NEW DELHI: When the 16th Lok Sabha met for the first time on Wednesday, the younger generation Gandhis were found relegated to the backbenches either by choice or by circumstances, whichever way it can be seen.
If Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi was sitting in the ninth row of the Opposition benches, his estranged cousin Varun Gandhi,BJP MP from Uttar Pradesh, was also found at the far end, but on the treasury side.
Shashi Tharoor, who was keeping Rahul company with another Congress MP, Asrar-ul-Haq, at the back of the Lower House, later valiantly defended his party leader, saying he would rather be seen by the side of victims, as in Badaun, than in the front rows of Parliament.
This was by way of explaining Rahul’s shrinking violet temperament which many felt was the reason behind his reluctance to take up the role of the leader of the Congress in the new Lok Sabha.
After 10 years of uninterrupted rule, the party is in Opposition in a whittled-down state with just 44 MPs.
The wordsmith that he is, Tharoor gave a positive spin to the decimation of the Congress. “All this talk is in the media, why don’t you see it as a recognition for Mallikarjun Kharge, a veteran leader who has served the party well, and not as Rahuji’s reluctance,” he asked.
Nominated by the Congress president, Kharge was sitting where External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was in the 15th Lok Sabha. Next to him on the front row of the Opposition Benches were Sonia Gandhi, Veerappa Moily and K H Muniappa.
With Karnataka cornering all the key seats, there were expected murmurs in the Congress against Kharge’s unexpected elevation.
And Tharoor insisted that Rahul had the bigger responsibility of “reviving and revitalising” the party and that he couldn’t have taken on an important role in Parliament while working in the political arena.