By MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN
It is a political throne alright but too many thorns on it. This is how one could sum up how could describe the elevation of Mallikarnjun Kharge as the Leader of the Opposition in loksabha, and the challenges he faces in discharging his new responsibilities.
It is a political throne, because it is one of most coveted posts in the loksabha and perhaps next only to the Prime Minister, He is virtually the face of the Congress required to hold aloft the Congress flag high for the next five years, and by occupying the same, Kharge may find himself one step away from the post of the Prime Minister in the event of change in the fortunes of the Congress in future.
It is a challenge alright, because, after comfortably swimming in the back waters of the state politics, Kharge would be jumping in the rough sea of national politics, all of sudden almost unprepared.
He has to take on the might of the BJP and match the debating skills of the likes of Narendra Modi and Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and others in the debates and also to coordinate opposition strategies through interaction with other groups in the opposition ranks, like the Trinamool, the AIADMK with unfriendly disposition towards Congresss.
The problem with Kharge is that he is not known to be debater and has hardly any national stature of his own, having spent all the time in Karnataka. He entered parliament only in 2009 but had only remained in the back ground handling the not so glamorous portfolio like Labour. He drew attention only when he was entrusted with portfolio of Railways, following the exit of Trinamool Congress from the UPA II ministry of Manmohn Singh a year ago.
There have been murmurs already in both the Congress and Non Congress circles over his elevation, with the critics maintaining that the long innings in the state politics cannot be substitute for national name and stature.
Regarded as a low key politician, Kharge requires all the skills in his armoury, to establish the credibility and command the respect in the comity of national politics. And that certainly takes time and cannot happen in a day.
Kharge’s choice as the Leader of Opposition in Loksabha, by the Congress President Mrs. Sonia Gandhi the choice was an unexpected development. With Congress putting in a poor performanance, the talk among the Congress party was that either Mrs. Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi wear the mantle as the face of the Congress in loksabha.
In the event of their being unwilling to take over, the choice was hovering between Kamalnath, of Madhya Pradesh, and Veerappa Moily both having been Union Ministers in the UPA government having longer stint in the parliament. Kamalnath has been the senior most member of the loksabha, while Moily besides being the former Chief Minister of Karnataka, with additional experience of serving the organization. Compared to them Kharge was nowhere in the picture going by the discussions within the party circles.
But still he was selected as the leader of the opposition, in the loksabha when Congress is required to function as a vigilant opposition against a ruling party, which has a brute majority in the house basically is a tribute the qualities of the man, and also the arduous task he has to shoulder in discharging his new responsibilities.
It has been a long haul for an young fledgling lawyer who cut his political teeth under the leadership of late Devaraj Urns, who was chosen to lead the India Gandhi led Congress in Karnataka, which was then under Nijalingappa faction. Hardly known outside the close circles, Kharge was a chosen as the party candidate to contest the assembly election from Gurumitkal, a reserved constituency in the backward of Gulbarga, the home district of former Chief Minister late Veerendra Patil, considered as a political fiefdom of the lingayat community. Kharge, who won the election, has never looked back during his more than four decade old political career. He has been a minister of all the Congress governments that ruled the states since then, barring less than one year stint when Veerendra Patil was at the helm of affairs in 1989. He functioned as the Leader of the Congress Opposition during the 1994-99 period during the Janata Dal regime. He would have been in line for the post of the Chief Minister had not SM Krishna come from background to take over the reins as the President of KPCC to lead Congress to victory in 1999.
A political twist came in his political career in 2009, which catapulted from the state to the Centre. He successfully contested from Gulbarga parliamentary constituency which had become reserved after delimitation and on his debut in Newdelhi got a berth in the UPA II cabinet as Minister for Labour. He missed the chance of returning to Karnataka when Congress won the 2013 assembly election, with the national leadership, preferring a migrant like Siddaramaiah to a long standing party loyalist like Kharge. If Kharge felt miffed, he did not show it.
But this proved to be lucky for Kharge in a way. When the Trinamool Congress walked out of UPA, Kharge, was given the portfolio of an important portfolio of Railways, which was among the portfolios allocated to Trinamool. It was for the first time after the coalition era began that an important portfolio like Railways returned to Congress fold. Kharge as has been his wont, managed the nearly one year stint and was reminded of one of his predecessors Abdul Gani Khan Choudhary of West Bengal, for the manner in which he served the home state and home constituency as Railway Minister.
Though Karnataka has produced plethora of Railway Ministers, including Sadanand Gowda the latest addition to the list, and several Union Ministers who have held important and prestigious posts like S M Krishna, who was the Minister for External Affairs in the UPA-II government, nobody had risen to the post as the Leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party in Loksabha. Kharge has been the lone Congress to make it. Of course from the non- Congress stables, Devegowda had become the Prime Minister
What sort a man is Kharge, from whom the politics has been nothing short of roller coaster ride, throughout? He is basically shy and introvert, not given to flamboyance or the one who would speak to the gallery. It is very difficult to read his mind since he plays his cards close to his chest. There has been never a single occasion during his career spanning more than four decades, where he has put his foot into mouth and landed himself in any controversy.
He is dalit alright but he does not wear on his shoulders for any political aggrandizement, as others of the ilk are prone to do. That the label has helped him to steadily climb up the political ladder without hardly any struggle or lobbying.
The political loyalty has been his forte, which has helped his upward movement. Never in his long career, he has spoken directly or indirectly against the party leadership and bore silently opportunities where he has been denied his due. The latest being the one when he was passed over on the choice of the Chief Minister after the party’s success in 2013 assembly election. He is practically a loner in the party politics with a no group of his own to advocate for his cause. It is because of this that there is no orchestrated jubilation for the honour bestowed to him. The reaction the Congress party in Karnataka is rather cool.
Administratively he has proved to be excellent. He is known as a good administrator and can manage well any portfolio which comes to him. He is studious and methodical. He has proved his worth, when as a Union Minister handled portfolios of Labor and Railways.
Now the question is how Kharge would handle the new responsibility thrust on him under quirk of circumstances. He has no charisma, does not have the gift of gab like one of his predecessors, the late C M Stephen, of Kerala elected from Gulbarga way back in1980, when the Congress faced it first defeat in the context of sins of omission and commissions during the emergency. He has to establish his credentials within and outside party for effective functioning cannot afford to be painted as one who is under remote control. It is on this depends whether political graph of his career moves up or get plautued.
(Posted on June 8 , 2014 @ 9:00am)
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