Congress needs resolute, not reluctant leadership

  • Vinod Sharma, political editor, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jun 04, 2014 07:48 IST

A defeat in elections is always disheartening. But it’s no excuse to withdraw into a shell or come across as running away from responsibility.

Having promised the people a government at the Centre, the Congress failed to deliver even a robust Opposition in the 16th Lok Sabha. That’s reason enough for the party that ruled India for most parts of its formative years to be back on its feet. For time and tide wait for none!

But the signals aren’t encouraging. Amid sniper fire between Rahul Gandhi’s advisors and their critics has come the appointment of Karnataka MP Mallikarjun Kharge as the Congress’ leader in the Lok Sabha.

One can argue that Kharge isn’t a greenhorn parliamentarian. He’s a second-time MP who won nine elections on the trot to the Karnataka assembly, serving as the state’s home minister besides being a consistent claimant to the chief minister’s office.

The political reasoning behind projecting a leader from the south as the party’s face in Parliament is as much valid. Of the four southern states, the Congress has governments in Kerala and Karnataka that together returned 17 of the 44 members it has in the new House.

But in some ways the decision lays bare the Congress high command’s tendency to play safe at a time it should be willing to experiment. Kharge’s elevation hasn’t enthused cadres. They aren’t sure the party’s would be a formidable voice, given its small numbers in the Lower House.

Kharge may well prove sceptics wrong by emulating the late CM Stephen who so deftly held the job after the 1977 polls. The Congress’ post-Emergency rout by the fledgling Janata Party had even Indira and Sanjay Gandhi lose their seats.

Under greater scrutiny than Kharge, however, will be Rahul Gandhi, his party boss who has again come to be seen as a reluctant leader. In perceptional terms, the image could cost him and the Congress the people’s goodwill they need to bounce back.

Rahul indeed has his task cut out outside Parliament to rebuild the Congress organisation in states it once ruled but has since been decimated by the BJP. That brings one to the selection of the septuagenarian Kharge’s deputy in the Lok Sabha.

A younger face — the Congress has a couple of them, including Jyotiraditya Scindia and Shashi Tharoor — could provide the requisite connect between the party in the legislature and on the streets. What the Congress needs today is an ably assisted latter day CM Stephen in Parliament and a Sanjay reincarnate leading the party crowds on the ground.

Difficult no doubt—but doable. That should help as much the BJP in power. As the 19th century British politician-essayist Benjamin Disraeli wrote: “No government can be long secure without a formidable Opposition.”

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