The nascent efforts for a united opposition faced its first big test on Sunday as a clutch of parties, sources said, opposed DMK chief MK Stalin's proposal that Rahul Gandhi be the opposition front's prime ministerial candidate for next year's national elections.
The Congress chief and his mother, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi were in Chennai on Sunday for the unveiling of a statue of DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi, who died in August. At the political meeting later, attended by several opposition leaders, DMK chief MK Stalin said "Rahul has got the ability to defeat fascist Modi government. Let's strengthen Rahul Gandhi's hands, let's save the country".
Sources said Samajwadi Party, Chandrababu Naidu's Telugu Desam Party, Trinamool Congress, Farooq Abdullah's National Conference, Lalu Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal and the CPM have objected to the suggestion.
So far, the opposition parties, including the Congress, have carefully avoided the issue of a face for the country's top job. But the Congress triumph over the BJP in three heartland states has given the party a key position in the opposition camp, where regional players, notably Mamata Banerjee, have been pitching for a bigger role.
Sources said Ms Banerjee has been at the forefront of efforts to form an alliance of regional players to negotiate with the Congress. There are hopes that their combined strength may give them the heft even to project a regional leader as a possible prime Ministerial candidate.
Among parties willing to sign up are Chandrababu Naidu's Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Arvind Kejriwal and Uttar Pradesh leader Mayawati, sources said. The Samajwadi Party has indicated that it is already a part of the united opposition and is not sure about this front.
Speaking to NDTV, Ghanshyam Tiwari of the Samajwadi Party said the question of the opposition's Prime Ministerial candidate was wide open. “We have stood steadfast that the mandate of 2019 would determine who would lead the government that is formed after that. If we read the elections right, the current mandate is also one that is based on agenda rather than leadership,” he said.
TDP's Lanka Dinakar said, “The Prime Minister candidate will be elected after the completion of the 2019 election. Of course being the primary contender is Rahul Gandhi because the main party is the Congress party and Congress party is leading as frontrunner."
Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati -- who skipped the 21-party meet of the opposition last week, which discussed a united front against the BJP next year -- will not be attending Monday's oath ceremonies of the Congress chief ministers in the three states. Mamata Banerjee will give the swearing-in ceremonies a miss as it is her mother's death anniversary, and will send representatives instead.
The BJP has mocked the opposition stance, with its national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya insisting that the opposition declare a prime ministerial candidate before thinking of defeating the Narendra Modi government.