Asserting that stalling the BJP’s bid for power in Karnataka has galvanised the opposition, senior Congress leader Sachin Pilot has said his party will have to be the “pivot” of any rainbow coalition formed to take on the BJP in 2019 polls. As the political battleground shifts to the Hindi heartland after an intense power struggle in Karnataka that ended with the Congress-JD(S) government being formed, the former Union minister exuded confidence that the Congress would win the Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh Assembly polls slated for later this year. In an interview to PTI, Pilot said the anti-BJP forces were now aligning themselves to make sure that the BJP does not come to power in 2019 and the Congress would have a pivotal role to play in that.
“I think it is very clear that at a pan-India level, it is only the Congress party that has the capacity to defeat the BJP. Of course, there are regional parties and alliances that might be forged. But the pivot of any rainbow coalition will have to be the Congress,” the 40-year-old leader said. With arms aloft on a dias at the swearing-in ceremony of H D Kumaraswamy as chief minister in Bengaluru, a host of opposition leaders had last week sent out a signal that a front to take on the BJP could take shape, setting aside political differences.
Kumaraswamy had taken oath at a grand ceremony where a galaxy of top opposition leaders of national and regional parties, including Congress president Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, BSP supremo Mayawati and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, were in attendance.
Asked if Karnataka’s political events leading up to the formation of the Congress-JD(S) government had galvanised the opposition, Pilot answered in the affirmative. However, he asserted that only the Congress has the capacity and the bandwidth to take on the BJP at a pan-India level. There will have to be some sort of understanding in different states, but it is too early to pinpoint what will it be, he said.
Asked if plans to project Rahul Gandhi as the leader of a rainbow coalition had taken a hit with the Congress coming second best in Karnataka, Pilot said, “I don’t think anyone wants to project anything. “Right now, we want to work for the people of India who have been let down by the BJP and the only person in the opposition who I believe is taking on Mr (Narendra) Modi and Mr Amit Shah head on and making them accountable by asking very pertinent questions is Rahul Gandhi.”
“He (Rahul Gandhi) is leading from the front…the Congress party has never projected anything or anyone, but yes he is our party president and if you ask me who should lead, it has to be Mr. Gandhi because at an all India level, it is only the Congress party that can actually surmount a formidable challenge to the BJP,” Pilot said.
He asserted that like-minded opposition parties were already working together and would get more galvanised as the polls near. “It is too early to say what shape it (the coalition) will or will not take. But yes the intent and the presence of all the leaders in Bangalore was an indication of that formation. It is already work in progress. Mrs (Sonia) Gandhi called a meeting which 17 parties had attended in New Delhi,” he said.
Pilot, who is also the Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee chief and is largely seen as the Congress’s chief ministerial face in the state, said he was confident that his party would score a “historic” victory to unseat the Vasundhara Raje government. Talking about the upcoming Assembly polls in the Hindi heartland later this year, he said the Congress would score victories in the three states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh as there was “huge anti-incumbency” against the incumbent BJP governments there.
Asked if a win in the three states would change the dynamics for 2019, Pilot said, “Of course, these three states will be an example of how Congress will win and can win.” The BJP is on its way out and its decline will be “steep and sharp”, the senior Congress leader said. Pilot also dismissed suggestions that a campaign blitz by Prime Minister Modi, like the one in Karnataka, could impact the voters in Rajasthan.
“There is a limit to what a so-called blitz can do. Here (in Karnataka) we had a Congress government and all Mr Modi did was come and criticise. In Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, how will he justify the killing of farmers by the government, how will he justify more than 100 farmer suicides,” he said.
Pilot said it was one thing to campaign against an incumbent government, but defending a government with “absolute zero performance” might be a different ball game. Terming the BJP’s image of an election winning machine a “fallacy”, he said the party had been defeated in “almost every byelection whether it was in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and now coming up in Maharashtra”. “For the last 18 months or so, the momentum has shifted. People have now realised that social media and false promises will not deliver for the BJP,” Pilot said.