The Congress on July 22, 2018 said Rahul Gandhi will be its prime ministerial face for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls with the extended Congress Working Committee authorising him to forge alliances with “like-minded” political parties to take on the ruling BJP.
The decision to authorise Gandhi was taken at an over five-hour meeting of the extended working committee attended by CWC members, Pradesh Congress Committee chiefs and Congress Legislature Party leaders, including former prime minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
Rahul Gandhi also warned leaders at the CWC to abstain from making “irrelevant” statements in public that could derail its political discourse and harm the party’s prospects.
UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi claimed “reverse countdown” had begun for the Narendra Modi government at the Centre and said people of the country had to be “rescued from a dangerous regime” that was “compromising” with India’s democracy.
Manmohan Singh rejected what he called the “culture of constant self-praise and jumlas” and underlined the need for a solid policy framework to address the issues facing the country.
Singh said he would support Rahul Gandhi in the task of “restoring” India’s social harmony and economic development.
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said after elaborate discussions, the CWC identified some core issues that affect people of the country and the party will be building a mass movement by launching a ‘Jan Andolan’ unitedly across India by building a consensus on it with other parties.
He said the party sounded its poll bugle for next year’s general election.
AICC general secretary Ashok Gehlot said the CWC authorised Rahul Gandhi to take a decision on forging alliances with other parties and to form a committee, which the Congress chief later said “would be formed soon”.
He claimed an atmosphere of distrust is being created in the country due to the politics of hate and anger.
The CWC decision indicates the opposition party will forge alliances on state-to-state basis and will project Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial face for the next election as the party expects to better its 2004 performance.
“The Congress will fight this election under the stewardship, under the leadership and putting forward our leader Rahul Gandhi. On that we neither have doubt nor we have any second thoughts,” he said on Rahul Gandhi being projected as the PM face.
Surjewala said though the people of India will decide, but once the Congress becomes a single largest party touching a figure of 200 or more.
“But naturally, the Congress party will be leading the alliance and the Congress president will be the only face to be projected,” he said.
Giving a clear warning to party leaders not to make “loose remarks” and toe the party line while making utterance on key issues in public, “Rahul Gandhi gave a friendly advice to partymen that in view of the larger goal – 2019 elections, they will maintain discipline in both their language and their conduct,” Surjewala told reporters.
He said party leaders should maintain a balance of decorum and dignity of language and their conduct.
Surjewala said Rahul Gandhi told partymen to not lose sight of the goal and of people’s issues and their pains and sufferings and not be guided by a “failed” prime minister and his government, “which has nothing to offer, except for the poisonous, venomous, divide and rule policy”.
“That is why he said gravitas of language and conduct is expected by the people of this country of Congress leaders and they should adhere to it,” he said.
Certain comments of Congress leaders have embarrassed the party in the past and harmed its interests at the hustings.
These include Mani Shankar Aiyar’s “chai-walla” and “neech aadmi” barbs at Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The party had also distanced itself from Shashi Tharoor’s recent “Hindu Pakistan” remark.
Surjewala said in 2019 polls, the fight for the party is not against any individual, but against an ideology of suppression and subjugation, denigration and humiliation, both of institutions and sections of people.
“That ideology must be fought and India must be put back on the path of progress, peaceful co-existence, mutual cohabitation and harmony,” he said.
Surjewala said wherever an alliance is to be formed, there will be “real-time negotiations” and “some give and take”, as alliances can never be fought on rigidity or on absolute stands and “that is why the Congress president will decide on this and take a call”.
“We are committed to make alliances work and we are all with Congress president Rahul Gandhi in this endeavour. We have to rescue our people from a dangerous regime that is compromising the democracy of India,” Sonia Gandhi said in her address.
“Expansion of our party vote base is one of our biggest tasks. In each constituency, we have to find people who have not voted for us and develop a strategy to reach out to them and win back their trust,” Rahul Gandhi said at the meeting.
Congress leader P Chidambaram gave a detailed presentation on how the party can be strengthened with the help of allies in various states.
Party sources said Chidambaram highlighted that the Congress is strong in 12 states and it can triple its current strength of 48 members in Lok Sabha with help from allies and can even touch the 300-mark if it forms formidable alliances.