Mallikarjun Kharge, the Congress party president, is leading the charge in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, a pivotal contest for his party and the nation. After facing significant defeats in 2014 and 2019, where the Congress secured only 44 and 52 seats respectively, Kharge is determined to steer the party to victory. As the chairperson of the INDIA bloc, a coalition of opposition parties, Kharge believes that the upcoming elections are crucial for preserving the Constitution, democracy, and independent institutions in India. In this exclusive interview with Frontline, Kharge discusses the Congress’ strategy, the importance of the 2024 elections, and his criticisms of the BJP-led government.

The Significance of the 2024 Elections

Kharge emphasizes the transformative nature of the 2024 elections for both the Congress and the country. He is confident that the INDIA alliance will secure a majority to oust the BJP, which he accuses of being “power-drunk.” According to Kharge, this election is not only about changing the government but also about protecting the Constitution and democracy. He warns that the BJP and RSS leaders are aiming for a two-thirds majority to amend the Constitution, potentially undermining reservations for SCs, STs, and OBCs. This, he argues, makes the election critical for safeguarding these provisions.

Why Vote for Congress?

Kharge outlines the reasons why voters should choose the Congress party in the 2024 elections. He highlights the Congress manifesto, “Nyay Patra,” which details the party’s roadmap for national growth. He asserts that the electorate is disillusioned with the ten years of the Modi government, citing issues like unemployment, inflation, and declining incomes. Despite the BJP’s control over major media outlets, Kharge believes that the Congress has effectively voiced public dissatisfaction. He accuses Prime Minister Narendra Modi of lying and insists that the politics of development will triumph over communalism and divisiveness.

Addressing Disarray in Congress

Responding to criticisms about internal disarray, Kharge refutes claims of widespread desertions, attributing any withdrawals to threats and bribes from the BJP. He cites examples of electoral malpractice, such as in Surat and Indore, to illustrate how democracy is being undermined. He acknowledges that the party has faced challenges but notes that many members have remained loyal or returned. Kharge emphasizes the importance of identifying and excluding candidates with low commitment to the party’s ideology.

Rahul Gandhi’s Decision and Senior Leaders’ Roles

Kharge explains Rahul Gandhi’s choice not to contest from Amethi, highlighting the significant emotional connection the constituency has with the Gandhi family. He expresses confidence in the Congress candidate for Amethi, K.L. Sharma, supported by Priyanka Gandhi’s campaign efforts. Addressing the absence of some senior leaders in the electoral race, Kharge clarifies that many, including Digvijaya Singh and Adhir Ranjan Choudhary, are actively involved in managing the election campaign.

Controversial Remarks and BJP’s Tactics

Kharge addresses the controversy over Sam Pitroda’s remarks on inheritance tax, dismissing Modi’s claims about the Congress manifesto as baseless. He challenges the Prime Minister to a debate on the manifesto, asserting that the Congress has never aimed to confiscate property. Kharge criticizes the BJP for its alliance with the JD(S) in Karnataka despite allegations of sexual assault against a JD(S) MP. He also dismisses concerns about the alliance’s electoral strength, arguing that BJP’s previous victories in Karnataka were achieved through money power and not genuine public support.

Congress’ Commitment to Welfare and Development

Kharge reiterates the Congress’ commitment to welfare schemes, countering Modi’s derisive remarks about such initiatives. He highlights the party’s track record in implementing welfare measures, such as the National Food Security Act, and promises to double the free food grains provided to the poor from 5 kg to 10 kg. Kharge accuses the Modi government of rebranding Congress-initiated schemes and claims that the Congress’ focus on welfare will resonate with voters.

Challenges and Aspirations for the Future

Kharge acknowledges the challenges of leading the Congress at a time when the party is perceived to be struggling. However, he remains optimistic, pointing out that the party’s resilience has unsettled the BJP. He predicts that the INDIA bloc will secure more than 272 seats, promising a government focused on social justice, progressive policies, and economic growth.

The Importance of Caste Census and Electoral Reforms

Kharge defends the Congress’ support for a caste census, stating that it is necessary for ensuring social justice and not merely an electoral strategy. He criticizes the BJP for distorting facts and spreading lies about the Congress manifesto. Kharge calls for greater transparency in electoral donations and opposes the current system of electoral bonds, which he claims enables government manipulation and extortion.

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