Congress President Rahul Gandhi addresses a press conference at AICC head quarters in New Delhi, on Friday, Dec. 14, 2018. (Photo/PTI )

Why Even Congress May Not Project Rahul As Prime Minister

MK Stalin calling Rahul Gandhi a prime ministerial candidate for the 2019 general election was met with an uneasy response by other opposition parties.

Leaders from the Trinamool Congress, Telugu Desam Party and Samajwadi Party, among others, pointed out that it was the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader’s personal view and not shared by other potential alliance partners.

The Congress and a range of other opposition parties are in talks to form an alliance ahead of the next general election to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. Projecting Gandhi as the potential prime ministerial candidate would be “disastrous”, said senior journalist N Ram, as that would completely divide the alliance.

If Stalin makes the projection, it’s a different thing. The Congress won’t project anyone. They have learned from 2004. Vajpayee versus question mark used to be the ridicule then.
N Ram, Chairman, The Hindu Group

Stalin’s backing for Gandhi comes after the Congress snatched the heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan from the BJP. That’s Gandhi’s first big electoral success since he was named the head of the Grand Old Party. He followed that up with regular challenges to Modi on the issues of farm loan waivers and alleged irregularities in the Rafale fighter jet purchase.

Surveys conducted by Lokniti -CSDS and C-Voter show that the gap in popularity between Modi and Gandhi has been shrinking after he became the Congress President in 2017. The latest of these surveys were conducted in October.

Still, the gap is too wide to be bridged in a few months to the 2019 election, said Sanjay Kumar, director at CSDS. While the trends for both leaders will remain consistent, the pace won’t be enough for Gandhi to overtake Modi.

I don’t see the possibility of Rahul Gandhi taking over Modi in terms of popularity at the national level by April 2019.
Sanjay Kumar, Professor & Director, CSDS

Disrupting a grand alliance of opposition parties will also keep the Congress from projecting Gandhi as a prime ministerial candidate. TMC’s Mamata Banerjee, Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati and Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav have already signalled their unease.

All three were present at the opposition show power at Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) government’s swearing-in in Karnataka earlier this year. But they chose to skip the ceremonies of Congress governments in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. That’s when Mayawati and Yadav pledged support of their legislators to the Congress in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

Gandhi has to work hard to gain acceptability of other opposition leaders, many of whom are his seniors, said political analyst and former Aam Aadmi Party leader Ashutosh. His mother Sonia Gandhi, too, had to work hard to be accepted as the chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance by leaders such as Sharad Pawar.

(Photograph: PTI)
(Photograph: PTI)
In terms of stature, Rahul has to work hard because there are senior leaders like Sharad Pawar, Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee in the opposition camp. And all of them have prime ministerial ambitions.
Ashutosh, Political Analyst

Watch the full debate here