Congress leader Rahul Gandhi (38) on Tuesday made strong overtures to NDA and Third Front partners. Gandhi appeared to seek allies for the Congress envisaging a post-poll situation where Manmohan Singh (76) emerges as Prime Minister again.
Gandhi said the Congress was ready for post-poll alliances and illustrated this by trying to reach out to the Left parties and praising Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar (58) as well as Telugu Desam Party chief N. Chandrababu Naidu (59).
He maintained that existing NDA allies like the JD-U and former allies like 61-year-old Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK were looking for options. “The fight has gone out of the BJP," the Amethi MP said while addressing his first formal press conference in the National Capital after entering active politics five years back. Delhi votes for the Lok Sabha on May 7.
Gandhi expressed confidence that the Congress would form the government with the Communists supporting Manmohan Singh as PM after the Lok Sabha polls.
“I am confident that the Left would rather have a Congress Prime Minister,’ he said.
Within hours of his remarks, the BJP and the Left parties reacted sharply.’ The Left reiterated its objective of installing a non-Congress, non-BJP government at the Centre. “Manmohan Singh is not the issue. The issue is UPA policies. Our efforts to get all secular parties together for a third alternative are on,” senior Politburo member SR Pillai (61) told Hindustan Times.
Attempts by Gandhi to woo the Left is “an admission of the Congress’s defeat,’’ claimed CPI national secretary D Raja (60). The BJP also hit out. “It is pure hallucination of the Congress that Nitish Kumar would leave the NDA.Gandhi was trying to create a fictional arithmetic which would be clear by May 16 when votes are counted,’’ said BJP leader Arun Jaitley. During his press conference, Gandhi asserted that the Congress was keeping all its post-poll options open. He also praised Nitish Kumar and Naidu.
"I respect Naidu. He has done a good job. May be he focused on Hyderabad. I am not saying (only we have leaders). There are leaders who are in the opposition. Nitish for example. .I think the intention (to work) is there," he said to a pointed query on the performance of Opposition ruled states on development.
Gandhi rejected the contention that UPA allies did not share the same enthusiasm for Manmohan Singh and leaders like NCP’s Sharad Pawar were also claimants for the PM’s post.
"If the NCP becomes the single biggest party that option is open," Gandhi quipped, extending the same argument to the Left parties. “It they get 180-190 seats, I’d be the first one to say let us support the Left,’’ he said to questions whether the Congress would return the compliment to the Left which had supported them for four years by backing them for two years.
Claming a “positive undercurrent’’ in the Congress’s favour, Gandhi was confident that his party would better its 2004 tally of 145 Lok Sabha seats, improve its performance in the key Hindi-speaking state of Uttar Pradesh where the people, he claimed, were "tired" of the BSP, the BJP and the SP and were looking towards his party.
Gandhi also expected the party to put up a good show Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh where the BJP was in power and in the BJD-ruled Orissa. Asked if the party was ready to sit in the Opposition, he said: “In a democracy, if it so happens, we have no choice.”