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Ghulam Nabi Azad's U-turn over PM post points to confusion within Congress; Mamata Banerjee's ascent is likely reason

Ghulam Nabi Azad's flip-flop on whether or not the Congress would claim the post of prime minister for Rahul Gandhi after the results of the Lok Sabha polls points to confusion in the ranks of the Grand Old Party.

Azad, the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, has held various ministerial portfolios at the Centre in Congress-led governments since 1982. He has also been chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and held varied posts in the party’s organisational structure. He is a mature leader and not known to shoot off his mouth. His remarks should be taken as the party line.

At a press conference in Patna Thursday, Azad said the Congress was willing to offer post of prime minister to any non-BJP party to achieve its singular aim: stopping Prime Minister Narendra Modi from returning to power at the Centre. On Friday, Azad in a statement to news agency ANI completely reversed his position, saying that since Congress is the largest and oldest party, only it could run the government for five years and thus needed to be given a chance by other Opposition parties.

 Ghulam Nabi Azads U-turn over PM post points to confusion within Congress; Mamata Banerjees ascent is likely reason

File image of Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad. AFP

Let's analyse aspects of Azad's statement later. First, let's focus on why Azad may have been forced by his party high command to change his statement on leadership. The timing of Azad’s first statement is interesting, coming a day after BSP chief Mayawati publicly declared that she would be the best choice from the Opposition to become prime minister and do a better job than Modi. “As far as development goes, Bahujan Samaj Party has managed to change the face of Uttar Pradesh,” she said. “Lucknow was beautified to a great extent. On the basis of all this work, it can be assumed that for the welfare of people and the country, BSP national president is fit and in comparison with her, Narendra Modi is unfit.”

The remark also came a day after West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, through display of personal grit and aggression, became a rallying point for all Opposition parties. Mamata was enraged by the Election Commission order invoking Article 324 of the Constitution to stop campaigning in West Bengal a day ahead of  schedule and dumping two top officials — home secretary and additional director general of police (CID) — perceived to be close to the ruling TMC dispensation and who were allegedly interfering with conduct of free and fair polls. She called Modi names and blasted the Election Commission, alleging that the RSS had infiltrated the organisation.

In short, Mamata took the battle to the streets and showed a fighting spirit against a resurgent BJP, an act which won her many admirers. Mamata seemed to be determined to fight Modi and BJP for every single of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal.

Almost all Opposition parties came out in support of Mamata, criticised Modi and the EC. Support for Mamata grew on social media and she emerged as the leader of all the anti-Modi forces overnight. Even though her presence is limited to West Bengal, those against Modi now view her as having the right credentials to be prime minister if the Opposition gets the numbers to form the next government.

The Congress was also supportive. But it seems that the Congress reviewed its position based on the sudden surge in her popularity and how she shined, particularly when compared to Rahul. But a problem remained. Mamata and Mayawati both snubbed the Congress for poll alliances in West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, that too when the extended Congress Working Committee authorised Rahul to hold negotiations with non-BJP parties for building a grand coalition of Opposition forces. In all media interactions and at his speeches at party forums, Rahul expressed great deal of optimism about such an alliance, but in the end Congress had to go it alone in these two politically crucial states.

Rahul has also been changing his position. First he said he would not shy away from being the Congress candidate — and Opposition candidate — for prime minister. Later, he said, "The Congress is open to the candidature of anybody, including Mamata Banerjee or Mayawati, for the top slot… She (Mamata), too, is from a Congress mindset."

Azad, who merely stated the party line that none other than the party chief espoused in July 2018, had to suffer the ignominy of having to change his statement in less than 24 hours. Or perhaps his leader has changed his mind and is now aspiring for South Block office in New Delhi.

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Updated Date: May 17, 2019 19:45:55 IST