Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said on Monday he is willing to become the leader of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha. Tharoor threw his hat in the ring after media reports bandied out his name among the probables. It's clear that Cngress will have a new leader in the Lok Sabha as Rahul Gandhi is determined to resign from Congress leadership.
Even if Rahul were to continue as Congress chief, it's unlikely that he would assume the Congress parliamentary party chief's post as the NDA dispensation will not give him the position of Opposition Leader. In the 16th Lok Sabha, Rahul passed on the floor leader's post to Mallikarjun Kharge after it was clear that he won't be the Opposition leader with only 44 MPs.
Straws in the wind indicate that the Congress leadership is more likely than not to appoint a leader from Kerala as the parliamentary party head. Congress, which faced another rout nationally, has 15 MPs from Kerala. The MPs in contention for the top post are K Muralidharan, Kodikunnil Suresh and Shashi Tharoor.
Tharoor is obviously the right candidate for the Opposition leader's post. But in the Congress party, he will be sidelined. In the absence of Rahul Gandhi to lead the Opposition, the party and the wider Opposition need a highly articulate and resourceful leader. Tharoor fits the bill more than any other leader in the current crop of MPs elected to parliament.
But will he get the post? Despite being the most widely known Congress leader after Rahul Gandhi, Tharoor is not in the Congress Working Committee (CWC). Tharoor is not an insider in a party whose colourful history is filled with sycophantic characters from the kitchen cabinets.
In Kerala, from where he won three Lok Sabha elections consecutively, he walks in a lone furrow. He is not part of the two dominant factions in the Kerala party. There were reports that the local party organisation wasn't actively campaigning for him in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections. Tharoor himself is reported to have voiced his concerns about sabotage attempts.
If Rahul scoots the scene as he is wont, the Congress is more likely to go for family loyalists. Tharoor won't fit in that grand scheme of things. In the 16th Lok Sabha, Rahul Gandhi chose old loyalist Mallikarjun Kharge who, incidentally, lost by a wide margin this time.
Congress leadership has historically preferred the so-called light weights in key positions whenever the family tree couldn't dispense the right leader at a certain time. The choice of Manmohan Singh as prime minister in 2014 was a case in point. Another was the choice of K Rosaiah as the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh after the death of YS Rajashekjhara Reddy in 2009. That decision ultimately led to the party's decimation in the state.
Congress's history is replete with such instances. It will be a marked shift from the practice if Tharoor makes it to the parliamentary party's leadership. But the ageing apparatchiks in the party's inner circles will definitely take a stand against his elevation. For fear of losing their own relevance, they would convince Rahul and Sonia Gandhi that the Gandhi family's relevance will be overshadowed by Tharoor.
It remains to be seen if Rahul will once again fall victim to the guiles of the old guard. In the current scheme of things what the broader Opposition in the Lok Sabha needs is an articulate and fearless campaigner against the government which has come back to power with an imposing majority.