Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Friday said that all non-BJP parties in India were primarily focused on removing the Narendra Modi government from power in the 2019 elections and not on who the next prime minister should be.
Gandhi, who addressed three interactive sessions on the first day of his two-day visit to London, asserted that there is a “massive fightback” against what he termed as an “attack” on institutions under the Narendra Modi government since 2014.
“I can tell you, the original idea of India is going to win, 100 per cent… We are defending an onslaught on the Indian constitution and institutions. Me and the entire opposition see it as defending the nature of the Indian state (in the 2019 elections),” the Congress president said.
Interacting with students – mostly Indians – during a conversation event at the London School of Economics (LSE) with academic Mukulika Banerjee of its South Asia Centre, Gandhi said a “formidable alliance” will take on the BJP in 2019.
“We have agreed that our first priority is to defeat the BJP and stop this encroachment on the institutional space, stop the poison that is being spread, stop the division that is taking place,” he said. “Once the election is over, all those conversations (about who should be the next prime minister) can be had, but we are not going to have those conversations until we are done with the first stage – removing the BJP from power.”
As LSE academics and students applauded Gandhi for what they called an “unscripted mann ki baat” extending over 70 minutes, Gandhi held that the Congress was working on a manifesto at the national and local levels, speaking to stakeholders, and gearing up to go to the people with what he called a “common minimum structure” with other parties. “There are some parties that are not aligned with the BJP now – they were earlier aligned with the BJP, but they are not aligned with the BJP now – I see this as an ideological battle. We are not going to ally with anybody who is not ideologically on our platform,” he said.
According to the Congress president, the next election was going to be “pretty straightforward”: The BJP on one side and the entire opposition on the other. “The reason for this is that almost everybody in the opposition, and even members of the BJP alliance, feel that Indian institutions are being encroached on. A systematic attack is taking place on Indian institutions.”
Gandhi cited the examples of certain senior Supreme Court judges taking the unprecedented step of alleging at a press conference in January that “they were not being allowed to do their work” and the removal of a journalist for doing a programme on Chhattisgarh farmers to drive home his point. “There is a feeling in the opposition that an organisation is challenging the very concept of India for the first time. So there is this mood that we need to defend the institutions, we need to defend the idea of one-man-one-vote, we need to defend the idea of inclusive India,” he said.
“You will have a clear-cut election (in 2019) where pretty much everybody will be on this side and the BJP-RSS on the other, and once that comes into play, you can look at the Uttar Pradesh and Bihar alliances, and the central focus areas become very difficult for the BJP to win,” Gandhi added.
After his interactive sessions at the LSE, Parliament complex in Westminster and the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Gandhi joined Richmond mayor Ben Khosa for dinner on Friday evening. He was accompanied by Sam Pitroda, a long-time associate of the Gandhi family, and Congress leaders Anand Sharma and Manish Tiwari.
He is scheduled to meet members of the Indian Journalists Association on Saturday afternoon and address the Indian diaspora at an event organised by the Indian Overseas Congress UK later that evening.