UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi speaks as Congress president Rahul Gandhi and former PM Manmohan Singh look on at the Congress Working Committee meeting in New Delhi on Sunday.(HT Photo)
UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi speaks as Congress president Rahul Gandhi and former PM Manmohan Singh look on at the Congress Working Committee meeting in New Delhi on Sunday.(HT Photo)

Congress to focus on state alliances in 2019 polls, Rahul Gandhi to lead charge

The Congress maintained that Rahul Gandhi, 48, will be the party’s face and will lead the campaign for the 2019 polls.
By Aurangzeb Naqshbandi | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 22, 2018 11:28 PM IST

The Congress on Sunday formally sounded the bugle for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as it decided to go for strategic and state-specific tie-ups to defeat Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP, and insisted that there will be “reasonable give and take” while striking alliances.

The Congress maintained that Rahul Gandhi, 48, will be the party’s face and will lead the campaign for the 2019 polls. The decisions were taken at a five-hour meeting of the newly constituted Congress Working Committee (CWC), which authorised Gandhi to take a call on pre- or post-poll alliances. He was mandated to form different committees for elections. “We are setting up a group that is going to do that,” Gandhi said on being asked if the party had started forming alliances for 2019.

Flaying the Congress’s bid to bring forward a united opposition against Modi, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said the party was playing the role of a suicide bomber and would sink others too. He termed the CWC as “Congress Darbari Committee”.

While 239 Congress leaders and office-bearers from across the country were invited to the CWC meeting, former general secretaries Digvijaya Singh and Janardan Dwivedi, who were on Tuesday dropped from the party’s highest decision-making body, gave it a miss.

Gandhi, who had on Friday delivered one of his most aggressive speeches in the Lok Sabha during a debate on the no-confidence motion, warned party leaders of strict action if they spoke out of turn at a time when the Congress was fighting a “bigger and fundamental” battle for freedom. The issue was also flagged by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and senior general secretary Ashok Gehlot. “Rahul Gandhi clearly pointed out and gave friendly advice to partymen that in view of the larger goal -- the 2019 election -- they should maintain discipline in both their language and conduct,” Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala told reporters. “There is freedom of expression, but as far as toeing the party line is concerned, it is expected of the Congress workers and the entire leadership that they will maintain the balance of decorum and dignity of language,” he added.

In recent weeks, there has been a controversy around Shashi Tharoor’s “Hindu Pakistan” remark, and right before the Gujarat elections, Mani Shankar Aiyar’s comments against PM Modi had prompted his suspension from the party.

The broader theme of the CWC meeting was the issue of alliances and former finance minister P Chidambaram gave a detailed presentation on the Congress’s strengths and weaknesses in different states.

According to a leader who attended the meeting, Chidambaram said the Congress is strong in 12 states where it could register a threefold increase in the number of seats the party won in 2014.

Chidambaram was also said to be of the view that the Congress could touch the 300-mark if it formed formidable alliances with regional and national political parties in different states.

By authorising Gandhi to decide on a coalition, the party sought to send a message that his will be the final word on alliances and that his mother and predecessor Sonia Gandhi, who is said to have wider acceptability among different political parties, would help him in negotiations.

Asked if Gandhi will be the party’s prime inisterial candidate, Surjewala said that they will fight the 2019 elections under his stewardship and leadership.

“On that, we neither have a doubt nor any second thoughts. We expect to better our 2004 performance. Naturally, the people of India will decide. Once the Congress becomes the single largest party touching the figure of 200 or above, naturally it will be the leading party. We will fight this election by putting forward our leader and the Congress president will be the only face to be projected,” he said.

Surjewala said Gandhi also told the meeting that he will negotiate on alliances “without compromising on the party’s interests”. The Congress’s chief whip in the Lok Sabha Jyotiraditya Scindia had raised the issue earlier. He had said that while alliances have become a reality the Congress should not comprise on its interests in such tie-ups.

Political analysts said that apart from forming alliances, the Opposition should project its agenda to the people. “Some sort of basic common agenda should be given by these parties and they need to talk about all the things that have been troubling the people apart from the failures of the present government. You have to give some hope to the people. Only then will they be able to decide about giving their support. Too much emphasis on bargaining and seat-sharing is not exactly giving a positive message,” said Prof Balveer Arora, a Delhi-based political analyst.

Sonia Gandhi maintained the Congress was committed to forming alliances with like-minded parties to defeat the BJP. “We are all with Rahul Gandhi in this endeavour. We have to rescue our people from a dangerous regime that is compromising the democracy of India,” she said in her address.

Former Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit raised the issue of alleged EVM tampering while other speakers stressed the need for improving the party’s booth management and effectively countering the BJP’s attempts to polarise voters in the run-up to the elections.

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