‘Our strategy is simple. We will forge alliances with most of the regional parties across the country so that the BJP won’t cross a certain figure, say 230 seats’, said the Congress president.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s sole focus in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections is to ensure that Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not return to power. The Congress president plans to work with smaller parties in a manner that even if the Bharatiya Janata Party returns to power, some other BJP leader is made Prime Minister and not Narendra Modi. Rahul is ready to keep his own prime ministerial ambitions on hold in the process. This was the sum and substance of Rahul Gandhi’s interaction with senior journalists in Hyderabad on Tuesday. Observers say that all this is based on the assumption that if Modi returns as Prime Minister, it will be difficult for the Congress to defeat the BJP in subsequent elections. But a “weak” BJP government without Modi at the helm would be easier to take on in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, or even earlier in mid-term elections.
This reporter attended the Hyderabad interaction held at Tourism Plaza a state government guesthouse next to Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao’s (KCR’s) official residence-cum-office, Pragati Bhavan, in Begumpet. Rahul shook hands with a Telugu TV news channel’s senior editor and betted that the BJP would not win more than 230 seats in the next Lok Sabha elections.
“What is your bet? I am sure that the BJP will be less than 230 MPs as it is bound to fail miserably in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar which account for a bulk of its present tally,” insisted the Congress president. The senior editor sought an exclusive interview as the bet, and Rahul Gandhi immediately agreed to grant him one after the elections.
Rahul also explained his political strategy for the upcoming general elections, saying that his first priority was to ensure Modi was removed as PM, and other issues such as who would become the PM can be resolved later.
“Our strategy is simple, we will forge alliances with most of the regional parties across the country so that the BJP won’t cross a certain figure, say 230 seats. If that happens, many allies of the BJP and also some of its own leaders will insist on making someone other than Modi as Prime Minister,” said Rahul Gandhi.
When asked about his possibility of becoming the PM in 2019, the Congress president appeared evasive, saying that such things would depend on the numbers after the election results were announced. He didn’t show much enthusiasm when many of his party leaders referred to him as the “future PM of the country”.
Rahul Gandhi was optimistic about a Congress government in Telangana after the next elections, but candidly admitted that his party was not in a position to come to power in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. “In Andhra Pradesh we may improve our tally but we will not come to power,” he said. He, however, refused to spell out who his alliance partners in Andhra would be.
Rahul Gandhi, when asked about how warmly he hugged PM Modi in the Lok Sabha recently, said that “it was warm for me, but icy for the other side”. “I hugged him basically to explain our philosophy that we won’t hate anyone or any party. But Modi hates us and wants to see a Congress-mukt Bharat, which is not good for democracy.” Rahul also targeted PM Modi for not interacting with the media in the last four years. “Look, I am talking to you freely for over an hour now. But have you seen Modi holding a media conference in the last four years? No, because he doesn’t like to be grilled by the media. He only shares his ‘man ki baat’,” Rahul mocked.
When asked to comment on Telangana CM KCR’s remark that his family rule was better than that of the Gandhi family’s rule in Delhi, the Congress president said: “See, the last time a family member of mine was in power was in 1989. So, for the past 30 years we have not been in power.” He claimed that Manmohan Singh was PM with full powerd during the UPA’s two terms from 2004 to 2014. When asked whether his mother Sonia Gandhi was the real power centre in the UPA government, Rahul said that if that was the case, then RSS was in control of the present BJP government. Rahul said that his mother was limited to piloting social legislations like MGNREGA, Right to Information Act, Right to Education etc, but never interfered with day-to-day governance. On the question of his marriage, Rahul said: “I am already married to the Congress party.” He later interacted with other professional groups in Hyderabad which included entrepreneurs and a young CEOs forum. Andhra Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu’s daughter-in-law, Nara Brahmani, who looks after a family company, Heritage Foods, was among the CEOs who interacted with Rahul.
The interaction with the press was a brainchild of Rahul’s close advisers in the AICC. These meetings appear to be a part of his outreach to different sections especially those in the media to explain his case against the Modi government’s Rafale fighter jets deal. The Congress president raised this issue in the Lok Sabha during the no-confidence motion debate on 20 July, but it was obvious that he wanted to use the interactions with the media to ensure more coverage of his arguments on Rafale across the country.