The Congress on Thursday said it would explore all options, including a grand alliance, to defeat Prime Minister Narendra Modi and pose a “formidable challenge” to the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
Its senior partners in the Bihar ruling coalition – Janata Dal (United) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) – joined the chorus and said Uttar Pradesh elections would have had a different outcome had the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress come together.
Riding on Modi’s popularity, the BJP stormed to power in the bellwether state, getting 312 seats in the 403-member House. Along with allies, the number rises to 325.
The Congress got seven seats and partner SP got 47.
While the BJP’s vote share was 39.7%, the BSP’s was 22.2%, SP 21.8% and the Congress 6.2%. The combined vote share of the three non-BJP parties adds up to 50.2%.
Congress leader CP Joshi cited the equation to push for the non-BJP grouping. “The BJP did not get a very strong vote share in recent state elections whereas Congress and its allies got a good vote share despite losing the polls,” he told reporters.
“Everything possible will be done to counter the BJP. The Congress and its allies will pose a formidable challenge to BJP in next general elections.”
The remarks were in response to a suggestion by former minister Mani Shankar Aiyar that the Congress should look at a broad alliance to ensure the BJP’s defeat in 2019.
“Only a fool will say that Prime Minister Narendra Modi can be defeated single-handedly,” he said.
The JD(U), however, insisted its leader and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar should lead the proposed grouping into the Lok Sabha election. “Nitish Kumar should be the leader of the grand alliance, only then will it be possible to defeat the BJP,” party leader Sanjay Singh said.
The CPI(M), too, pitched for a tie-up, saying it should be forged on the basis of common programmes and policies.
“The UP verdict has underscored the necessity for alliances of political parties against the BJP being forged on the basis of common programmes and policies... The abject failure of the SP-Congress alliance is a pointer,” former CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat said in the editorial of the forthcoming issue of the party’s weekly mouthpiece ‘People’s Democracy’.
On the day the Congress pitched for the alliance, party leaders defended vice-president Rahul Gandhi over the recent electoral setbacks. “Rahul Gandhi is being criticised unnecessarily. He has been a good manager and his role needs to be assessed in a proper manner,” Joshi said.
Aiyar, too, said nobody could take Gandhi’s place but the party needed young leaders in decision-making positions.
Gandhi, who promised structural changes in the party, on Thursday left India to join his mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi who is undergoing medical checks abroad.
“He will accompany the Congress president on the return journey,” party’s chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said.
Gandhi has in the past faced criticism for his unannounced foreign trips, with rivals accusing of him being a “non-serious” leader.