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House post pressure on Rahul
- No room for reluctance, say Congress leaders

New Delhi, May 30: Pressure is mounting on Rahul Gandhi to become leader of the Opposition, with party seniors arguing that any refusal on his part would strengthen the perception about his reluctance to take responsibility and lead from the front.

Although some of these seniors mainly want to spoil Kamal Nath’s chances of getting the mantle, as he was being tipped to, most of them genuinely believe that Rahul cannot afford any show of tentativeness at this moment.

Party general secretary Digvijaya Singh has voiced this demand but others have avoided going on record, realising that Rahul is reluctant to accept the job.

The leadership will announce its decision only after the election of the Lok Sabha Speaker, who has to decide whether the Congress would get the post of leader of the Opposition. Parliament will have a brief session from June 4.

While some in the Congress have taken the extreme view that Rahul should forget about politics if he shies off this responsibility, others are merely arguing that this is his best chance to prove his critics wrong.

Asked about Rahul’s lack of experience and expertise in parliamentary functioning, a senior leader said: “He came to the Lok Sabha in 2004. He cannot use this excuse after 10 years of being in Parliament.”

The leader added: “(Otherwise), there will be questions about his commitment and interest in parliamentary activities. He will have veterans to advise him but he has to give a face to the Opposition.”

Others are citing how the Congress was attacked for 10 years for separating its political and parliamentary leaderships. The controversy over the Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh “dual leadership” got currency because everybody knew where the political authority lay.

Rahul should not repeat this mistake, the argument goes, because any other leader of the Opposition will be ineffective — the government, other political parties and the media would know who holds the real power.

“If Rahul is determined to focus on organisational matters instead of getting bogged down in parliamentary activities, Sonia should become the leader of the Opposition,” a source said. “There’s no point creating a third power centre that will have no real power.”

Sonia was leader of the Opposition during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure though most of the parliamentary work was handled by her deputies Shivraj Patil and Madhavrao Scindia. But matters are different now as Rahul’s attitude is linked to the party’s revival after its worst drubbing ever.

The party is grappling with varying opinions on the causes of the defeat and many of its leaders have chosen to express their opinions through the media.

While some have blamed Rahul’s advisers, others have blamed the government, arguing that a bad product cannot be sold. The party has struggled to explain the daily shower of statements.

Former minister Kishore Chandra Deo, supposed to be a Sonia loyalist, too has attacked the leadership’s advisers.

“The party president and vice-president are talking to everybody to find out what went wrong. We have taken this very seriously,” party spokesperson Shashi Tharoor said today.

“All of us in the party and the government” are advising them and it is wrong to presume they had a fixed set of advisers, Tharoor said.

Asked about the “bad product” theory, Tharoor said the UPA government’s achievements had been astonishingly good and “it is a mystery why some of our colleagues can’t see that”.

The “bad product” theory has created a rift in the party, and a possible eruption of emotions in the coming days could cause huge embarrassment to the leadership.