The Congress president can appoint himself, deputy leader Jyotiraditya Scindia, or even stick with incumbent veteran Mallikarjun Kharge.
Rahul Gandhi faces a difficult choice in the appointment of new leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha. The AICC chief is himself a contender, with an eye on next year’s Lok Sabha polls, and also has the option of elevating Jyotiraditya Scindia, the young and dynamic deputy leader of the party in the Lok Sabha.
The issue came up when Gandhi appointed current leader Mallikarjun Kharge as the party’s general secretary in charge of Maharashtra. Kharge, the 75-year-old veteran from Karnataka, is seen in party circles as an insipid performer, and is thought to be incapable of performing this double duty, since the Maharashtra assembly polls are scheduled just months after next year’s Lok Sabha elections. The Congress also might want to live up to its ‘one person, one post’ tradition, though right now, the party’s leader in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, is also in charge of its affairs in Tamil Nadu.
‘One person, one post’ has always been a controversial principle, and has led to many titanic battles within the party. The last time the Congress witnessed a major row over the issue was when a motley group led by Arjun Singh had unsuccessfully tried to get the principle implemented on Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, who was also the Congress president.
Arguments for and against Gandhi
If Gandhi himself replaces Kharge, the move is bound to come under criticism from various quarters for a range of reasons.
Flouting ‘one person, one post’ would be one criticism, while another would be that he would be the second member of his family to hold an important parliamentary post – mother Sonia Gandhi is the current chairperson of the Congress parliamentary party (CPP). As per the Congress constitution, the CPP chairperson has the power to appoint the party’s leaders in both houses, and for some, it would be bad optics that a mother who vacated the party president’s post for her son in December 2017 would consolidate his position by appointing him leader in the Lok Sabha.
Also, in the context of social and political realities, Rahul Gandhi replacing Dalit leader Kharge is bound to raise eyebrows in certain quarters.
On the plus side, Gandhi taking on the mantle would send out a strong signal that in the 2019 polls, he alone will be the contender for the Prime Minister’s post. This message would hold more significance outside the Congress, particularly among the third front protagonists who believe he is ‘not serious’ for 2019.
The case for Scindia
A section of the party feels the elevation of Jyotiraditya Scindia as the leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha would be apt. Scindia, a reasonably good orator in both Hindi and English, has wider acceptability that goes beyond the Congress family. Being given responsibility in Delhi would provide much-needed breathing space for Madhya Pradesh Congress chief Kamal Nath, who is trying to topple the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP regime in Madhya Pradesh, which has been in power for 15 years. The MP polls are due in November this year, and for a majority of Congress workers there, the presence of both Scindia and Nath leads to confusion about the party’s chief ministerial candidate. Nath’s supporters are rooting for the nine-time MP from Chhindwara, while supporters of Scindia, the head of the MP Congress Committee’s campaign panel, want party MLAs to be free to choose between the leaders in the event of victory.
The issue of the Congress leadership in the Lok Sabha needs to be settled fast, as the Monsoon Session of Parliament is set to begin 18 July, while there is also constant speculation that the general elections may be advanced or clubbed with the assembly polls of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram.
Rahul Gandhi needs to take a call soon, to signal the party’s and his own preparedness. A decision on Kharge’s replacement or continuation, therefore, has an informal 18 July deadline.
Rasheed Kidwai is an Observer Research Foundation visiting fellow, author and journalist. The views expressed here are his own.