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Rise to the leadership slot

It warrants flexible approach, consensus and constructive criticism
03:00 AM Jul 09, 2024 IST | K.S.TOMAR
rise to the leadership slot
File Photo

Rahul Gandhi's decision to accept the Congress Working Committee’s (CWC) offer to become the new Leader of the Opposition in Parliament may serve a dual purpose. Firstly, he will be armed with a statutory position under the law, positioning himself as a direct rival to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2029 elections, compelling Modi to take him seriously unlike in the past. Secondly, despite being the strongest critic of the Prime Minister both inside and outside Parliament, Gandhi’s voice has often been drowned out by the BJP's "shouting brigade" over the past decade. However, this scenario is poised to change as the BJP enters the Lok Sabha with a reduced strength of 240 MPs, down from 303 in the previous Lok Sabha.


In contrast, the Congress has almost doubled its strength, increasing from 52 to 102 MPs, including three independents. This bolstered presence will enable the Congress to counter the BJP’s tactics more effectively. A tit-for-tat subtleties and intricacies might emerge in Parliament: if the BJP’s "shouting brigade" attempts to silence Rahul Gandhi, Congress MPs may reciprocate by disrupting the Prime Minister's speeches. The overall parliamentary balance of power has shifted as well. The combined strength of the NDA (BJP and its allies) will be reduced to 294, down from 336 in the previous regime. Meanwhile, the Congress-led UPA has increased its seats from 90 to 234, including several new additions, which is bound to pose a significant challenge for the ruling party.


Responsibilities as LOP


Holding the Government Accountable: Gandhi will lead the opposition’s efforts in holding the government accountable. This involves articulating the opposition’s stance on various issues, participating in debates, and ensuring effective representation.


Rallying Opposition Parties: He will need to rally opposition parties, build consensus, and coordinate their efforts. This can be challenging given the diverse ideologies and interests of different parties.


Effective Communication: Gandhi must communicate effectively within and outside Parliament. His speeches, statements, and interactions with the media will shape public perception and influence political discourse.


Strategic Decision-Making: Making strategic decisions regarding when to cooperate with the ruling party and when to oppose them requires astute political judgment. Balancing these choices will be crucial.


Mastery of Parliamentary Procedures: Understanding parliamentary rules, procedures, and tactics is crucial. Gandhi will need to master these to effectively challenge the government.

Raising Critical Issues: People expect the LoP to raise critical issues, propose alternatives, and offer constructive solutions. Meeting these expectations will be key to Gandhi’s effectiveness as LoP. Rahul may get an important post of the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, which primarily examines reports from the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). PAC has got a majority of nominees of the government hence it typically decides issues by vote. In addition to this, LOP would be part of various collegiums alongside the Prime Minister and Chief Justice of India (or government nominees), responsible for selecting the heads of key investigative and transparency agencies including the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Lokpal, Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), Chief Election Commissioner/Election Commissioners, and Chief Information Commissioner (CIC).

Challenges as Leader of the Opposition:

As the Leader of the Opposition (LoP) in the Parliament, he will face numerous challenges that will require him to be a dedicated and full-time leader. The role cannot be discharged on an ad hoc basis as it will demand continuous effort and strategic planning. Key Responsibilities and Strategies include:

Regular Interaction with Allies: Gandhi must engage regularly with leaders of allied parties to formulate strategies aimed at cornering the weakened BJP-led alliance in Parliament. Building and maintaining strong relationships with diverse political groups will be essential.

Aggressive yet Mature Approach: It will be crucial for Gandhi to demonstrate aggression balanced with maturity, particularly when highlighting issues of public importance. His ability to address these issues effectively in Parliament will be a key factor in his success.

Unifying a Fragmented Opposition: One of the most significant challenges will be unifying a fragmented opposition. The diverse political ideologies and regional interests create a complex landscape, making consensus-building a critical yet difficult task.

Countering the Ruling Party's Narrative: Despite the BJP's reduced majority, countering its dominant narrative remains a formidable challenge. The ruling party's stronghold on media and public perception necessitates a strategic and compelling opposition narrative.

Scrutiny of Leadership Style: Gandhi's leadership style and communication skills are under constant scrutiny. Establishing his credibility and demonstrating robust leadership in parliamentary debates and public forums are crucial for gaining public trust and support.

An amended version of Karl Marx's quote suggests that history repeats itself first as tragedy and not necessarily as a farce hence its recurrence has ended up in the form of enhanced prestige for Rahul Gandhi as LOP has reoccurred. It holds true to Rahul whose ascendancy is the by-product of untiring struggle and societal complexities. Political observers note two stark similarities between the late Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s comeback in 1980 and Rahul Gandhi’s recent resurgence.

Indira Gandhi earned the title "Bechari" in the eyes of the people due to the excesses and humiliation inflicted on her by the Janata Party after losing power, a fallout of the Emergency's dark era. In the late 1960s, she was derisively called "Goongi Gudiya" (Dumb Doll) by her detractors, which ultimately helped her emerge strong besides bouncing back to power in 1980. Similarly, Rahul Gandhi's rejuvenation as a credible LOP in 2024 comes after being dubbed "Pappu" by the BJP.

At this juncture, experts suggest that the common people witnessed a privileged member of the Gandhi family walking in scorching heat and biting cold, highlighting their problems. This might have changed their opinion about him, leading them to perceive him as a "Bechara Shehzada" (Poor Prince), earning their sympathy and contributing to the BJP's undoing in the 2024 polls. The NDA government’s focus on Hindutva, anti-Muslim rhetoric, and tall promises failed to address people's real issues. Prime Minister Modi can be credited for popularizing the term "Shehzada" (Scion) for Rahul Gandhi, but this campaign ultimately transformed his image from "Pappu" to a credible national leader.

Overall, Rahul Gandhi’s leadership as LoP will significantly impact India’s political landscape. To effectively represent the opposition in Parliament, he will need to rise to these challenges, demonstrating strong leadership and a commitment to addressing the concerns of the Indian people.

(Writer is political analyst and senior journalist based in Shimla)