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Mallikarjun Kharge new Congress president

India’s main opposition Congress party on Wednesday elected 80-year-old Mallikarjun Kharge as its first non-Gandhi president in over 24 years.

Kharge, widely seen to be the “Gandhi-approved” candidate, is set to be the new Congress president after a landslide win in the party’s first election. He defeated a relatively young Shashi Tharoor, a former UN diplomat, by a huge margin. reports Indian news media and agencies.

“Total counted votes were 9,385, of which Mallikarjun Kharge secured 7,897 votes, Shashi Tharoor finished with 1,072 votes and 416 votes were rejected. I hereby declare Mallikarjun Kharge as the elected president of Congress,” Madhusudan Mistry, Congress central election authority chairman said at a press conference in Delhi.

Kharge will take over the reins of the grand old party from interim Congress president Sonia Gandhi soon.

After the results were announced at 2pm (local time), former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi congratulated Kharge. “Congress president is the supreme authority,” he said.

Even before the results were announced, Rahul Gandhi had declared Mr Kharge as the winner at a press conference in Andhra Pradesh.

When asked whether he would report to the new chief, Rahul Gandhi said: “The new president will decide what my role will be. Ask Kharge ji and Sonia ji.”

After the announced results, Shashi Tharoor said, “The decision of the party delegates is final and I accept it humbly. It is a privilege to be a member of a party that allows its workers to choose their president.”

“Our new president is a party colleague and senior who brings ample leadership and experience to the table. Under his guidance, I am confident that we can all collectively take the party to new heights,” Tharoor added.

Tharoor said the party owes an “irredeemable debt” to outgoing president Sonia Gandhi, for her quarter-century of the party’s leadership and for being the anchor during our most crucial moments.

“Her decision to authorise this election process, which has given us new pathways to the future, is undoubtedly a fitting testament to her sagacity and vision for our party. I hope she continues to guide, motivate and inspire the party’s new leadership team in overcoming the challenges ahead,” Tharoor said.

Earlier in the day, Tharoor alleged “extremely serious irregularities” in the party’s internal election process.

The Congress held the election on Monday, where 96% of the 9,915 eligible Congress delegates, representing all Indian states and Union territories, cast their votes.

While Kharge is a staunch Gandhi family loyalist with 50 years of political experience, 66-year-old Tharoor is an articulate leader who joined the party in 2009 after nearly a 30-year stint in the UN.

A PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tharoor served as India’s junior Foreign Minister when the Congress was in power from 2004-2014.

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalist BJP swept to power in 2014, the Congress has witnessed a vertiginous decline. The Congress is now in power only in a handful of Indian states.

Often blamed for the party’s poor performance, Sonia’s son Rahul has refused to take over the reins of the party in the run-up to the general elections slated for 2024.