Even as various factions within the Congress were quibbling over who should lead the party in Parliament amidst occasional ramblings from disgruntled elements about the way Rahul Gandhi and his team handled the election campaign that led to its rout, Congress president Sonia Gandhi has “nominated” former railway minister Mallikarjun Kharge as leader of the Congress parliamentary party in the Lok Sabha. True to form, Kharge, who was not in the national capital at the time of the announcement, said that while performing the task assigned to him he would look up to Sonia and Rahul for directions.
Political pundits are divided over what prompted Sonia to ignore the demand from a section of party leaders that either she or Rahul should lead the shrunken stock of Congress members elected to the Lok Sabha and pick up Kharge for the job. The most charitable interpretation is that her move was in accordance with the electorate’s verdict that saw the Congress being wiped out in the north while retaining some presence in the south, particularly Karnataka which returned nine members to the Lok Sabha. Another, linked, explanation is that Rahul was reluctant to take up the limited role but wanted to be free to work on restructuring the party.
Whatever the motivation, two clear signals emanate from the move. First, despite all talk of restoring inner democracy and building the party from grassroots upward, the Congress leadership is unwilling to give up the practice of nominations in favour of elections to key posts. Secondly, it expects the nominated position holders to do its bidding. This is a bad start for a party that has suffered its worst electoral drubbing post-Independence. Kharge is no match for Modi and his team. At a time its future depends on its performance in and outside Parliament, its leadership is not willing to give chance to new leaders who can be effective in Parliament. Rahul may spend more time in building the organisation but he can’t be successful unless he gets a team of young and grassroot leaders.