A new session of Parliament has started, ushering in newly-elected MPs of the 16th Lok Sabha. Given the scale of the BJP’s win and the triumphant atmospherics that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has scripted, one does not expect to immediately see the disruption in Parliament that blighted UPA 2’s rule. The Congress will be expected to robustly contest the government’s initiatives in an effort to invigorate itself and boost party morale. And therein lies the rub.
After its spectacular defeat, the least that was expected of the person who led the charge, vice-president Rahul Gandhi, would have been to take it upon himself to lead from the front in Parliament. But, he seems to have conveniently endorsed the decision to appoint senior Karnataka leader Mallikarjun Kharge as the party’s leader in the Lok Sabha. Mr Kharge, 71, has reasonable state-level credentials but is fairly thin on national experience. He has won nine Assembly elections, two Lok Sabha polls, and handled the railways and labour portfolios. If we are to believe that Mr Gandhi wants to devote his time to reviving the battered party, the least he could have done is opt for a better choice of candidate, of which there are still several in its parliamentary ranks. The overall impression is that he has both abdicated his role as the party’s leader and has also not had the imagination to appoint someone who could present a credible face in Parliament.
Mr Kharge’s elevation runs the risk of fanning dissent within the party. If he cannot carry the party with him, how is he expected to take on the BJP? Some are liable to see
Mr Kharge’s appointment as proof that the high command does not allow anyone who is not a family loyalist to emerge. And this can only damage the party further. Mr Gandhi’s refusal to take on bigger responsibilities will demoralise the rank and file even more. There is something to be said for his empathy with the poor, his inclusive rhetoric, the focus on the long-term goal of rebuilding the party’s grassroots and the civility with which he conducts his politics. There is, however, the optics of leadership and the fate of his party to consider. That national politics is personalised is a fact he has to live with. Not taking a direct role in the cut and thrust of parliamentary exchange lends the impression that Mr Gandhi does not really care for his party. And this is the worst sort of comedown for the once grand old party.