The role of Leader of Opposition (LoP) is very important in Lok Sabha for the opposition party. Generally, opposition parties appoint their best leader and future prime ministerial candidates as LoP across the democracies. Being a parliamentary democracy, India also has a tradition of having strong LoPs from BJP as well as Congress. From BJP, senior leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani, and Sushma Swaraj has been Leader of Opposition. In the Congress party, PV Narasimha Rao, Rajiv Gandhi, and Sonia Gandhi have been on the chair of Leader of Opposition. However, in sixteenth Lok Sabha, no party got the mandate to appoint Leader of Opposition as winning 10 percent seats is necessary for that while Congress, the second largest party could win only 44 seats out of 545.
In the seventeenth Lok Sabha, Congress won only 52 seats which is 3 short of being eligible for the leader of opposition position. However, they will appoint a leader of the party in Lok Sabha like other parties (YSRCP, AITC etc) which have MPs in the parliament. Last time Mallikarjun Kharge, a Dalit Congress leader from the state of Karnataka was chosen by Congress party as leader of the party in Lok Sabha.
He proved very good for the post and fiercely expressed Congress’ stand on important issues and legislations. He also proved crucial for opposition unity and bringing parties from different ideologies on board to oppose BJP. Overall he did the task of a leader of the house for Congress party excellently. However, in the 2019 general elections, he was defeated by BJP candidate by a margin of 95,168 votes. Therefore Congress party has to look for a new leader of the party in Lok Sabha.
Given the fact that Congress won most of the seats from Kerala, Punjab and Tamil Nadu, it seems a herculean task. The party won 15 seats in Kerala but no one from there except Shashi Tharoor could become a strong leader of the party given their inexperience in the house of lack of fluency in Hindi and English. But Tharoor is ‘controversial’ and known to have ‘elitist’ mindset, therefore, it is very unlikely that he would be appointed as Leader of Opposition. Another 8 seats were won by the party in the state of Tamil Nadu and the problem of language and experience persists in MPs elected from the state too.
It is mandatory to perform well in north Indian states to get a good leader in Lok Sabha who could present the stand of the party in ‘popular language’. Given the fact that the proceedings of Lok Sabha have become live and the majority of households have TV connection, it is necessary that the voice of the leader of the party reaches to ‘people’. The only state Congress performed well in Punjab where it won 8 seats out of 13. But Manish Tiwari is the only candidate who has experience in Lok Sabha and well known in Delhi circles. It is very likely that Tiwari will be given the post of Leader of Opposition. However, Tiwari recently created controversy when he compared Brahmins with Jews. He is also not popular amongst ‘masses’ unlike previous leaders of opposition. The LoP appointed by BJP like LK Advani and Sushma Swaraj used to be more popular than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself.
The two leaders of Congress (Shashi Tharoor and Manish Tiwari) whom it could appoint as party’s leader in the Lok Sabha are controversial and elitist. Therefore it is very unlikely that Congress will be able to put fierce resistance to the ruling party in next 5 years. Previous opposition leaders like Sushma Swaraj were instrumental in shaping popular sentiment against Congress party during the second UPA government. But given the fact, Congress would not be able to do the same, its chances for 2024 looks bleak.