With Hardik Patel’s endorsement of Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee further stoking the wrangling over who should lead the opposition in Lok Sabha elections, Congress general secretary Ashok Gehlot told Subodh Ghildiyal no other leader other than Rahul Gandhi can helm the anti-BJP axis.
› Who will lead the opposition camp in 2019 Lok Sabha elections?
Rahul Gandhi. Congress is a national party, with presence in every village. The countrymen expect Congress to provide the leadership. While our workers will always say so, even people want it.
› PAAS chief Hardik Patel has said Trinamool Congress’s Mamata Banerjee should lead the opposition?
I don’t know what he said and in what context. So, I don’t want to comment on it. Rahul Gandhi is the Congress president and people want the leadership to be with a national party. Without that, our party will get stuck. If the Congress rank and file feels they have no role in the leadership of the country, why will they work? So, even the Congress brass cannot afford to consider such a thought (of conceding the leadership to another party). Even if Congress wants to show magnanimity, how can it if its worker is not ready?
› It was assumed that BJP, with an aggressive Hindutva agenda, will force the opposition together. That expectation has been belied?
This is the proper time. Sonia Gandhi has taken the timely initiative to bring together the opposition, like she had done in 2002.
› While Rahul has become the Congress chief, do you think he has gained acceptability among the opposition parties?
He just assumed the charge of Congress two months ago. When there is greater interaction with the opposition, I am sure he will become the leader. I am sure the opposition will show wisdom and, given the kind of government Narendra Modi is running, it will realise that leadership should be with Congress under Rahul Gandhi.
› But do you think the opposition will ultimately come on one platform?
No party likes the present situation in the country — of violence, hatred, insensitivity and an atmosphere of fear. Even NDA partners do not like it. Allies may leave the BJP closer to elections. Even BJP leaders resent that just Amit Shah and Narendra Modi are ruling the country.
› What will be an effective campaign against BJP in elections?
Despite the BJP getting a full majority, Modi has neither fulfilled his promises nor implemented his plans. Every section of the country is angry. So, how will this government return to power? Farmers, youth and women are disappointed. Modi just has his oratory. But oratory does not give you food or jobs or remunerative crop prices. We will put forth our agenda as delivered by Manmohan Singh government. We provided employment, brought in Food Security Act for the poor, enacted RTI for transparency. BJP just gave a slogan of bringing back black money and controlling inflation but has done nothing.
› How do you see it playing out in the elections?
Modi’s thoughts about a party, which fought for independence and faced brutality at the hands of the British, will sink him. He has no right to talk about Gandhi or Patel. He has no commitment to them but is only using their names to garner votes.