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The Telegraph
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LEAD, KINDLY

Hamlet was pretty poor as an assertive prince. He thought too much. That may be Rahul Gandhiís problem too. But politics is ruthless and Mr Gandhi must make up his mind on what role he wants to play in it. By nominating Mallikarjun Kharge, the senior Dalit leader from Karnataka, the leader of the party in the Lok Sabha, Sonia Gandhi has exposed the confusion at the heart of the Congress. Of course, Mr Kharge is a second-time member of parliament, a nine-time member of the legislative assembly and the erstwhile railways minister in the United Progressive Alliance government. His credentials as party loyalist, vote-winner, organizer and administrator are impeccable; his Dalit identity is a useful token of the Congressís inclusiveness. Yet he is a strange choice, for he is not known for his eloquence, his ambitions are focused on his home state, and his political stature comes nowhere near Narendra Modiís. After the Congressís unprecedented failure, it was expected that some thought would have been put into this choice. Which might indicate what the Congress has learnt from its loss.

Nothing, it would seem. The party seems torn between logic on the one hand ó for there have been criticisms and questions ó and loyalty to Sonia Gandhi on the other. If the party wants Mr Gandhi to be the next leader, then this was the time for him to take up the reins in the Lok Sabha, to address hard questions, to work on the partyís image, to be visible, articulate and, most important, accountable. Taking verbal responsibility in disarming martyrdom, and then shying away from the roughness of parliamentary exchange, show an evasiveness that sits ill on an aspiring leader. Is he one? Mr Gandhiís record in Parliament indicates that he was among those MPs who attended least. His mother has the excuse of ill health, but if the party still looks up to mother and son, at least one of them should be responsible for the partyís showing in the Lower House. If Mr Gandhi does not want to face Mr Modi and his men, why not have a powerful, eloquent, weighty Congressman, such as Kamal Nath or Veerappa Moily, instead? The choice of Mr Kharge suggests that the seat is being kept warm for Mr Gandhi till such time as he overcomes his delicate sensibilities, because Mr Kharge is unlikely to want to take over leadership of the party. ĎSafeí man. So by undermining leaders who could be effective in the lead, the Congress seems doomed to repeat its failures.