Sources say there are strong sentiments within the party that Congress should now think beyond Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Vadra.

Former Kerala minister T H Mustafa earlier on Thursday called Rahul a ‘joker’, saying he should be removed if he does not resign in the backdrop of the party's debacle in the Lok Sabha polls. He was immediately suspended from the Congress for his remarks.

Echoing similar sentiments, Rajasthan Congress leader Bhanwar Lal Sharma has reportedly said that this is the right time when the party should think beyond Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra.

The Congress MLA has backed the idea of adopting a democratic system to choose the party leadership.

Sharma reportedly said the party vice-president was enjoying authority as he belonged to the Gandhi family and he did not enter the party through a democratic process.

Political leadership of the party has to be its face to the nation as well, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said.
    
With the first session of the Parliament going to begin from June 4, the Congress is on task for choosing the Leader of Opposition.

Different sections in the party are advocating separate choices for the Leader of Opposition, sources said.

While a number of senior leaders want Sonia Gandhi to take over as the Leader of Opposition, the leaders mentored and given responsibilities by the Congress vice-president want him to lead the pack in the Lower House arguing that it was he, who was the face of the party in the Lok Sabha polls, and hence he should not "shy away" from taking responsibility in difficult times for the party.
    
Tharoor, who had earlier openly said that Congress president Sonia Gandhi should take the responsibility as leader of the party in Lok Sabha putting an end to the system of dual leadership.
    
"Political leadership of the party has to be the face of the party to the nation as well," party spokesperson Tharoor said at an AICC briefing on Friday.

Replying to questions about the role of Rahul, Tharoor said that the Congress president will decide it.
    
A Congress leader speaking on condition of anonymity said, "I am of the opinion that Sonia Gandhi should be Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha as she is also the party president. We should not repeat the dual leadership practice this time. If due to any circumstance, she does not take it up, Rahul Gandhi is the second best choice. Any third person being made the Leader of the Opposition will keep the message that Rahul is not keen on taking responsibility."
    
The leader said that the party should not be sending confusing signals among party workers and the voters as to where the leadership of Congress lies.
    
There were earlier indications from the party that senior most MP in Lok Sabha and former parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath could be made Leader of the Opposition.
    
Those advocating his name suggest that apart from his long experience in the Parliament, the BJP may agree on his name than on any of the Gandhis. However, there are others who feel that a consensus in the party could be built only on Gandhis.

In 2014, the Congress has recorded its worst-ever performance by getting only 44 seats. While there is no problem for Congress in getting the post of Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha as it has the requisite numbers, its ability to get the same in Lok Sabha has come under scrutiny as its tally is much less than 55 required.
    
However, party leaders have been maintaining that while there are some statutory requirements to get the perks of the Leader of the Opposition, there is "absolutely no legal bar" on the Speaker from naming a leader of the single largest party or group as Leader of the Opposition for functional purposes.

The Congress party had to face similar humiliation in the 1999 general elections when it managed to secure only 114 seats. This was the time when Congress president Sonia Gandhi came in rescue of her party by pulling up her sleeves for the daunting task of reviving the party’s fortunes which had fallen tremendously following the exit of former prime minister PV Narasimha Rao and party chief Sitaram Kesri.

Since her entry into the party, Sonia continued giving a tough fight to her rivals in 2004 and then again in 2009. But it seems now that the ten years of hard work put in by Sonia Gandhi has gone in vain.

JPN/Agencies

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