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Best to pick PM face after polls: Oppn parties after Stalin endorses Rahul Gandhi

“There is a broad agreement among all Opposition parties that the issue of PM will be decided after the poll,” Trinamool Congress’s Rajya Sabha floor leader Derek O’Brien said.

india Updated: Dec 17, 2018 23:57 IST
Saubhadra Chatterji
Saubhadra Chatterji
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Rahul Gandhi,2019 polls,2019 elections
DMK chief Stalin endorsed during an event in Chennai to unveil the statue of his father, the late M Karunanidhi. (AP Photo)

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) chief MK Stalin’s proposal to project Rahul Gandhi as a prime ministerial candidate of a united opposition found few takers within the ranks of the Opposition, with most parties maintaining that the issue should be settled only after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, if an opportunity arises for such a grouping to form the government.

“There is a broad agreement among all Opposition parties that the issue of PM will be decided after the poll,” Trinamool Congress’s Rajya Sabha floor leader Derek O’Brien said. TMC chief and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is also believed to have prime ministerial ambitions.

Stalin’s comments came during an event in Chennai to unveil the statue of his father, the late M Karunanidhi. The event was attended by Gandhi, his mother and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi, and other leaders of Opposition parties. The comments also come in the background of the Congress’s recent wins (defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party) in Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, and Rajasthan.

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, whose party and the TMC are bitter rivals in West Bengal, echoed O’Brien’s views. “Everyone is entitled to express personal views,” but “Indian politics has proved time and again that a formation takes place only after election. It happened in 1996 (Devegowda government), 1999 (first NDA government) and even for the UPA in 2004. We will decide this (PM) issue after the poll,” he said. Senior functionaries of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) said on condition of anonymity that their parties also hold the same view.

Congress leaders were at pains to emphasise the point Gandhi himself has pretty much said as much and that he has insisted that at this time, the focus of the united Opposition should only be on defeating the BJP.

Many Opposition leaders are apprehensive that naming a candidate could prove counter-productive. “We have to look at maximising the Opposition votes against the BJP, but many senior regional satraps may not agree to fight an election projecting Gandhi or any particular name as the PM,” said a senior Congress strategist.

This person, who asked not to be named, said that even in 2004, after the Congress emerged as the largest party, it proposed Manmohan Singh’s name as the Prime Minister and a consensus was built around his name.

Another senior Opposition leader, who asked not to be named, pointed out that it is not the first time Stalin has proposed Gandhi’s name as the PM candidate for the Opposition bloc. “At the Opposition meeting here on December 10, Stalin said the same thing.”

Former parliamentary affairs secretary Afzal Amanullah said, “In the electoral history of India, many coalition governments have faced troubles over power tussle within its components. The parties must focus on the real issues. The issue of deciding a PM will come only after they secure a majority in Lok Sabha in 2019, and it is a very challenging task against a formidable opponent.”

Samajwadi Party spokesperson Ghanshyam Tiwari told a TV channel: “We have stood steadfast that the mandate of 2019 would determine who would lead the government that is formed after that. If we read the elections right, the current mandate is also one that is based on agenda rather than leadership.”

Telugu Desam Party (TDP) spokesperson Lanka Dinakar tweeted, “Mahagatbandan will decide the PM of the Nation after #2019Elections, @RahulGandhi is prime contender in the #Mahagatbandan.”

First Published: Dec 17, 2018 23:29 IST