Mallikarjun Kharge to lead Congress in lower house of India parliament

NEW DELHI - In a surprise decision, India's former railways minister Mallikarjun Kharge was on Monday named as leader of the Congress in the Lower House of Parliament or Lok Sabha.

"Congress President Sonia Gandhi has nominated Mallikarjun Kharge, as the Leader of the party in Lok Sabha," said the party's General Secretary in charge of Organisation Janardan Dwivedi.

Mrs Gandhi had brushed aside demands that either she or her son Rahul take over as leader of the party in the Lok Sabha, the Press Trust of India (PTI) reported.

Mr Kharge pipped veteran Kamal Nath in the race to lead Congress after its worst-ever performance in the recent elections, PTI reported. The party bagged only 44 seats on its own in the 543-member Lok Sabha.

PTI said it is the new Speaker's call to recognise the Congress as main opposition group so that its leader can get the status of Leader of the Opposition as the party does not have 55 MPs, or 10 per cent of the total number of seats, to earn the status.

The nomination of a Gandhi-Nehru family loyalist brings to an end the intense speculation about who will hold this crucial position at a time when the party had suffered its worst-ever election defeat.

Mr Kharge's nomination came as a surprise as party vice-president Rahul's name was doing the rounds for the post.