Congress leaders told Rediff.com that if Sonia or Rahul Gandhi do not take up the leader of opposition’s post in Lok Sabha, it would lead to factionalism and internal dissension, something that the party can ill-afford at this juncture.
“Kamal Nath is undoubtedly a senior MP but his candidature is bound to be opposed by the MPs from southern states as they have won more seats,” remarked a senior Congress functionary, adding that senior ministers like Veerappa Moily and Mallikarjun Kharge can be expected to push their candidature for this post. Anita Katyal reports.
There is a growing view in the Congress that either party president Sonia Gandhi or vice-president Rahul Gandhi should head the parliamentary party in the Lok Sabha instead of entrusting this responsibility to any other leader.
There has been a spate of reports over the past few days that outgoing Union minister Kamal Nath, who won his Chhindwara Lok Sabha seat in Madhya Pradesh for the ninth successive term, was best placed to take on this role.
However, this has led to a proverbial storm in the party.
Congress leaders told Rediff.com that if Sonia or Rahul Gandhi do not take up this post, it would lead to factionalism and internal dissension, something that the party can ill-afford at this juncture.
It was stated there is every possibility MPs from Karnataka and Kerala would then demand that the post be given to one of them as their states have a larger representation in the Lok Sabha as compared to Madhya Pradesh which has only two MPs.
Besides Kamal Nath, outgoing Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia is the other MP who has won from Madhya Pradesh.
“Kamal Nath is undoubtedly a senior MP but his candidature is bound to be opposed by the MPs from southern states as they have won more seats,” remarked a senior Congress functionary, adding that senior ministers like Veerappa Moily and Mallikarjun Kharge can be expected to push their candidature for this post.
Alternatively, Scindia can emerge as another contender if a case is made that the party project a younger face.
At a time when the party’s tally in the Lok Sabha has plunged to a mere 44 seats and the morale of party rank and file has hit an all-time low, any jostling for posts will further demoralise workers, remarked another senior Congress leader.
Brushing aside reports that Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are not keen on shouldering this responsibility, Congress sources said it would be in the best interests of the party if one of them is at the helm.
Sonia Gandhi had taken over as leader of opposition in 1999 when she entered the Lok Sabha for the first time after she replaced Sitaram Kesri as party president. The party had won 114 seats (the lowest tally for the Congress till then) and Sonia Gandhi faced the big challenge of galvanising the cadres and reviving the party. She was then assisted by late Madhavrao Scindia, who was named deputy leader in the Lok Sabha. Manmohan Singh was the leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha.
One thing is clear that Sonia Gandhi will be again elected as the chairperson of the Congress parliamentary party and she will be authorised to appoint a leader each in the two Houses of Parliament.
While the party would prefer Sonia or Rahul Gandhi to take over this post in the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha leader is expected to be decided in consultation with outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who is a member of the Upper House. Among the names being mentioned are A K Antony, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Digvijaya Singh.
Unlike the last time when the Congress had the requisite strength to claim the post of leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha, the party cannot do the same this time.
To be recognised as the main opposition party, a party must win at least ten per cent of the total strength of the Lower House. In other words, a party should have 55 MPs while the Congress has plummeted to a mere 44.
However, the rules can be waived by the Speaker, Congress leaders maintained.
If a party is recognised as the main opposition party, its head is named the leader of opposition who gets Cabinet rank status.
This will become clear after the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government is sworn in and a new Speaker has been elected.
Congress leaders are, however, hopeful that the new dispensation will take a lenient view as leader of opposition is a member of committees for the appointment of a Lokpal, director of the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Central Vigilance Commissioner.
“If there is no recognised leader of opposition, these vital appointments could be held up,” a senior Congress leader told Rediff.com.
There is speculation that the Trinamool Congress and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam with 34 and 37 Lok Sabha members respectively, are planning to form a joint front to lay claim on the post of leader of opposition.
However, Congress leaders said, this would be a post-poll arrangement while the rules maintain the post be given to the single largest political party.
“On the other hand, the Congress and its allies like Nationalist Congress Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal had a pre-poll alliance,” explained a Congress leader.
Image: Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi