New Delhi, October 19 (Reuters) – India’s opposition Congress party declared veteran leader Mallikarjun Kharge its new chief on Wednesday, the first person from outside the influential Nehru-Gandhi family to hold the beleaguered party’s presidency in 24 years.
Kharge, an 80-year-old from the lowest rung of India’s caste system, is seen as a loyalist of the Gandhi family, which has produced three Indian prime ministers and is expected to retain its clout over the party.
The Congress hopes to revive its flagging fortunes with a new leader after losing two general elections and control of some state assemblies to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“The most important issues facing the country right now is inflation, unemployment, a widening divide between the rich and poor and a growing environment of hatred spread by the ruling government,” Kharge told reporters after his win.
He overwhelmingly won the party vote held on Monday, defeating former U.N. diplomat Shashi Tharoor.
Despite the change at the top of the Congress, the BJP, which advocates a hard-right, nationalist stance, appears to be in a strong position to win a third successive term in a general election due by 2024.
The 137-year-old Congress, which helped win India’s independence from colonial power Britain and then dominated politics for decades, has long championed a secular polity.