The Congress cannot be isolated by those trying to form a Third Front or Federal Front, says senior Congress leader Kamal Nath, who feels that the opposition should come together with state-specific anti-BJP fronts to unseat the Modi government in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
He dismisses reports that parties like the Trinamool Congress and Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS of Telangana) are not comfortable with the leadership of Congress President Rahul Gandhi and has no problems about Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK of Tamil Nadu) Working President M.K. Stalin talking to Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao.
The nine-time MP also rejects suggestions that the Congress was adopting a soft-Hindutva stance to counter an image that it was pro-Muslim.
“Congress is an all-India party. It can never be isolated. The question is to have an anti-BJP front. It has to be state-specific. That’s the thing. The basic thing is that it will have to be anti-BJP. BJP polled 31 per cent votes in parliament (elections) and they claimed they have a national mandate which is false,” Kamal Nath, who has just been appointed the Madhya Pradesh Congress chief, told IANS in an interview.
He was asked about efforts by leaders such as Rao, who is also the TRS chief, and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee talking about forging a Federal or a Third Front and whether there was an attempt to isolate the Congress.
Such efforts to unite regional parties have gained momentum in the past two months with Rao meeting leaders of several parties including Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) leader H. D. Deve Gowda, DMK leader Stalin and Jarkhand Mukti Morcha leader Hemant Soren. He has also received support for his proposal from former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi. Rao has also met Banerjee, who is making efforts to bring together opposition parties and has pitched for one-to-one contest with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
During her visit to Delhi in March, Banerjee had met Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar besides MPs from the Shiv Sena, TRS, Biju Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and DMK. She also met Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and got the backing of former Union ministers Shatrughan Sinha, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie in her efforts to forge a front against the BJP.
Banerjee had met United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and stressed on the Congress to join a united opposition front against the BJP.
Nath, a former Union minister, said the proposal of one-to-one contests against BJP-led NDA was being discussed.
“We are discussing it. Everything is under discussion at the moment because parliament elections are one year away,” he said.
The 71-year-old leader said discussions among opposition parties were inconclusive and there was no question of any reservations about Congress President Rahul Gandhi leading the proposed anti-BJP front.
“Everybody is talking to everybody. There are back channels. So there is no question of reservations,” he said in answer to a query about any apprehensions in the opposition camp about Gandhi’s leaderhip.
Asked if the 2019 electoral battle will be a contest between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, Nath said: “Let us see. It will be an anti-Modi, anti-BJP contest,” he said.
There have been suggestions, including by Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien, that opposition should play to its strengths and not pitch the next Lok Sabha polls as a presidential-style contest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
O’Brien had also suggested that “collective leadership” would bring parties together against the BJP in each state and it was easier to take on Modi with a strong face in each state.
Asked if the Congress will take the lead in the opposition alliance, Kamal Nath said everything has to be state-specific.
“Everything has got to be state-specific. Like in West Bengal it has to be very different to Haryana. Kerala has got to be very different to Tamil Nadu,” he said.
Sonia Gandhi has also been convening meetings of opposition parties to forge unity on various issues against the policies of the BJP-led government. These parties, which include some outside the Congress-led UPA, had put common candidates for presidential and vice-presidential elections last year against the NDA.
Kamal Nath also said there is nothing wrong about Chandrasekhar Rao talking to Congress ally DMK.
“Why not? I think everybody should talk to everybody. Then each one will understand everyone’s position. Nothing wrong with that. You see non-dialogue is bad,” he said.
To a question about the Congress adopting a soft-Hindutva approach with top leaders including Rahul Gandhi visiting temples, Nath said, “We are all deeply religious. This is a ploy that the BJP….(is resorting) to such a propaganda. We all visit temples all the time. I have built a 101-feet Hanuman Mandir in Chhindwara many years ago. I have been to temples. Does that mean I am becoming pro-Hindu? I am Hindu, I am not Hindutva. We are inclusive. Congress politics is very inclusive politics. You cannot make divisions in society.”