The Congress party on Sunday virtually kicked-off its campaign for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls by setting a target of winning nearly 200 seats, thus emerging as the single largest party and putting forth its president Rahul Gandhi’s candidature for the prime ministerial role. Rahul, who chaired his maiden Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting, was named the party’s prime ministerial candidate for next year’s general election and was authorised by the party to decide on both pre and post-poll alliances. It was decided that the grand old party will be open to ‘state-specific’ alliances to grow its footprints pan-India.
After five hours of brainstorming, the CWC also made it clear that UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi will not lead alliance talks with other parties and that Rahul or leaders picked by him will talk to parties about possible tie-ups.
After the meeting which was attended by 239 leaders including Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh, the Congress said that he was ‘setting up a group’ to look into the question of alliances. The objective of yesterday’s meeting was to chalk out the final strategy for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and bring a clarity on its ‘mission 2019’. As many as 35 leaders spoke during the meeting. Former Union minister P Chidambaram gave a detailed presentation touching upon the question of alliance.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala told reporters that Chidambaram in his presentation pointed out that the party is facing serious challenges in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. While Uttar Pradesh sends 80MPs to Lok Sabha, the maximum by any state, Bihar, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu have 40, 42 and 39 Lok Sabha seats, respectively. He noted that “this itself adds up to around 200 seats”.
“He (P Chidambaram) said that in states where the Congress is weak currently, we must sew up regional alliances to take on the BJP,” Surjewala said.
Surjewala said that Chidambaram underlined that in multiple states, there are nearly more than 18 seats where the “Congress is the leading party and thus, in those states, the Congress should lead”.
Sending an unambiguous message to its current allies and also to others who may join the ranks with the Congress in the coming months, Surjewala said that the Congress will fight “this election under the stewardship and by putting forward our leader Rahul Gandhi”. He said that the Congress is the only party in the country which has a unit from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Porbandar to Tripura.
Surjewala said that the party may have won less number of seats in 2014, ‘but that doesn’t mean that our presence is not larger than any other party’. He said that the Congress’ mission is to win at least 200 seats in the upcoming elections, adding that the party president will be the face for the prime ministerial role.
“Once the Congress becomes the single largest party, touching the magic figure of 200 or more, naturally, then Congress will be leading whoever else wants to come in and walk hand in hand. And naturally then the Congress president would be the only face to be projected,” the chief Congress spokesperson said.
According to a report in The Indian Express, several Congress leaders who spoke yesterday during the meet were of the view that the “Congress should not sacrifice its interests while entering into alliances with other parties”.
“That the Congress should be the core of the alliance,” leaders told the CWC, according to IE sources.
The Congress toed the line a day after Trinamool Congress Mamata Banerjee announced a mega rally of the ‘united opposition’ in Kolkata on January 19 and said that her party will contest the Lok Sabha polls solo.
Surjewala sought to downplay the TMC supremo’s remark, saying, “Let’s not consider one statement as a final posture.”
Party general secretary Ambika Soni said that the party leaders want Rahul Gandhi to be the face of the opposition alliance. “Naturally, he (Rahul) is the leader of the main national (Opposition) party and we would want our leader to be the face of the Opposition alliance.”
Sachin Pilot, president of Congress’ Rajasthan unit, told the CWC that the Congress is the only party in the country that has the bandwidth to challenge and defeat the BJP. He said that the state parties are important and that they should talk to the Congress leadership.
“It is only the Congress that can hold the alliance together,” Pilot, according to the IE, said.
Congress Chief Minister from Punjab Amarinder Singh said the alliance of the opposition parties should happen at the national level to counter the BJP. To a question if the Congress was okay with entering into an alliance with the AAP in Punjab, Singh replied: “This is a decision to be taken at the national level. The alliances will be dependent on where the central leadership takes us. And wherever it takes us, we will go.”
The decision to authorise Rahul being the final word on alliances with parties came amid reports that Sonia Gandhi had a wider acceptability among the constituents of the UPA and others who are in talks to become a part of ‘united alliance’.
The CWC also discussed preparations for the upcoming assembly polls in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh. Elections in all these three BJP-ruled states will be held latest year, setting agenda for the next year’s polls.