The Congress would like Rahul Gandhi to be the next prime minister if the BJP doesn’t get a majority in the 2019 general election but is open to the idea of supporting the elevation of other leaders from the opposition front including Dalit powerhouse Mayawati and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to the top post, top Congress sources told NDTV.
Congress and party boss Rahul Gandhi intend to go to great lengths to ensure that the momentum of opposition unity built over the last six months does not dissipate over the leadership issue. “The Congress is not averse to anyone else as the next prime minister except from the BJP and the RSS (the BJP”s ideological mentor),” the sources said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh had played on this perception in parliament last week as they ran down the Congress as unreliable partner, its track record of dumping allies and the many claimants for the prime minister’s post.
“This coalition will collapse once they start talking about leadership,” Rajnath Singh had said, a reference to the prime ministerial ambitions of regional satraps such as Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati.
The Congress thinks that opposition alliances in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh will give very good competition to the BJP in the two states that together account for 120 of Lok Sabha’s 543 seats. If the alliances deliver in these two states, the Congress believes it will be very difficult for the BJP or the NDA to get a majority.
The Bengal chief minister and Mayawati, a former chief minister Uttar Pradesh, haven’t spoken about their prime ministerial ambitions but make it a point not to rebut the suggestion when it is made.
Mamata Banerjee last week pitched herself as the opposition leader who going to take on the BJP head-on in Bengal and elsewhere when she announced a mega rally for January next year where she will invite other all India political leaders.
Mayawati, on the other hand, was all smiles earlier this year when on the sidelines of an election meeting in Karnataka, her party’s ally Janata Dal Secular leader Danish Ali, told NDTV that she was going to be the nucleus for the 2019 general election.
The Congress isn’t looking at an alliance with Ms Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress in West Bengal but was in talks with Mayawati’s party for Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, to start with. Ms Mayawati wants this understanding to be extended to other states such as Rajasthan as well but the Congress’s state unit has opposed any move to cede any space to the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Rahul Gandhi is yet to take a decision on the BSP alliance.
On Sunday, the Congress Working Committee, the party’s highest decision-making body, gave Rahul Gandhi a free to sign up any partner that he believes would improve the party’s chances in the Lok Sabha elections.
Sources told NDTV that Mr Gandhi didn’t want to take a position where his party is perceived to be “ruling” the alliances and would rather want to be “working” with the alliance partners.
It is in line with this principle that the Congress had offered the pole position in Karnataka to its alliance partner JDS’s HD Kumaraswamy though the Congress had ended up with more seats in the assembly elections.
The Congress is unlikely to be as generous in 2019. But sources told NDTV that if there are other parties in the opposition front that do get a larger share of seats, the Congress would not have a problem in stepping back.
“Let us see how the dice falls in 2019,” the source said.
In the run-up to the Karnataka assembly elections, Mr Gandhi had said he would be ready to be the prime minister in 2019 if his party emerges as the biggest party.