With exit polls predicting the worst-ever performance by the Congress, the party on Monday came out in strong defence of Rahul Gandhi, saying the responsibility would be taken collectively.
Asked whether Rahul, who had led the campaign, or Sonia Gandhi would take the blame for the performance, Congress spokesman Shakeel Ahmed said, “Rahul Gandhi is not in the government. He is the number two in the party. Sonia Gandhi is the party president. And, naturally, there is the local leadership. So, it is all collective.”
Ahmed, however, quickly added that the Congress and its allies would come back to power in the form of UPA 3. “There will be surprising results on May 16. We hope to improve our tally. All opinion and exit polls will once again be proven wrong like they were in 2004 and 2009.”
In Chennai, Union minister and senior Congress leader V Narayanasamy said the Congress would return to power at the Centre with the support of the Third Front. “As far as exit polls are concerned, they are just emerging. In the present circumstances, I see the Third Front supporting the Congress to form government,” he told reporters.
Narayanasamy’s statement comes days after finance minister P Chidambaram said the Congress, with some allies, had a “very good chance” of forming the next government. “If the Congress is in a position to form the government, it will come forward. I believe it will come forward,” he said.
He also insisted that the political scenario in 2014 is vastly different from that in 1989 when Rajiv Gandhi chose to sit in the opposition despite the Congress getting around 190 seats.
The remarks suggested the Congress has not given up its plan to stop BJP PM candidate Narendra Modi from coming to power despite Rahul ruling out any support to the Third Front in government formation.
In its internal assesment, the Congress has given itself 130 out of 543 seats in the Lok Sabha (LS).
On the BJP’s statement that the Congress should get used to sitting in the opposition, Ahmed claimed Modi had met the RSS leadership two days ago to find out whether he should become the leader of the opposition in the LS or continue as the Gujarat CM.
Later in the evening, the Congress core group, chaired by Sonia and attended by PM Manmohan Singh, deliberated on the party’s strategy ahead. Congress sources said the core committee praised Singh for his 10-year stint in office.