Amid efforts to unite non-BJP forces in the run-up to the 2019 parliamentary election, Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said Sunday that party president Rahul Gandhi would find "automatic" acceptance in the opposition ranks sooner than later.
In an exclusive interview to PTI, the Congress veteran said the people of India were looking up to Gandhi to dislodge the BJP and his acceptance among the opposition leaders would ultimately materialise, today or tomorrow.
To drive his point home, Kharge, a former union minister, asked which opposition leader, save Gandhi, had pan-India acceptance -- from Puducherry to Jammu and Kashmir?
"When Rahul Gandhi is working, everyone is praising his work. Acceptability is there. Because of this, there will be automatic acceptance (of Rahul Gandhi's leadership) today or tomorrow," Kharge said, when asked if the Gandhi family scion will find acceptability among the larger opposition camp.
Asked who will lead the opposition in the 2019 parliamentary election, he said it would be decided after the election but the primary purpose now was to unite everyone to oust the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi from power.
Referring to Gandhi's assertion that the 2019 Lok Sabha election would be an ideological fight to dislodge the BJP first, Kharge said, "We want to take the lead in dislodging the BJP. Our leader Rahul Gandhi is naturally leading this fight. We want everyone's support in this. We want everyone's cooperation. Everyone is coming together. Everything will get sorted before the election."
The veteran Congressman also said people's support for Gandhi would translate into his larger political support among opposition ranks as well.
"In this fight we want to dislodge the BJP from power for which we are all uniting. The truth also is that the people of India are looking at Rahul Gandhi, so this (his acceptability) will ultimately materialise," Kharge said to another specific question on whether senior opposition leaders such as Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, Bahujan Samaj Party's Mayawati and Nationalist Congress Party supremo Sharad Pawar will accept a relatively young Gandhi the way they accepted former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.
Rahul Gandhi, 48, took over the mantle of the Congress party from his mother Sonia Gandhi in December last year.
"Our leader has acceptability and wherever he goes today people assemble and listen to him. Which other leader has such acceptability from Puducherry to Jammu and Kashmir? You tell me. Which leader has such acceptability from West Bengal to Gujarat? Tell me one name," Kharge asked.
He said he did not want to "blame them (the opposition)".
"We don't want to blame them. We want to fight together first to dislodge the BJP from power as it is implementing wrong policies, destroying the Constitution, damaging institutions, autonomous institutions. We want to take the lead in dislodging the BJP. Our leader Rahul Gandhi is naturally leading this fight," he said.
He said Gandhi was seeking everyone's support for the task.
The Congress leader noted that all opposition parties were working together and are united in the fight against the BJP.
"They have all understood and have united. The Congress also has alliances in place with some parties such as RJD, NCP, Left parties, and more parties will come together once the election nears," he said.
He also said despite emerging as the single-largest party, the Congress gave away the post of chief minister in Karnataka in "national interest".
The comments come only two days after Trinamool Congress leader Chandan Mitra said the prime ministerial candidate after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections will "surely be a regional leader because regional leaders are established in their domains" and that the "game has changed now".
Mitra was speaking at a panel discussion at the launch of a book by Congress leader Kapil Sibal.
Kharge also lashed out at the BJP and Prime Minister Modi, saying he is an "autocrat" and wants to bring in his own ideology and constitution, replacing the country's secular, democratic fabric.
He said Modi is "finishing democracy" in the country as he leaves no scope for consultation or consensus and does not listen to others' views, which Rahul Gandhi does and is thus emerging forward.
Kharge said under Modi rule, democracy and its values have no place and instead of uniting the society and the country, he is out to divide it on religious and class factors.
"We want all parties to join hands, people are also getting together and Rahul Gandhi is going to all states, as he speaks the truth, unlike Modiji, who gave false promises and never spoke the truth to people," he said.