Still Settling In, Kharge Braces for Unholy Trinity

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Within a month of new Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge taking over the reins, the fragility of the Grand Old Party has been revealed. Even as the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ gains traction and the party is aggressive on social media in a push to begin the makeover of Rahul Gandhi, the remodeling has not been able to mask the inconsistencies in the Congress.

Three developments point to this fact. One, even as Rahul Gandhi has agreed to campaign for Gujarat polls from November 22, there is one name missing from the list — Shashi Tharoor. It’s a known fact that Tharoor enjoys popularity among the youth and could have been handy in the Gujarat polls. However, the veteran leader is conspicuous by his absence.

Sources close to Tharoor say he was invited by the NSUI to campaign in Gujarat but had to cancel as he was not a star campaigner. His aides say this was expected as the party may have welcomed him contesting the presidential polls but the over 1,000 votes he gathered prove his popularity within the party — a fact that did not sit well with the top brass. A few leaders close to Tharoor say his omission from the list of campaigners is deliberate and mischievous. “Are they scared he would overshadow the loyalists?” one of them asked.

The second incident is the list of coordinators attached to the Congress president’s office, which reflects a mix of continuity, change, and loyalty. Naseer Hussain, the MP from Karnataka, is close to Kharge and also handled his election campaign. Pranav Jha, who has been handling the media department under Randeep Surjewala, continues with his experience. However, the two other names are interesting.

Gurdeep Sappal, who handled Rajya Sabha TV, is close to the Gandhis and is believed to have good traction with the media and strategy. Gaurav Pandhi was in-charge of social media in the Punjab polls but the party performed badly there and there were complaints that the team was unable to match the aggression of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). However, Pandhi is considered close to some in Rahul Gandhi’s office and this is one reason for his appointment.

The third development is disconcerting. The ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ is entering Rajasthan by the end of the month but the decision on the chief minister is yet to be sorted out. Top Congress sources told News18.com: “There is no pressure on us to sort out the Rajasthan issue before the Yatra reaches the state. We are sure that both Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot will work together to make the event a success. Just like say Milind Deora, Ashok Chavan and Prithviraj Chavan did in Maharashtra.”

But there is a problem. Ajay Maken, who has been in-charge of the state, has resigned. Sources say he is upset as leaders facing disciplinary action for missing the CLP meet on September 25 have now been given charge of the Yatra. Also, the decision on the CM’s crown is long pending. In fact, just recently, Sachin Pilot had said that if disciplinary action is pending, it needs to be sorted soon, just as in his case.

Though these are still early days, there are many challenges for Kharge, the most immediate being state polls. While Kharge is seen as more accessible than the Gandhis, overcoming the fissures is not an easy task.

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