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Former railways minister to put India's Congress back on track

India's Congress Party has declared former railways minister Mallikarjun Kharge as its leader in the Lower House.

NEW DELHI: Analysts in India have described Rahul Gandhi's decision not to lead the Congress Party as a "huge mistake".

Congress was decimated in the recent general elections, but despite a strong demand from within the party for Mr Gandhi to continue the fight from opposition, he has stepped aside.

In a surprise move, the party declared former union minister Mallikarjun Kharge, as its leader in the Lower House.

Young leaders within the Congress Party had thrown their weight behind Rahul Gandhi urging him to take responsibility and lead from the front following an election wipeout.

But Mr Gandhi reportedly shied away from the job, instead choosing to try rebuild the party -- a move some political observers say shows he's a reluctant politician.

“I think it's a huge mistake on part of Congress,” said Shahid Siddiqui, a political analyst.

“They should have either chosen somebody who was effective, who was their own man, who was young, who could be the future leader of the party, or Rahul Gandhi should have taken the responsibility himself. You can't do back seat driving permanently even when you have lost the party, you have lost the country."

While Congress is downplaying the move, saying Mr Gandhi is busy working on re-energising the organisation, his decision has divided a party already on its knees.

Senior members of the party had wanted party president and Rahul's mother Sonia Gandhi to take the reins but instead they nominated another elder statesman -- former railways minister Mallikarjun Kharge.

Although little known in Delhi, Mr Kharge is a prominent leader of the party in the southern province of Karnataka who has never lost an election in a political career spanning nearly five decades.

"Sonia Gandhi, has trusted me and has put confidence in me. I will try my best to stand on the principles of my party," said Mr Kharge.

All eyes are now on the new Speaker of India's Lower House who has to decide whether to recognise Congress as the main opposition group and accord Mr Kharge the status of the leader of the opposition.

For any party to claim that position, it needs to have at least a 10 per cent of the total strength of the House. Congress won just 44 of the 543 seats. 

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