In his first response to DMK's MK Stalin proposing Rahul Gandhi as the opposition's prime ministerial candidate for 2019, Akhilesh Yadav today said: "Someone's opinion does not have to be the alliance's opinion too".
The Samajwadi Party leader along with Bahujan Samaj Party's Mayawati skipped a big Congress celebration on Monday. Their absence in the line-up of opposition leaders hopping oath ceremonies in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh - states that Congress seized from the BJP last week - fueled speculation, though the Congress drew comfort from their representatives.
Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee also didn't attend, but like the Uttar Pradesh rival-turned-allies, sent a party leader.
Mamata Banerjee is believed to be leading the initiative to form a non-Congress, non-BJP grouping that will have stronger bargaining power with the Congress after the election.
Asked to comment on Stalin's proposal, Akhilesh Yadav said: "If someone is giving their opinion it is not important that the entire alliance's opinion is the same. So this exercise will keep going on. The BJP need not worry about it."
He said efforts at forging an alliance of opposition parties had been on for many months. "The public wants this government to go and some kind of alliance to be formed in the country. You would remember that the current Chief Minister of Telangana had also tried calling leaders of all parties to meet and discuss. He tried with Stalin, he tried with me as well. The same way, even Mamata-ji tried forming some kind of an alliance. Same way even Sharad Pawar ji had tried, Chandrababu Naidu is also trying. So this will keep going on," said the former UP chief minister.
Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi's partnership for the UP polls last year failed to click and the Samajwadi Party lost power to the BJP. Before the latest round of state elections, Akhilesh Yadav sulked after the Congress held alliance talks with Mayawati first and directed several digs at the party. To questions on whether his relationship with the Congress has soured, he has always claimed a "lasting friendship".
MK Stalin, given the objections of many in the opposition, put out a statement on Monday defending his proposal. "Projecting Rahul Gandhi for PM is the right thing to unite secular forces," Mr Stalin said, pointing out that the Congress chief was "responsible for victory in three BJP bastion states".
He said: "We require a strong leadership to coordinate democratic forces. That's why I've proposed Rahul Gandhi. Rahul's hands ought to be strengthened to extricate the country from communalism and to establish democracy."