Kharge, with more than 50 years of experience in politics, will also be the sixth Congressman from south India after some stalwarts like Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, K Kamaraj and PV Narasimha Rao and the second Dalit leader to hold the top post after Jagjivan Ram (1970-1971).
Sober by temperament and nature, Kharge has the distinction of being the only politician from Karnataka to hold various positions and portfolios in the state and the Centre: Apart from serving as Union minister, he was twice the leader of the opposition in the Karnataka assembly – in 1994-1999 and 2008-2009 – and was also leader of the House in the state legislative council in 2004-2006. He was the floor leader in the Lok Sabha opposite PM Narendra Modi, although the Congress was not eligible to be the principal opposition party as it fell short of 10 seats, having won only 44 Lok Sabha seats in 2014. At present, he is the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, after Ghulam Nabi Azad.
He was several times seen as a top contender for the CM post in Karnataka but could never occupy it. His son, former minister and MLA Priyank Kharge, insists that “he is such a disciplined party worker that he never once disputed a decision made by the party leadership, including his own seat allocation”.
On his first day as the leader of the opposition, Kharge bemused the House with his colloquial ‘Hyderabadi Hindi’ as he took recourse to the epic Mahabharata to target BJP while rebutting criticism about Congress having only 44 members in the Lok Sabha. “You think we are 40 people and you are a strong 300, so suppress (us)! The Pandavas may have been very few in number, but they were never intimidated by a hundred Kauravas.”
“It is surely a rare feat a Dalit can achieve. It was possible because of his merit as a politician, loyalty as a partyman and the party’s ideology of upholding social justice,” said senior Congress MLC Mohan Kondajji. However, Kharge often insists that he should be identified as a “Congressman”, not a Dalit leader.
All along, he has got elected from a constituency reserved for Scheduled Castes – eight terms from the Gurmitkal assembly seat and one from Chittapur. He chose the SC-reserved Gulbarga when he had to contest the parliamentary polls. However, in 2019, he lost to BJP’s debutant Umesh Jhadav.
Kharge was born in 1942 in Varawatti village in Bidar district to Mapanna, a labourer in MSK Mills, and Sabavva. He earned his law degree at Gulbarga Law College. Starting off his political career as a student leader in college, he joined Dr BR Amebedkar’s RPI in 1968 before moving to Congress.