Surjewala said the Congress would not stake a claim to the leader of the opposition status until such time that it had the strength of 54.
The status is granted to the principal opposition party if it has at least 10 per cent of the Lok Sabha seats. The Congress, which has won 52 seats, is two short in the current 542-member Lok Sabha. After Rahul Gandhi met Nationalist Congress Party
(NCP) chief Sharad Pawar earlier this week, there is speculation that the NCP could merge with the Congress.
The NCP has five seats in the Lok Sabha, the addition of which to its tally would give the Congress the needed 10 per cent seats in the House.
Surjewala said the party’s constitution empowered the Congress parliamentary party leader to pick its leaders of the two Houses, which would be done in the House. Ghulam Nabi Azad is the leader of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha, while Mallikarjun Kharge was the leader of the party in the last Lok Sabha. Kharge has lost the election.
Congress leader Sonia Gandhi
flanked by former prime minister Manmohan Singh and party President Rahul Gandhi on her being elected as Congress Parliamentary Party leader at CPP General Body Meeting, at Parliament House in New Delhi | PTI
There is a possibility that Rahul Gandhi could agree to be the leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha. Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor, who has won a third successive Lok Sabha election, is also a candidate. The Congress’ strategy for the coming months was also evident from the speeches of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. Surjewala said the Congress and other Opposition parties would raise people’s issues with one voice. He questioned the government on the increased price of cooking gas cylinders, declining exports, and increasing unemployment in the country.
Sonia Gandhi thanked the 12.3 crore voters who had voted for the Congress in the just-concluded elections. “We were up against an election machinery with all odds stacked against us — unlimited resources, ability to manipulate public opinion and the spread of mischievous propaganda,” she told the party MPs.
She thanked Rahul Gandhi for his “valiant and relentless campaign”. She said Rahul Gandhi as Congress president toiled night and day for the party, demonstrated his fearless leadership by taking the Modi government head on, and highlighted the injustices against farmers, workers, traders and small businesses, youth, women and the marginalised.
She said Rahul Gandhi had rejuvenated the Congress organisation in many states. “Even as I speak, emotional messages are coming from all corners, vindicating his leadership.” She said the Congress numbers in the Rajya Sabha would be challenged, and “it is even more important to ensure better coordination and cooperation with like-minded parties”.
“In an unprecedented crisis, lies an unprecedented opportunity. It is up to us to grasp it with humility and self-confidence, drawing the appropriate lessons from our defeat,” she said.