NEW DELHI: Even while various factions within the Congress debated over who would be a better choice to lead the diminished party contingent in the Lok Sabha, party president Sonia Gandhi or vice-president Rahul Gandhi, the former sprang a surprise on Monday by naming veteran Dalit leader from Karnataka, Mallikarjun Kharge as the Leader of Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) in the Lower House of Parliament.
Congress general secretary, organisation, Janardan Dwivedi, read out the announcement on Kharge’s nomination. “Congress president Sonia nominated Kharge as leader of the party in the Lok Sabha,” he said.
With Kharge himself accepting the “responsibility” it became clear that the Congress would play a “constructive role” and not put up “opposition for Opposition’s sake” in the House.
A veteran Congress leader from Karnataka, Kharge was one of the few Cabinet Ministers in the previous dispensation, who managed to win the Lok Sabha elections. He successfully retained the Gulbarga seat.
Former Union Minister Kamal Nath, the senior most member of the Lower House (he has put in 31 years as MP from Chhindwara in Madhya Pradesh) was also in race.
But sources in the party said, “all posts cannot be cornered by leaders from the North following the party’s worst performance there whereas it fared better in the South.”
Interestingly, one pro-Rahul camp leader who had propped up party vice- president as “the best choice” for the post to ensure the “future leadership in the party can be groomed”, had said, “If it is not him, there would be clamour of various regions—the Gandhi family is the glue that scotches dissent.”
It cannot be ignored that Rahul and his team have come under attack from several disgruntled elements in the party. It is in this context that Sonia named Kharge as Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) leader in the Lok Sabha.
Earlier, a senior member of the party made a similar point while talking to Express. “We’ll not be a coercive Opposition,” he said.
It is, however, not clear yet whether the 44-member Congress would be given the post of Leader of Opposition by the yet-to-be-elected Lok Sabha Speaker. A political party has to have 10 per cent of the 543 Lok Sabha seats, the Congress has 10 seats less. But a lot depends on the Speaker’s discretion.