Congress ends the race: Why the Gandhis picked Mallikarjun Kharge to replace Azad in Rajya Sabha?

Three days ahead of the exit of senior Congress MP Ghulam Nabi Azad from Rajya Sabha as the Leader of Opposition, the Congress party has on Friday decided to pick Mallikarjun Kharge as the successor of Azad and brought the tight race for the post, that was triggered by Azad's departure, to an end. The baton of leading the grand old party in the upper house and countering the BJP now goes to Kharge, who led the party in Lok Sabha from 2014 to 2019. 

Ghulam Nabi Azad, who is the veteran party MP, has been representing his home state of Jammu and Kashmir in the Upper House of the Parliament and he has been serving as the Leader of Opposition since 2014. After seven years of holding the post, Azad will be demitting the office on February 15 when his term comes to an end. As Jammu and Kashmir has now been bifurcated by relinquishing the assembly model after the abrogation of the special status, Azad is in a state where he can't be re-elected to Rajya Sabha from Jammu and Kashmir. 

With no other state in sight to immediately get elected to the Upper House, Ghulam Nabi Azad will exit the Upper House on February 15 and his departure had pushed the Congress to witness the arrival of a tight race to replace him. As TheNewStuff has reported earlier, the nation had witnessed a tight race with four contenders on the track - Former Union Ministers Anand Sharma and P Chidambaram, former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh, and senior Congress MP from Karnataka Mallikarjun Kharge. All these four have been maintaining close ties with the Gandhis in some way or the other. 

In picking the replacement, Congress was pushed to appoint the Hindi speakers to the Upper House as the party was in the situation to balance the dissents as the party has been led by the non-Hindi speakers in Lok Sabha - West Bengal MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who is a Bengalese, and the party has appointed Assamese MP Gaurav Gogoi as his deputy in the lower house. In the Hindi drive, Anand Sharma was leading in the race as he is also the deputy leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha and he traveled with Azad for the past six years, and Sharma exercises good coordination with the other parties in the house. 

These factors had brought Anand Sharma to the frontline and the party also had other options to equally balance the seniority and oratory skills. Earlier, the reports said that if the party looks to equally balance the seniority and oratory skills, Chidambaram and Digvijaya Singh will join the race, and if the party looks beyond regional balance, the race will also accommodate Mallikarjun Kharge, a senior leader of Congress from Karnataka who also speaks Hindi fluently. 

All these four contenders would push the party's leadership to brace up the challenge as they have been observing ties with the Gandhis either as the close advisers or as the trusted confidantes. Amid the sharp speculations on who will win the race, the party has now decided to appoint Mallikarjun Kharge as the Leader of the Opposition in the upper house. According to reports, the Congress party has written to Rajya Sabha Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu for appointing Kharge to the vacant of leader of the opposition after Azad's retirement. 

By picking Kharge, the Congress party mulls to meet two breakthroughs in one face. While the party was pushed to appoint the Hindi speakers to the upper house, it can now manage the critics and dissents and along with clearing clouds of criticism by appointing the Hindi speaker to lead the upper house and along with the Hindi agenda, Congress has got another breakthrough by picking Kharge, who is a Dalit leader from Karnataka. 

One of the important factors why the Gandhis had picked Kharge to lead the party in the upper house is that he is one of the most trusted lieutenants of the Congress High Command and he is known for his loyalty, patience, and experience. Kharge has become Rajya Sabha MP on June 12, 2020, and he has been representing Karnataka. Kharge had served as the Union Minister for Railways and Labour and Employment under the UPA regime. 

On the other hand, Congress is not ready to keep Azad away from active politics at a high time when the party needs to build a stable opposition both inside and outside the Parliament. Azad has been serving as the Rajya Sabha MP from Jammu and Kashmir and as the Central government had revoked the special status from Kashmir, withdrawn legislature, and bifurcated the region into two Union Territories, the Congress party is considering electing him from the deep south - Kerala. The Southern state is one of the key states for Congress as it is bounding for the assembly polls and what more special is that Rahul Gandhi is currently serving as Lok Sabha MP from Kerala. However, Kerala currently doesn't have any vacant seats for Rajya Sabha, and the southern state will offer three vacant seats to the Upper House in April, and going with its consideration, Azad could be re-elected to Rajya Sabha from Kerala in April.