Mallikarjun Kharge, a former railways and labour minister who is from the low-caste Dalit community, was born five years before independence and is widely believed to have the backing of both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.

Kharge, who is four months older than US President Joe Biden, now faces the mammoth challenge of winning the next national election, due in 2024, and three state elections next year.
Kharge, who is four months older than US President Joe Biden, now faces the mammoth challenge of winning the next national election, due in 2024, and three state elections next year. (AP)

India's Congress party has appointed an octogenarian ex-minister as its first president in 24 years not from the Gandhi dynasty, in an effort to reverse its apparent decline into political oblivion.

Mallikarjun Kharge, 80, was elected on Wednesday by members to replace Sonia Gandhi as president of the once-mighty party that helped win India's independence from Britain 75 years ago.

Kharge, a former railways and labour minister who is from the low-caste Dalit community, was born five years before independence and is widely believed to have the backing of both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.

Rahul Gandhi said on Wednesday that Kharge is now the supreme authority in the party and that he "will decide my role in the party".

But despite stepping back, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are expected to continue pulling the strings from behind the scenes.

Kharge, who is four months older than US President Joe Biden, now faces the mammoth challenge of winning the next national election, due in 2024, and three state elections next year.

READ MORE: Another Gandhi eyes political turnaround with foray into South India

Gandhi dynasty 

The Indian National Congress governed India for decades after independence in 1947 but is now a shadow of its former self, discredited and crushed under the electoral juggernaut of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The Gandhi family is not related to India's independence icon Mahatma Gandhi, but descended from the country's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

Nehru was the father of prime minister Indira Gandhi, assassinated in 1984. She was the mother of Rajiv Gandhi, killed by a suicide bomber in 1991.

The party was last in power nationally from 2004 to 2014 under prime minister Manmohan Singh.

The BJP thrashed Congress in the last two elections, with Modi deriding party president Rahul Gandhi - son of Rajiv and Sonia - as an out-of-touch princeling and playboy.

After the latest defeat in 2019, Rahul Gandhi resigned as party president and handed the reins back to his Italian-born mother Sonia, now 75, who was first appointed to the role in 1998.

READ MORE: In India’s anti-colonial struggle, Hindu nationalists were anti-national

Source: TRTWorld and agencies