As Ghulam Nabi Azad’s Rajya Sabha term ends, Congress brass, allies debate next course of action

NEW DELHI: As senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad’s term in the Rajya Sabha is ending on February 15, he would be the first Leader of the Opposition (LoP) in the Upper House in a long time to face an uncertain future in Parliament as he is unable to renew his current RS term from Jammu & Kashmir given the Legislative Assembly there stands dissolved.

Whether the Congress high command will stretch itself to get him back to the Upper House from Kerala –– where the party could win at least one seat in April –– or, will make use of the J&K situation to ease him out of Parliament assumes larger significance given Azad also heads the group of “change- seekers” in the Congress.

Congress interim chief Sonia Gandhi and her heir apparent Rahul Gandhi face a tricky decision here. While most in Team Rahul want to target and purge all change-seekers and seniors, there is also pressure from within the party and among some allies to get Azad back to the RS from Kerala as they feel that he is among the Congress’ senior-most leaders, its face in J&K and the party’s tallest Muslim leader with nationalist credentials.

Last week, when some leaders of the Congress and allies held discussions in the chamber of Parliament, some pointed out how AICC general secretary KC Venugopal, who hails from Kerala, wasbrought to RS from Rajasthan and how KTS Tulsi, known as the lawyer of Robert Vadra, was preferred for a RS term from Chhattisgarh last year –– after he was earlier nominated to the Upper House.

While Team Rahul and some ‘loyalists’ orchestrating attacks on the change-seekers, led by Azad, in the recent CWC meetings are fresh in memory, ironically, many years ago Sonia Gandhi had famously described the same Azad as “my lucky mascot” when he, after aiding her Bellary LS poll victory, was chosen to lead the J&K Congress to assembly elections –– and to victory and coalition power in early 2000s.

If the leadership opts for making use of the Kerala opening to get Azad back in the RS by April, there may not be a need to name a new LoP when the Parliament session resumes in March post-recess as the Congress deputy leader in RS could step in as acting LoP till April, as was done during the small gap before Azad renewed his last RS term in 2015.

But, if the Congress central leadership opts to eject Azad out of Parliament, naming the next LoP too gets interesting as the current Deputy Leader of the Opposition Anand Sharma, the natural successor, is also among the group of 23 change-seekers in the party. After former Congress floor leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge was brought to the Rajya Sabha last year –– as a compensation after he lost the Lok Sabha poll –– and especially since the pro-changers wrote their letter to Gandhi, there has been growing buzz that Kharge is being positioned as the next LoP by projecting his “Dalit” identity. P Chidambaram and Digvijaya Singh are among the other senior Congress members in the RS.

Azad has been in Parliament since 1980 (except for nearly three years when he became J&K CM) –– two terms in the LS and five in the RS.

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