[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Congress has ‘anointed’ Rahul Gandhi as the ‘PM face’ of the Opposition combine against Modi in the 2019 General Elections. That is the farthest the party could have gone, given that the choice goes beyond naming him as the only Congress candidate for the top post. That it needs the concurrence of other constituents whoever they are of the ‘grand alliance’ has not inhibited the party from going ahead with the announcement. The alliance’s only asset so far is the name, ‘mahagathbandhan’; so, there is no question of a consensus at this point of time. And yet, the urgency is understandable as there may be a handful of other aspirants with equally compelling intent and ambitions.
This is precisely the reason why the Congress Working Committee has also authorised Rahul Gandhi to negotiate with potential constituents of the alliance. There is a clear understanding among the leaders that the Congress, on its own, is not in a position to put the young Gandhi scion in the cherished seat. To be able to stake claim on its own strength, Congress needs to win 150-200 seats and emerge as the largest single party should BJP fail to make it. Considering the party’s situation today, that is, indeed, a formidable task. So, the Congress has based its claim on the fact that it contests the largest number of seats among all the possible alliance partners.
Obviously, the party is keen to leverage the goodwill derived from Rahul’s acerbic attack on PM Modi during the course of the debate on the non-confidence motion. Although there have been a few hiccups, like the hug and the wink, the dominant view is that the Congress president scored a moral victory over his more seasoned and skilful opponent. Some of Modi’s jibes about childish immaturity and “someone’s eagerness to occupy the Prime Minister’s chair” notwithstanding, the party leadership is convinced that the debate firmly established the Rahul versus Modi proposition on a strong footing.
By keeping Rahul as the main target for most of his reply, Modi seemed to have recognised Rahul as his opponent. That was no small achievement for someone whom the BJP leaders have, all these days, been challenging to speak for 15 minutes without referring to any written notes.
That being said, Rahul’s bid as prime ministerial candidate of the Opposition parties is likely to face several roadblocks in the days to come. Mamata has not climbed down from her own ‘federal front’ dream, although she has acknowledged the need to avert splitting anti-BJP votes. Mayawati has already announced her vision of national proportions. And the latest on Chandrababu Naidu’s ‘third front’ is also not known. Most importantly, the BJP can be expected to leave no stone unturned to frustrate the efforts for a united Opposition front.