A day after DMK chief MK Stalin proposed Congress president Rahul Gandhi as prime ministerial candidate for 2019, the Opposition show of strength at the swearing-in ceremonies of Congress Chief Ministers in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh on Monday was marked by the absence of some prominent leaders.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and TDP leader N Chandrababu Naidu, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, MK Stalin Stalin and Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy were present as Ashok Gehlot took oath in Jaipur, Kamal Nath in Bhopal and Bhupesh Baghel in Raipur. Also present were NCP chief Sharad Pawar, LJD leader Sharad Yadav, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, AAP’s Sanjay Singh, and Stalin.
However, conspicuous by their absence were West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee, BSP chief Mayawati and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav. The Opposition show of strength seemed much less robust compared to that of the swearing-in of JD(S)-Congress CM H D Kumaraswamy in Karnataka six months ago.
TMC Rajya Sabha member and parliamentary party leader Derek O’Brien said: “The broad understanding reached by eight Opposition parties is that the issue (of PM candidate) name will be taken up after the elections.”
Amid Congress cheer, note of caution
The unanimous cheer among Opposition parties over the BJP’s defeat in three Hindi heartland states seemed to fray when it came to celebrating the Congress’s success. This became obvious through the absence of senior Opposition leaders Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav from the Congress’s celebratory events in Jaipur, Bhopal and Raipur on Monday. This clear downplaying of celebrations, compared to their grand show of unity in Bengaluru in May, could be an attempt by regional leaders to caution the Congress against assuming leadership of the Opposition camp ahead of 2019 elections. The DMK chief’s pronouncement favouring Rahul Gandhi a day earlier seems to have played the spoilsport for the occasion.
Sources said the party stand is clear — the name of PM will be decided only after the Lok Sabha results are out. “We have taken this very seriously. The entire Opposition is taking a closer and serious view of it. The presentation or announcement of a name is not welcome,” said a senior TMC leader close to Banerjee. “Such moves may impact the coming together of a coalition against the BJP at the Centre. The Congress itself is not naming anyone now. Why are some parties doing so?”
The party is preparing
for mega rally in Kolkata on January 19, where almost all Opposition party leaders are expected to share the stage and showcase unity.
Top leaders of the BSP and the SP also stayed away from Monday’s oath ceremonies, though both parties asked their MLAs to attend. In Rajasthan, where the BSP has six MLAs, they attended the ceremony and four of them were present on stage. In Madhya Pradesh, BSP MLA Sanjeev Singh said that he and another party MLA Rambai Govind Singh had gone to venue.
Akhilesh had on Sunday tweeted that the party’s newly elected MLA from Bijawar in Madhya Pradesh, Rajesh Kumar, would represent the SP at the oath ceremony.
According to sources, Mamata is in regular touch with regional party heads, most of whom expressed surprise over Stalin’s proposal. The perceived cracks over the PM candidate amid the Congress’s big win in the Hindi belt may put a spanner in Opposition unity, and give the BJP an additional handle to project PM Narendra Modi as the undisputed leader of his party and country.
Asked about his party’s views on Rahul as PM candidate, CPI MP D Raja said: “There was a historical context to what Stalin said. During Morarji Desai’s prime ministership, Karunanidhi had made a similar appeal to Indira Gandhi saying ‘Nehru’s daughter come and provide a stable government’ and Stalin said ‘as his son I am making the same appeal to Rahul Gandhi’. DMK is an independent party entitled its own view. Right now the goal is to defeat the BJP to save the Constitution, democracy and the nation. It (PM candidate) is not an issue now. It will be decided in the post-poll scenario.”
Asked about his party’s response to the pitch for Rahul as PM candidate, another Opposition leader said: “Look at who attended the swearing-in ceremonies today, and you will know who feels what… but to be fair even the Congress has maintained that the issue of PM candidate can only come up at a later stage.”
Kamal Nath told a television channel on Monday that the issue of PM will be decided after elections. —With inputs from Kolkata, Bhopal, Raipur