The Congress will unitedly fight against the “fascist forces” that are attacking the country’s institutions under the garb of communalism, Mallikarjun Kharge said in his first press conference after being elected as the party’s new president on Wednesday.

“We have to fight against these destructive forces,” Kharge said, referring to the Bharatiya Janata Party. “We will have to fight from the streets to Parliament and booth-level workers will have struggle more.”

Kharge, a Gandhi family loyalist, was contesting the elections against Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor, a member of G-23 group that had sought organisational reforms in the party. However, ahead of the polls, Tharoor had claimed that no such group existed.

The election results announced earlier on Wednesday showed that Kharge received 7,897 of the 9,385 votes polled while Tharoor got 1,072 votes. The party’s Central Election Authority chairperson Madhusudan Mistry said that 416 votes were found to be invalid.

Kharge, 80, from Karnataka will take over on October 26 as the first non-Gandhi Congress president in over two decades. The last such occasion was in 1997, when Sitaram Kesri had emerged victorious against Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot.

At the press conference, the president-elect said that Congress has made the democracy as well as the Constitution stronger. But, he said, the ruling dispensation was destroying the democracy, attacking the Constitution and country’s institutions.

“The Congress has given an example of strengthening the democracy by conducting elections at its organisational level,” Kharge said.

He said that the BJP-led Central government talks a lot but does not do any work. “If I define their reality in four words, it would be khokla chana baaje ghana [empty vessels make a lot of noise],” he added.

Kharge said the biggest problems facing India today are price rise, unemployment, rising income disparity between rich and poor along with the hatred being spread by the BJP government.

Election has energised Congress workers: Tharoor

Meanwhile, Tharoor said the Congress presidential election has energised party workers to take on the challenge posed by the BJP in upcoming polls.

Tharoor went to Kharge’s residence in New Delhi and congratulated him on his victory. “He is a senior leader and will always guide the party,” he told reporters later. “I’m extremely happy as over 1,000 delegates voted for me. Our workers are the real pride of our party.”

Tharoor also said that the Congress’ revival has begun, adding that the constructive discussion on change will help the party in the future.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and outgoing Congress chief Sonia Gandhi also congratulated Kharge on his victory. Gandhi went to Kharge’s home with her daughter and Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

Her son and Congress MP Rahul Gandhi congratulated Kharge, saying that the new party chief represents a democratic vision of India. “His vast experience and ideological commitment will serve the party well as he takes on this historic responsibility,” he wrote in a tweet.

Though even before the results were announced, Gandhi referred to Kharge as the new Congress chief. “I can’t comment on Congress president’s role, that’s for Mr Kharge to comment on,” he said during a press conference in Andhra Pradesh, ANI reported. “The president will decide what my role is...and where I will be deployed ask Kharge ji, Sonia ji.”

Ahead of the official announcement, Tharoor conceded his defeat and said the “democratic contest” has led to a healthy and constructive discussion on change.

“It is great honour, huge responsibility to be president of Congress, I wish Mallikarjun Kharge all success in that task,” the MP 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.”

More than 9,500 delegates had exercised their mandate to choose between Tharoor and Kharge in the election held on October 17.

Tharoor camp complains about violations

Earlier on Wednesday, the Tharoor camp had demanded that all ballots from Uttar Pradesh be deemed invalid. They alleged “serious irregularities” in polling in the state.

In a letter to the Congress’ Central Election Authority on Wednesday morning, Tharoor’s Chief Election Agent Salman Soz alleged multiple irregularities like the use of unofficial seals for ballot boxes and the presence of unauthorised persons at polling booths in Uttar Pradesh.

Soz also wrote that the Tharoor camp suspects a “voter fraud” in Lucknow as votes of delegates not present in the city on the day of polling have been cast. Besides, Soz complained that polling agents in Uttar Pradesh had not been given a summary sheet of voting as had been mandated in the procedure.

Responding to the allegations, Mistry said that a point-by-point rebuttal will be given to Tharoor. However, the response will not be put out in the public domain as it was an “internal matter” of the party, he added.