force anyone. He telephoned to congratulate me. I thanked him but said it would be better if one person emerged as the consensus candidate. He replied that there should be a fight in a democracy, that is why he is fighting. I said fine. When a candidate makes up his mind to contest, then how can I stop him? So he is fighting. He is my younger brother. It is an in-house matter. We all have to work together, today and tomorrow.”
On whether the support of senior G-23 leaders to him meant that their complaints had been resolved, Kharge said: “Don’t connect that with this. Now there is no G-23. All those people are working unitedly… they want to save the party, want to remain united and unitedly fight against the BJP / RSS. So they are with me.”
Asked about Tharoor’s remarks that Kharge was a candidate of continuity and status quo, the veteran leader said: “He (Tharoor) may have his views… Status quo or reforms (point) that he is talking about will be decided by the 9,300-odd delegates (who will vote), and after that a committee will be formed (the Congress Working Committee)… The changes that are to be made in the party, the committee which will be formed and the policy matters that will be formulated, everything will be done with the agreement of all and we will implement it. It will not be done by one person. For me the key word is ‘Hum (We)’ instead of ‘mein (Me)’. We will decide together, and wherever there are shortcomings, we will take action,” he said.
On the Gandhi family role going forward, Kharge said if he becomes the party chief, he will consult them as well as other senior leaders and implement their good suggestions. “I will certainly consult them… but that does not mean that I did not learn anything in 50 years,” he said.
Calling working for the party not a part-time but a full-time job, Kharge said: “I have been working full-time. Once I enter Parliament (building) in the morning, I get up only in the evening… It is my habit that whatever responsibility I take up, I work sincerely.”