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Is Rahul fit to be LOP?

By Anita Katyal
Last updated on: May 28, 2014 23:20 IST
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Rahul Gandhi in Assam. Photograph: Utpal Baruah/Reuters'If the Congress is to challenge the NDA government, Rahul Gandhi will have to shed his indifference to Parliament, become more visible and vocal and, essentially, lead from the front,' says contributor Anita Katyal.

The Congress party's desire to play the lead Opposition role in the Lok Sabha will depend on two critical factors: The effective deployment and participation of the few good speakers it has in its vastly depleted Parliamentary contingent, and its success in coordinating its strategies with what are often described as like-minded and secular parties.

The Congress faces a serious challenge on both counts.

While the Congress party's limited talent pool in the Lok Sabha could prove to be a handicap, other Opposition parties have not warmed to the Congress even though the latter indicated its intention to do business with them.

It may prove difficult for the 44-member Congress to take on the numerically-stronger Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government solo.

Widely tipped to take over the Congress Parliamentary Party leadership, Rahul Gandhi has not displayed any appetite for the cut and thrust of Parliamentary debate.

While his choreographed and rehearsed interventions in the past 10 years have been sporadic and forgettable, he was a rare visitor to the Lok Sabha during the period that the United Progressive Alliance government was in power.

If the Congress is to challenge the National Democratic Alliance government in Parliament, Rahul will have to go in for a drastic image makeover.

He will have to shed his indifference to Parliament, become more visible and vocal and, essentially, lead from the front.

It may prove to be a tall order, as the Leader of the Opposition must be conversant with Parliamentary rules and procedures to pin down and corner the Treasury benches.

The LOP has to be constantly on the alert to make spontaneous interventions.

Rahul has, so far, shown little aptitude for such a role.

There are a handful of Congress MPs who can take on the Modi government.

Captain Amarinder Singh -- the recently elected Amritsar MP and former Punjab chief minister -- is feisty and known for his cutting remarks and quick repartee as witnessed in his electoral battle against Arun Jaitley.

The challenge for the Congress leadership will be to ensure that Captain Singh, who is also the Maharaja of Patiala, attends Parliament regularly.

Kamal Nath is a nine-term MP and has a wealth of Parliamentary experience which can be deployed well by the Congress.

But Kamal Nath was known to be an absentee MP till he was entrusted with the responsibility of the parliamentary affairs ministry.

Former Union ministers like M Veerappa Moily, Mallikarjun Kharge and K V Thomas can lend depth to Parliamentary debates.

Among the younger lot, the Congress will turn to Jyotiraditya Scindia, Shashi Tharoor and Deepender Hooda to showcase their oratorical skills.

Nationalist Congress Party MPs Tariq Anwar and Supriya Sule can lend a helping hand to their alliance partner.

While other Opposition parties -- the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Trinamool Congress and the Biju Janata Dal -- have shown a marked ambivalence towards the Congress, the Congress will be inadvertently assisted by the nine-member Communist Party of India-Marxist Parliamentary Party whose antipathy towards the BJP in general and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in particular is well known.

CPI-M veteran Basudev Acharya, known for his persistent interventions will be sorely missed on the Opposition benches (he lost to the Trinamool's Moon Moon Sen in Bankura), but the return of energetic Marxist MP Mohammad Salim to the Lower House ought to make up for Acharya's absence.

The Trinamool Congress has several good speakers like Saugata Roy, Dinesh Trivedi, Kalyan Banerjee and Sudip Bandhopadhya, who are capable of putting up a good fight. But they will be severely handicapped, as there is no clarity on party leader Mamata Banerjee's approach and attitude towards the Modi government.

Moreover, Mamata would be decidedly cool to any Opposition grouping that includes the Left parties.

Although Mamata and Modi indulged in a bitter war of words during the election campaign, the new prime minister is learnt to have made friendly overtures to the Trinamool chief with the promise of a good financial package for West Bengal.

While Modi could do with the Trinamool Congress support in the Rajya Sabha where the National Democratic Alliance does not enjoy a majority, Mamata is vulnerable as her government is under the scanner for its alleged role in the Saradha chit fund scam.

Known to enjoy a good rapport with Modi, AIADMK chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa is keeping her options open. Consequently, the AIADMK's eloquent and experienced speaker M Thambidurai may be constrained from joining the Opposition ranks in attacking the NDA government.

The 20-member Biju Janata Dal has made it clear that it will remain equidistant from both the BJP and the Congress.

BJD MP Bhartruhari Mahtab told that his party could not afford to go with the Congress or the BJP as it is fighting both parties in Odisha.

In the recent Lok Sabha election the second position in the 21 seats in Odisha was shared equally by the Congress and the BJP, Mahtab explained.

While the BJP is also reaching out to Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, there are moves afoot by the BJD, the Trinamool Congress and the AIADMK to form a grouping of regional parties in an attempt to occupy the Opposition space and isolate the Congress.

The three chief ministers have been in touch with each other, but it is still early to say if they have arrived at any agreement.

Image: Rahul Gandhi in Assam. Photograph: Utpal Baruah/Reuters.

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