Senior Congress leader and former railway minister Mallikarjun Kharge was on Monday named the leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s decision took most Congressmen by surprise, as a majority of them had been demanding appointment of party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi as the leader of opposition (LOP) in the Lower House.
If the Lok Sabha Speaker recognises the Congress as the main opposition group, then Kharge would get the status of LOP. The Congress has only 44 MPs in the Lower House and falls short of the required 10 per cent of the total strength to get the status.
Several party leaders, including Veerappa Moily, Digvijaya Singh and Shashi Tharoor, had called for making Rahul LOP.
Digvijaya Singh had said, “I strongly feel he (Rahul Gandhi) is the leader and has to lead from the front. He should be the leader of opposition.” Moily had told Business Standard: “Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are a unifying factor for the Congress. Rahul should take up the responsibility of the opposition leader.” According to some leaders, this was an opportunity for Rahul, who has been in the line of fire for the party’s poor show in the general elections, to demonstrate his leadership qualities. The Congress president overlooked those demands and chose Kharge, a senior Dalit face from Karnataka. A two-time Lok Sabha member from Gulbarga, Kharge has been elected to the Karnataka Assembly nine times and had been the LOP in the Assembly. The senior leader can be counted as a strong Gandhi-Nehru family loyalist and his Dalit credentials have worked in his favour.
"Congress President Sonia Gandhi has nominated Mallikarjun Kharge, as the Leader of the party in Lok Sabha," party General Secretary in charge of Organisation Janardan Dwivedi announced this evening.
Interestingly, this also brings to rest the speculation over another name that was doing the rounds Kamal Nath, the senior most member of the Lok Sabha who has been elected for a ninth term to the Lok Sabha. While there was a clear divide within the party over Kamal Nath’s name, Kharge being a low profile member was not even considered to be in the race.
Insiders say that this would be the first time when despite a member of the Gandhi family being an MP when Congress is in Opposition, another leader has been nominated as the Leader of the Opposition.
The Congress high command is calibrating on the fact that the Narendra Modi led government would find it difficult to oppose vehemently Kharge, a Dalit leader. Also, a Gandhi as Congress Lok Sabha leader would be attacked at every opportunity by a government which has an overwhelming majority in the house 282 MPs on its own and 335 when counted along with its allies.
In the 15th Lok Sabha when the Congress party was in power, Sushil Kumar Shinde, a Dalit face was nominated as the leader of the Lok Sabha.
The fact that Karnataka was the state where Congress has won the maximum number of seats from in an election where it has been totally decimated nationwide is also obviously worked in Kharge’s favour.