Mapanna Mallikarjun Kharge, who entered the fray of the Congress presidential elections in the last hour as the choice of the party high command, flaunts an impressive career trajectory and if elected, will bring on board 50 years of experience in politics.
Fondly known by the moniker “Solillada Saradara” (a leader without defeat) in his home state of Karnataka, Kharge if elected will be the second AICC president from Karnataka after S Nijalingappa, and also a Dalit leader to hold the post after Jagjivan Ram.
Beginnings as union leader
Born in a poor family at Varavatti in Bidar district, he did his schooling and BA law in Gulbarga. He was into legal practice for some time before plunging into politics.
The 80-year-old politician, who has been elected MLA nine times in a row, has risen from humble beginnings as a union leader in his home-district of Gulbarga, now Kalaburagi.
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In 1969, he joined the Indian National Congress and went on to become president of the Gulbarga City Congress Committee.
That Kharge was unconquerable at the hustings was mirrored until 2014 Lok Sabha polls in which he bucked the Narendra Modi wave that swept Karnataka, particularly Hyderabad-Karnataka region, and had won from Gulbarga with a margin of over 74,000 votes.
He has won from the Gurmitkal Assembly constituency nine times in a row before he plunged into the Lok Sabha poll arena in 2009 and has been a two-time MP from Gulbarga parliamentary segment.
He, however, faced defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls at the hands of BJP’s Umesh Jadhav in Gulbarga by a margin of 95,452 votes. That was the first electoral loss in Kharge’s political life spanning several decades.
50 years in politics; multiple milestones
A hardcore Congressman loyal to the Gandhi family, Kharge has played multiple roles in different ministries that have enriched his experience as an administrator.
He has also served as the Leader of the Opposition in Karnataka Assembly and at the central-level as also in the party where he had served as KPCC chief during the 2008 Assembly polls.
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Kharge, who was leader of the Congress party in Lok Sabha from 2014 to 2019, could not become the Leader of Opposition as the grand old party could not get the post as its numbers were less than the mandated 10 per cent of the total number of seats in the Lower House.
He has served as Union Cabinet Minister- Labour and Employment, also Railways and Social Justice and Empowerment in the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government.
He had also held various portfolios in successive Congress governments that governed the state and was also president of Karnataka Congress and Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly.
In June 2020, he was elected unopposed to the Rajya Sabha from Karnataka, and is currently the 17th Leader of the Opposition in Upper House of Parliament succeeding Ghulam Nabi Azad in February last year.
He has been a strong contender for the chief minister’s post in Karnataka, but has never landed the job.
The politician refuses to be identified by a particular caste and has always chosen to be called a Congressman over a Dalit leader.
“Why do you keep saying Dalit again and again? Don’t say that. I’m a Congressman,” Kharge has said several times in the past, whenever the Dalit chief minister topic cropped up with him as the contender.
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Sober by temperament and nature, Kharge has never landed in any major political trouble spot or controversy.
He is a follower of Buddhism and is the founder-chairman of Siddharth Vihar Trust that has built the Buddha Vihar complex in Gulbarga.
He married Radhabai on May 13 1968 and they have two daughters and three sons. One of his sons, Priyank Kharge is an MLA and a former minister.