Congress has to be the pivot for opposition alliance

Sachin Pilot/ president, Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee

PTI2_5_2018_000124B Sachin Pilot

Rajasthan Pradesh Congress president Sachin Pilot dismisses talk of his party forming an electoral alliance in the state. Stressing that the Congress is strongly placed in all 200 constituencies of the state to take on the ruling BJP, he says so far no talks have taken place for any electoral understanding for the upcoming assembly polls.

On moves for opposition unity for the Lok Sabha polls, Pilot says, in an interview with THE WEEK, the Congress has to be the pivot of any such alliance. Asked where Congress president Rahul Gandhi is placed in the scheme of alliance discussions, he says Rahul is the only opposition leader who has taken on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah consistently. Excerpts:

How are the moves for opposition unity influencing elections in Rajasthan?

For the last five years, we have taken up every single issue of public importance, be it farm distress, the bid to bring in new criteria for Panchayat elections, land acquisition or the gag order on the media. On all these issues, we have coordinated with other forces who have presence in small pockets.

However, when we talk of electoral alliance, as of now, no talks have taken place with any party. The Congress is strong enough in all 200 constituencies to fight the BJP on its own. It is a bipolar state, where elections are a direct contest between the Congress and the BJP.

There was talk about the Congress tying up with the BSP in Rajasthan.

There has been no discussion on having an electoral understanding with any party in Rajasthan. At the risk of not sounding modest, I want to state clearly that the Congress is in no need to get into any alliance in Rajasthan.

Can a pre-poll alliance with opposition parties be possible for the Lok Sabha elections?

The Congress has convened meetings of opposition parties to have a coordinated approach for taking on the Narendra Modi government. It will take some time for the alliance to take a final shape.

Should the Congress play the lead role in it?

For a rainbow coalition of parties to come into being, the Congress has to be the pivot. Only the Congress has the bandwidth to take on the BJP at the national level. Other opposition parties have an influence in one or two states. But the Congress has a pan-India presence, which makes it best suited to be the pivot of any opposition alliance.

Regional players are vying for pole position in an opposition alliance.

Numbers will be most important in deciding the dynamics of any such coalition. However, every party has to be prepared to make sacrifices. The Congress has shown that it is ready to make concessions to other parties for the sake of opposition unity. For example, the Congress gave a Rajya Sabha seat to an ally in Kerala.

Will the Congress be ready to sacrifice its leadership claims?

As leaders like Lalu Prasad Yadav and Sharad Pawar have said, any formidable challenge to the NDA has to be a UPA-plus entity. It cannot be a third or a fourth front.

The coming round of assembly elections, in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, will be a Congress versus BJP affair, and their outcome will set the tone for the Lok Sabha polls.

Should the opposition alliance have a face to it?

This question that can be tackled later. If you ask the Trinamool Congress, it will say Mamata Banerjee should lead the coalition. Numbers are going to be important in deciding this question.

Some regional parties have raised questions about Rahul Gandhi's capabilities to lead the alliance.

Mr Gandhi is not hankering after any post. Had he wanted, he could have occupied many important positions earlier.

I am not aware of any such criticism of Mr Gandhi. All the regional leaders have very good relations with him. As far as the Congress is concerned, Mr Gandhi is our leader and will lead the party into the elections.

Among the opposition leaders, only Mr Gandhi has taken on Amit Shah and Narendra Modi head on and has raised questions consistently with regard to the functioning of the Modi government.