A day after Rahul Gandhi was named as the head of the Congress’ Election Coordination Committee for 2014, a senior leader made it clear that the party was not going to project any individual as its prime ministerial candidate ahead of the general elections less than 18 months away.
Answering a question on whether Mr Gandhi’s new assignment — that will see him presiding over a committee that will oversee all party activities relating to Elections 2014 — meant that the Congress would project him as its prime ministerial candidate, party general secretary Digvijaya Singh — in an informal interaction with journalists — simply said, “We won’t be projecting anyone as PM.” Refusing to elaborate on that, his contention was that was how the Congress did things.
However, what Mr. Singh said publicly on Friday is something that party insiders have been saying privately over the last few weeks, and with a greater level of candour. Till such time as the party can achieve a majority — or at least a near majority — Mr. Gandhi will not be the PM candidate, these sources say. As things stand, it may be difficult for the Congress to return to power in 2014, but if it does with considerably reduced numbers — say with around 150 — the PM will be someone else, they stress.
Meanwhile, with the knowledge that public disenchantment with the Congress is at an all-time high, the party is now working overtime on all fronts to retain its position as the single largest party. So much so that it is now even willing to put into cold storage long favoured positions such as the dream of contesting elections alone. Indeed, Mr. Gandhi — like many key party leaders — has often espoused the idea.
Yet on Thursday, the party set up a sub-group specifically on pre-poll alliances, a move that suggested that the party does not just wish to consolidate current arrangements but is looking for new partners as well.
Mr. Digvijaya Singh, who has long been an advocate of going it alone, confirmed that the party was going to explore the possibility of fresh alliances. To a question on whether the party was planning to contest elections on its own, he said, “Not for this election.” Over the last 22 years, he pointed out, there had been a series of coalition governments, even though the “compulsions of coalition governments don’t allow the party leading it to fulfil its agenda”. He recalled that in Shimla (in 2003), the party had taken on board “the political reality” of coalition politics and that since then, “we have been negotiating pre-poll alliances in certain states”. That was not going to change now.
The sub-group tasked with discussing pre-poll alliances would talk to State units to explore the possibility of such arrangements before reporting back to the party leadership for a final decision. One of the new pre-poll alliances likely is with old friends, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, led by Lalu Prasad Yadav, and Lok Janshakti Party, headed by Ramvilas Paswan, in Bihar. “Our natural allies in Bihar are the RJD and the LJP,” Mr. Singh said.
In Uttar Pradesh, the party could have an arrangement with Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal, currently part of the UPA. And though the Congress has lost ally Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, and the MIM in Andhra Pradesh, it still has the DMK in Tamil Nadu, the IUML in Kerala, the National Conference in Jammu and Kashmir and the NCP in Maharashtra.