- Rahul Gandhi defends decision to field candidates in Uttar Pradesh
- It is pretty clear that in UP, a secular formation is winning, he says
- Gathbandhan, Congress are going to clean Uttar Pradesh up, he adds
Rahul Gandhi on Thursday defended his decision to field candidates in Uttar Pradesh against those of Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, reinforcing the comments that have landed his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in a controversy. "It is pretty clear that in UP, a secular formation is winning, whether it is the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party or Congress," the Congress president told NDTV in his first television interview in the 2019 national election.
Rahul Gandhi echoed Priyanka Gandhi's comment that Congress candidates had been put up to harm the BJP wherever they were weak. "I have told my sister and told Jyotir that our primary aim in UP is to defeat the BJP. In the places where we are not going to win the elections, let's support the gathbandhan. And the gathbandhan and Congress party are going to clean Uttar Pradesh up," he said, referring to Priyanka Gandhi and Jyotiraditya Scindia, who are sharing charge of the Congress campaign in Uttar Pradesh for the Lok Sabha election.
Asked about being left out of the Mayawati-Akhilesh Yadav club in India's most politically vital state, Rahul Gandhi said: "You have to ask the SP and BSP. They chose this for strategic reasons and they felt they don't have to ally with the Congress."
But the acrimony has been seen in rallies. Mayawati spent much time at a rally in Barabanki on Wednesday telling people not to vote for the Congress.
"Well obviously in the UP context, the Congress is a threat to Mayawati and Mulayam Singh. But as far as I am concerned I am extremely respectful of Mayawati ji and Akhilesh Yadav ji. And I understand that there is a secular formation that is operating in the UP and it is going to crush the BJP," Rahul Gandhi said.
Explaining the dynamics of "helping the SP-BSP" while attacking the gatbandhan in rallies, he told NDTV: "Now my long-term position in UP is very clear and I have told Jyotir and my sister that we have to build the party in UP and that is assembly elections. And in the short-term here in Lok Sabha we have to fight for our space, we have to make sure our space is defended. We have to defend our ideology in UP and wherever we feel that there is fight between the gathbandhan and BJP, we are going to support the gathbandhan."
Priyanka Gandhi's comment on fielding "weak Congress candidates to eat into BJP votes" drew skepticism from Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati on Thursday. "I don't believe that the Congress has fielded weak candidates anywhere. No party does it. People are not with them, so they are making excuses," said Akhilesh Yadav.
Mayawati said cuttingly: "The BJP and the Congress are the same. Don't waste your vote on the Congress. Is Rahul Gandhi immature? Why did he hug Prime Minister (Narendra Modi?)."
Reacting angrily to suggestions that she and the Congress were helping the BJP by splitting the votes against it, Priyanka Gandhi said: "I would rather die than help the BJP in any way."