Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s unwillingness to be the party’s leader in the Lok Sabha prompted Sonia Gandhi on Monday to name veteran and former railways minister Mallikarjun Kharge for the post.
Congress sources said Rahul shied away from taking up the responsibility, as he has decided to focus on rebuilding the organisation and re-energising the cadre and leaders who are demoralised after the party’s worst-ever drubbing in its electoral history.
After her re-election as the chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP), Sonia was authorised to nominate the leaders of the party in both the houses. There was intense pressure on her from within the party to name either herself or Rahul as the floor leader in the Lok Sabha in “extremely hard times” for the Congress.
However, a senior party functionary told HT that since Sonia had not taken up the role of the leader of the house in the Lok Sabha for two terms from 2004 onwards, it was unlikely that she would have agreed to the proposal.
There was a clear divide in the party on the issue, with seniors pitching for Sonia’s name while young leaders threw their weight behind Rahul.
Sonia is expected to soon announce the names of the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, and deputy leaders and chief whips in both the houses.
A Gandhi family loyalist, 71-year-old Kharge pipped nine-time party MP Kamal Nath to the post for which the party’s southern units had lobbied hard. Congress leaders from south India had argued that since 17 of the party’s total 44 Lok Sabha MPs came from Karnataka (9) and Kerala (8), the post should go to the region.
A prominent Dalit face of the party in Karnataka, Kharge has never lost an election in his political career spanning around 46 years.The nine-time legislator and two-term Lok Sabha MP was a strong contender for the chief minister’s post in the state in 1997, 2004 and 2013. His appointment also sets to rest all speculation that he would replace Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah in the near future.
All eyes are now on the new Speaker who has to decide whether to recognise the Congress as the main opposition group and accord Kharge the status of the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha. A party should have 55 MPs – 10% of the total strength of 545 in the lower house – to earn the status.
At the same time, the Congress should face no trouble securing the post in the Rajya Sabha where it has the requisite numbers.