Mallikarjun Kharge formally took charge as the Congress president on Wednesday morning. He was handed over the certificate of election at an event at the Congress headquarters in Delhi.

The 80-year-old leader from Karnataka won the Congress presidential election against Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor on October 19. Kharge received 7,897 of the 9,385 votes polled, while Tharoor got 1,072 votes.

On Wednesday evening, Congress General Secretary (Organisation) KC Venugopal announced that Kharge has formed a 47-member steering committee that includes former party chiefs Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi as well as former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, reported NDTV.

The panel was formed after all members of the Congress Working Committee, general secretaries and other office-bearers resigned from their posts in accordance to the outfit’s traditions, reported PTI. According to the Congress’ constitution, Kharge’s election will be ratified at the party’s plenary session likely to be held in March-April next year.

The new working committee, the top decision-making body of the Congress, will be reconstituted after the plenary session. Till then, the 47-member steering committee formed by Kharge will act as the working committee, according to PTI.

At an event at the Congress headquarters on Wednesday morning, Kharge said that taking over the Congress chief’s post was an emotional moment for him. “I want to thank Congress people for making a worker’s son, an ordinary worker, the president of party,” he said.

He added that the country is going through a difficult time and that efforts are being made to “change the democracy established by the Congress”.

The veteran leader said that the Congress will break the “system of lies and hatred” prevailing under the current Bharatiya Janata Party government, PTI reported. “BJP-RSS want an opposition free country,” Kharge said, according to the Hindustan Times.

He added that in the BJP-ruled India, the government has turned a blind eye to citizens’ suffering caused by inflation, unemployment and rising crimes against women.

“In this new India, hunger is rising, cost of education is rising, pollution is rising,” Kharge said. “The government is sleeping but ED [Enforcement Directorate], CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation] are working for 24 hours for suppression. In this new India, Dalits, minorities and exploited people are being insulted and opportunities taken away from them.”

Free of responsibility, says Sonia Gandhi

Meanwhile, his predecessor Sonia Gandhi said that she was confident that the new party chief would inspire and strengthen the organisation.

She described Kharge as an experienced leader who is connected to the grassroots. “He started out as an ordinary worker, and has reached these heights through his hard work and dedication,” she said.

Gandhi said that the Congress chief’s post was a big responsibility for her, and she attempted to discharge her work to the best of her ability. “Today, I will be free from this responsibility, and so, I naturally feel a sense of relief,” she added.

First non-Gandhi chief after over two decades

The former Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha is the first non-Gandhi president of the party in over two decades.

Kharge is also the third Dalit leader to become the Congress president in the party’s 138-year-old history. In 1962, former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Damodaram Sanjivayya was the first Dalit to become Congress president. Following the split of the Congress in 1969, Jagjivan Ram became president of the faction of Congress headed by Indira Gandhi.

Earlier on Wednesday, Kharge visited the memorials of former Congress leaders Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Jagjivan Ram to pay tributes to them.

After winning the election for the Congress chief’s post on October 19, Kharge had said that the party will unitedly fight against the “fascist forces” attacking the country’s institutions under the garb of communalism.

“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.”

Meanwhile, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said on Wednesday that efforts were taken till the last minute to make Rahul Gandhi the president of the party as he is the only one who can challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP, according to ANI.

Gandhi had refused to contest the election, saying that he wanted a leader from outside the family to take over the post.

Gehlot, however, congratulated Kharge and promised to work to strengthen the party.