Brushing aside party workers' demands that either she or her son Rahul Gandhi lead them from front, Congress president Sonia Gandhi in a surprise move nominated former union minister Mallikarjun Kharge as leader of the party in the Lok Sabha. He could be recognised as the Leader of the Opposition, if the new Lok Sabha speaker recognises the Congress as main opposition group.
Unlike Kamal Nath's nine terms in the House that qualified him to become the pro-tem speaker as the senior-most member, Kharge has been elected from Karnataka for only second term. A senior Congress leader said Rahul has told them that he wanted to remain free for another struggle in the assembly elections due in Maharashtra, Haryana, Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir later this year.
Though only second-time MP, Kharge has been MLA nine times and cabinet minister seven time in Karnataka. Being the eldest among the Congress MPs elected and his dalit background helped Kharge become the party leader in the Lok Sabha.
The Congress is pushing for declaring Kharge as the leader of opposition as that will entitle him the cabinet minister's rank and a role in top appointments such as lokpal, central vigilance commissioner and central information commissioners and CBI chief.
Kharge's name was announced by Congress general secretary as the party prepares for the Lok Sabha session that begins on Wednesday. The decision on his status as the opposition leader will come only after the new Speaker is elected on Friday.
Thanking Sonia Gandhi for entrusting him with the responsibility, Kharge said his party would not function as an "opposition for opposition sake". "We will not function as opposition for opposition sake. It (our functioning) will be issue based in the larger interest of the country and society," Kharge said. He said he would seek the guidance of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and other leaders and take all along in his new role.