Amid predictions that the Congress is staring at the worst-ever defeat in its history, Sonia Gandhi gave a signal of the party’s possible strategy Tuesday when she met President Pranab Mukherjee, who will be at the centre of action if the elections throw up a hung verdict. Congress leaders had met Sonia Monday evening and many, sources said, had argued that the party should not sit idle in the event of a fractured verdict, a hope they were clinging on to.
Not all party leaders, however, agreed that they should play any role in efforts to form the next government, though they were united in seeking to deflect the blame for the predicted defeat from Rahul Gandhi.
Most senior functionaries admitted that the writing on the wall is clear and some are of the view that the party should honour the mandate and stay away from government formation efforts. A section, however, argued that contrary to the exit poll forecast, the BJP-led NDA would fall short of a simple majority and suggested it would give it elbow room for manoeuvring to stop the BJP.
Sources said an internal assessment of the Congress was that it would bag between 110 and 130 seats, a huge fall from the 206 seats it got last time. “It is going to be a mandate against us. But some of our leaders are not willing to sit in opposition. They are making efforts,” a senior leader said dismissively.
Several union ministers came out in defence of Rahul, the face of the party campaign, arguing the buck does not stop at his doorstep, a day after the Congress officially said a defeat would be not a reflection of his leadership.
“All this discussion is absurd. Rahul Gandhi is our leader and he will remain our leader in good and bad times,” External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said. He also rejected exit poll predictions and said even if they turn out to be true, the party will continue to repose faith in Rahul. “He will lead us from the front, he will tell us if something has to be told and something has to be advised,” he said.
“We are not like the BJP that we pick and choose people in order to make sure that we can win an election or not. We take our leadership based on enormous amounts of principle,” he said adding that the decision to choose Rahul as the leader was a collective one.
His cabinet colleague Kamal Nath, as also Jairam Ramesh, considered a key member of Team Rahul, held similar views. Nath said the UPA government was not able to convey to the people about its initiatives. “Election results are a reflection on what people’s perception of the government functioning was. To dismiss them (good work) and say we did nothing in 10 years is wrong. Rahul Gandhi was never part of the government,” Nath said.