The Congress prefers to leave the leadership issue of the anti-NDA alliance for after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls but on Sunday, key ally Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) proposed Congress president Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate, saying he has the “ability to defeat the fascist BJP”.The pitch came at a rally in Chennai as senior opposition leaders gathered for the unveiling of a statue of late DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi at the party office, Anna Arivalayam. It was the first time they were together at an event after the Congress wrested power in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in the November-December assembly elections. Many senior opposition leaders are also expected to attend the swearing-in of new Congress chief ministers — Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot in Jaipur, Kamal Nath in Bhopal and Bhupesh Baghel in Raipur — on Monday. United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Congress party president Rahul Gandhi, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) Chief and Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu, and his Kerala counterpart Pinarayi Vijayan were present at the statue unveiling. Tamil superstar-cum-politician Rajinikanth and former Union minister and disgruntled BJP leader Shatrughan Sinha also attended the event. After Sonia Gandhi unveiled the nine feet bronze statue of Karunanidhi, they paid tribute at his memorial at Marina Beach. The leaders then addressed a rally at Royapettah, where Stalin proposed Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate. Stalin said that Rahul Gandhi will be able to give good governance.“The current NDA government at the Centre has pulled the nation to 15 years back. If we allow them to rule further, they will draw India to 50 years back. When our leader (Karunanidhi) was alive, he welcomed Indira Gandhi to rule the nation. ‘Welcome (first prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal) Nehru’s daughter, give us a stable government’ is the famous quote of our leader since late 1970s,” he said. “Now, as a son of Karunanidhi and DMK’s chief, I propose the candidature of Rahul Gandhi from Tamil Nadu. He has the ability to defeat the fascist Modi government. I appeal to the leaders of all the parties on the dais. We will strengthen the hands of Rahul Gandhi and save this nation. Welcome Rahul Gandhi, give us good governance,” Stalin added. In her address, Sonia Gandhi called the nation’s people to come together to save the institutions and values of India. “India’s democratic values and institutional freedom which we preserved for last 70 years are under a risk now. So, the DMK-Congress alliance should stay strong to safeguard the institutions and values of the nation. It is a call to Tamil Nadu and the nation for making a change,” she said.Rahul Gandhi said different voices of the nation have come together against the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre. “BJP believes in one idea and is not ready to hear the voices of crores and crores people of the nation. So, all the voices have come together and will definitely dethrone the BJP,” he said.Praising the late DMK chief, he said, “I was impressed with the simplicity and honesty of Karunanidhi. His lifestyle has shown me the way how a political leader should behave. Karunanidhi had always stood as the voice of Tamil language, culture and tradition. However, under the government of Narendra Modi, the values of Tamil culture and tradition are under danger,” he alleged. The Congress president also said that he will not allow the BJP to destroy the freedom of individual institutions of the country. “We aren’t going to allow the destruction of the idea of India, the destructions of our institutions, the Supreme Court, the RBI (Reserve Bank of India), the EC (Election Commission). And we are going to stand together and do this,” he added. Naidu said the opposition parties have a compulsion to form an anti-BJP alliance to save the nation, accusing the Modi government of “destroying” all its institutions. “Karunanidhi fought for the states’ autonomy and federal structure. However, the BJP government ruling at the Centre is against the federal structure. We have not benefited from the BJP’s policies. “People elected a BJP government, all institutions were destroyed. Federalism is destroyed. They are misusing CBI. It’s a premier institution for corruption control, now it’s embroiled in corruption itself. They removed the CBI director. The RBI governor has resigned,” he said, in a reference to CBI chief Alok Verma being sent on leave amid a spat with his deputy Rakesh Asthana and the sudden quitting of central bank chief Urjit Patel.“Even ED (Enforcement Directorate), and IT (Income Tax) department are being used to victimise politicians. Yesterday you saw the Rafale case in Supreme Court. Even for SC, this government has filed wrong affidavit. Governors are misusing powers in Goa, Nagaland, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and other states,” he alleged.He further slammed the AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu, alleging it was controlled by the BJP.