With the monsoon session of Parliament beginning on August 8, the coming week might see some hectic political activity, including the appointment of the Leader of the Lok Sabha. The post fell vacant after Pranab Mukherjee was nominated as United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) Presidential candidate. While a Cabinet reshuffle is also imminent, there are indications this will take place only after the monsoon session gets over on September 7.
While a full-scale rejig of the Cabinet can wait till the Parliament session is over, it is imperative for the Congress-led UPA to appoint a Leader of the House before the beginning of the session. The frontrunner till now, according to party sources, is veteran leader Sushil Kumar Shinde.
Usually, a senior minister in the government is appointed Leader of the House. Shinde, being the senior most Congress minister in the House after Mukherjee, is likely to be chosen for the role, according to sources.
While Home Minister P Chidambaram is also a contender for the post, party sources say a Leader of the House has to have wide acceptability among all political parties. “After all, he has to carry the House along with him. He has to reach out to the Opposition leaders and be someone who is a good negotiator. Chidambaram, obviously, does not have that appeal. That clearly knocks him out of the race,” said a senior Congress leader.
There has been much talk this past week over Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi getting a bigger role in the party and the government. Ten Congress MPs have even written to party chief Sonia Gandhi urging that he be appointed as the Leader of the Lok Sabha. Despite the noises being made about Rahul Gandhi, party insiders say this is unlikely, as he is inexperienced. Moreover, he would first have to be appointed a Cabinet minister, as the incumbent would need to be a part of the government to represent it in the Lok Sabha.
Former MSME minister Virbhadra Singh could have also made the cut, but he was forced to resign after corruption allegations against him surfaced.
Congress party circles are also abuzz with talk of P Chidambaram moving over from the Home to the finance ministry. While this is certainly on the cards, what is vital is whether this is likely to happen before the monsoon session or after. Home ministry insiders indicate that the minister is busy wrapping up all the necessary file work and is already on the exit mode. Chidambaram’s taking over charge of the finance portfolio would not require a swearing in ceremony, as he is already a Cabinet minister and this would be just a change of portfolio.
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar had, according to party sources, seen himself as No. 2 after Pranab Mukherjee, and favoured himself as being the Leader of the House. But, the Congress is unlikely to give this crucial role to an alliance partner, however senior he may be in stature and experience.