5 Reasons Why Stalin's "Rahul For PM" Line Didn't Become Chorus

There is no doubt that the results of the three Hindi-speaking states has changed the political complexion of the country. And it is now believed that the Congress, will now speak from a position of strength as the principle adversary to the BJP from within the parties that aspire to an anti-Modi platform, commonly known as the "Maha-gathbandhan'' (Grand Alliance). It is well known that there has been a hunt for the prime ministerial candidate in the anti-BJP camp and it is assumed that the Congress will now pitch Rahul Gandhi as the obvious choice. It is with this intent that the swearing-in of the three chief ministers - Ashok Gehlot, Kamal Nath and Bhupesh Baghel - were planned as mega events. The Congress had invited all opposition leaders for the events, just like H. D. Kumaraswamy did after the Karnataka assembly election. The gathering of the opposition leaders at that time was a signal for the alignment of anti-BJP elements on the lines of Anti-Congress-ism from the late 1960s to 1980. 

But there seems to be much hesitation on the part of some leaders who are themselves ambitious to succeed Modi. Which is why DMK chief M K Stalin's opinion, expressed over the weekend in Chennai, that Rahul Gandhi would be the prime ministerial candidate for the opposition, was not acceptable to a few stalwarts. It is also not without reason that Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee did not attend the oath-taking ceremonies.

Here are 5 reasons for the resistance to Rahul within the opposition:

1. Before the results of the assembly elections, the Congress was considered in bad shape. It was fighting for its survival. A weak Congress not only suited the BJP, but opposition parties as well since they could bargain hard for seats in their states. It also provided them an opportunity to position themselves for the top job in the country if the BJP failed in its mission in 2019. But the Congress' strong showing has upset those calculations.

2. Rahul might have emerged as a leader in his own right but is still considered a greenhorn in Indian politics. Many of these regional leaders have interacted with Sonia Gandhi and have a good equation with her. Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati will find it difficult to deal with her son who is many years junior to them. In politics, relationships and trust are built over a long period. One must remember that when Sonia joined politics and became the Congress chief, she struggled for years to be accepted by leaders of other parties. In 1998, Mulayam Singh Yadav, despite openly expending support to Congress for the formation of an alternate government after the demise of the Vajpayee government, backed out at the last minute. It was a big embarrassment for her as she had proclaimed that she had 272 MPs. Even within her own party, Sharad Pawar, P A Sangma and Tariq Anwar revolted against her and formed their own parties. 

3. In the opposition camp, Mamata and Mayawati are highly ambitious. Mamata has the second-highest number of MPs after the Congress and Mayawati, whose bloc could decide which side comes to power, believes she could use that to become PM in 2019. Despite winning only 18 assembly seats in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh election, the BSP is still the second-biggest party in the politically vital state with 23% votes. The Samajwadi Party has more MLAs but a smaller vote-share. The BSP has a sizeable presence in MP, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Karnataka as well and she has shown that in some of those states, her support can make all the difference.

4. Akhilesh, Mayawati and Mamata have chosen to bunk the oath-taking ceremonies to make it clear that the Congress should not take them for granted, that they are strong players in their own right and Rahul, despite his victory, is still needs their support. The Congress needs to move with caution for one must not forget that Mayawati chose not to ally with it in Madhya Pradesh. While announcing her decision for not forging an alliance with the Congress, she had kind words for Rahul and Sonia while blaming Digvijaya Singh and others for failing to co-opt her support. 

5. Though Akhilesh and Mayawati did not fight elections with the Congress, both were prompt to extend their support just after the results in MP and Rajasthan, showing their commitment to an anti-BJP cause. In electoral politics, such gestures are read as posturing or driving a hard bargain. A re-energized Congress now might ask for more seats in UP where Akhilesh and Mayawati are more powerful. So both leaders are keen to indicate to Rahul that he should not overestimate his electoral base and that if he wants to lead a national front, he has to accommodate varied interests and needs.

The battle ahead within the anti-BJP camp will not be easy. It's up to Rahul to build the rapport himself and make his mark.

(Ashutosh is a Delhi-based author and journalist.)

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