New Delhi: Former Union Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad Sunday appeared all set to become Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha after his appointment as Leader of Congress in the Upper House.
Anand Sharma, another minister in UPA-II, was made Deputy Leader of the party, Congress General Secretary Janardan Dwivedi said.
Since Congress has the requisite number to claim the post of Leader of the Opposition in the Upper House, 65-year-old Azad would be the natural choice.
Congress has 67 members in the 245-member House, thereby meeting the requirement of having ten per cent of the total strength of the House to get the post of Leader of the Opposition.
The two key appointments come on the back of the party making Mallikarjun Kharge, a senior Dalit leader from Karnataka, the Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha and former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh the party's Deputy Leader in the Lower House.
Azad, who contested the Lok Sabha election from Udhampur in Jammu and Kashmir and lost by over 60,000 votes, is a party veteran and one of the senior most members in the Rajya Sabha.
Congress has announced the name of its Chief Whip and whips in Lok Sabha, while the same for the Rajya Sabha are yet to be announced.
Jyotiraditya Scindia, one of the two Congress MPs from Madhya Pradesh, was made the Chief Whip in Lok Sabha, while Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda's son and lone MP from the state Deepender Singh Hooda and Kerala MP K C Venugopal were appointed as whips in the Lok Sabha.
In the Rajya Sabha, names of Azad, Digvijay Singh and Anand Sharma were doing rounds for the post of Leader of House.
Dwivedi said, "The Chairperson of Congress Parliamentary Party Sonia Gandhi, exercising her authorisation by the Constitution of the Congress party in Parliament, has nominated Azad as Leader of Congress in Rajya Sabha and Anand Sharma as Deputy Leader." Azad, who was Health Minister in UPA-II, was Parliamentary Affairs Minister in UPA-I for some time.
In October 2005, he was appointed Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir heading a Congress-PDP alliance, which later fell apart over Amarnath controversy.
He has a vast experience of working in the organisation and has served as AICC General Secretary for a record nine times. He has also been member of the powerful Congress Working Committee for 18 years. Azad was also Youth Congress President in 1980.
He has been a member of both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. The party appointed Azad as it will like to utilise his political experience in the House as Congress can create some discomforting moments for the ruling party after it was reduced to just 44 members in the Lok Sabha.
Congress has a number of senior leaders in Rajya Sabha, including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was the Leader of the House in UPA-II, party veteran A K Antony, Congress Treasurer Motilal Vora, Sonia Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel, Vayalar Ravi, AICC general secretaries Ambika Soni, Janardan Dwivedi and Digvijay Singh.
Azad, a reticent politician, having good relations across all parties is also considered combative and articulate.
Since Kharge, a Dalit face from south India was made the Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha, party leaders have indicated that the choice in Rajya Sabha has to be from north India and it could be a Brahmin, Muslim or Thakur face.
Another party veteran Karan Singh had declined the offer to be made the Leader of Congress in Rajya Sabha, while Dwivedi had said he has not been given any such offer and will decline it even if asked to accept the responsibility. Vora has also ruled himself out of the race.
The party had said that before nominating anybody as Leader in Rajya Sabha, Manmohan Singh will be consulted. Congress Deputy Leader in Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma was one of the founders of NSUI, the student wing of Congress.
After serving as the chief of Himachal Pradesh Congress and the party's national general secretary, he rose to head the Indian Youth Congress in 1985.
He has also worked closely with late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Sharma was first elected to Parliament in 1984 at the age of 31 and was was the party's Chief Spokesman for six years.
He was a minister of state in UPA-I and was elevated to cabinet rank in UPA-II.