Rahul Gandhi has all the right qualities to make an "excellent" prime minister, senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said on Sunday, even as he emphasised that the issue of PM candidate is likely to be decided after the 2019 polls "collectively" by the party and its allies.
Tharoor also said the recent assembly elections have made it clear that the Congress remains the only alternative political party with a pan-India presence, and therefore, would be the "natural fulcrum" for any national alliance.
"Rahul Gandhi is our leader, which means that if Congress gets a majority, he will be PM. If Congress is in a coalition government, obviously wider discussions will be held with other coalition partners to arrive at a consensus candidate," he told PTI in an interview.
Tharoor said that any decision on the PM candidate put forward by the Congress and its allies will take place through established processes and conventions which will have to be representative of the interests of the larger coalition.
It will be a "collective decision" and, as is usually the case, this is only likely to be discussed after the election results, he said.
"At a personal level, having had several interactions and discussions in close quarters with the Congress president, to my mind it is evidently clear that Rahul ji has all the right qualities to make an excellent prime minister for the country," Tharoor said when asked about Gandhi seemingly emerging as the opposition's PM face despite them saying that a decision on it will be taken after polls.
He said Gandhi's inclusive style of leadership, a willingness to reach across the political divide, the empathy extended towards aggrieved sections of the society, a commitment to the pluralist fabric of the country, paired with a distinctive charisma, humility and remarkable awareness, all suggest that he would be able to "fittingly live up to the expectations of the top job".
"And at some level, one could argue that recent statements by non-Congress leaders reflect a growing confidence that Rahul is indeed the right man for the job," the 62-year-old leader said.
His remarks assume significance as they come after DMK president M K Stalin had vowed to make Gandhi the country's next prime minister and lauded him for having the ability to defeat the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre.
Leader of National Conference, Farooq Abdullah, had also recently hailed Gandhi, saying he is no longer a "Pappu" after proving his mettle as a leader by winning elections in three Hindi heartland states of Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
However, several prospective allies such as the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party and Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress have not endorsed Stalin's views and said that a decision on the PM candidate will be taken after the polls.
On whether the dynamics of a possible grand alliance has changed with the Congress' win in the Hindi heartland states, Tharoor said he believes that it is still too early to tell, though the signs from the poll results certainly augur well for the fortunes of the Congress.
"The voters have signalled that they are tired of being taken for a ride by the BJP and are open to climbing on the Congress bandwagon instead," the MP from Thiruvananthapuram said.
In the next few months, the Congress will demonstrate anew that it has the vision and the capacity to restore, across the country, the voters' faith that the party can deliver the right results for them, the former Union minister asserted.
He also said the Congress is likely to have pre and post-poll alliances, including an existing set of arrangement with partners that the Congress has in some states.
The question of whether or not there will officially be a grand alliance among the Opposition parties remains to be seen, he said.
To a question on the passage of the triple talaq bill in Lok Sabha last week, Tharoor said the Congress was strongly opposed to the version of the bill that was passed by the government because it was fundamentally flawed legislation.
"Triple talaq has already been rendered illegal by the Supreme Court: why was this law needed? It seems to have been designed with the intent to create class-specific legislation on the basis of religion and therefore is a violation of Article 15 and 16 of our Constitution,” he alleged.
The senior Congress leader claimed that the bill doesn't protect Muslim women, but instead penalises Muslim men.
"The legislation is manifestly arbitrary with no safeguards against misuse. All of this was made clear in Parliament and supplemented with a demand that the legislation is sent to a Parliamentary Committee for a more comprehensive review, but to no avail," he said.
Asked about Bollywood actor Naseeruddin Shah's remarks on mob violence in India, Tharoor said the reactions and threats, and demonstrations against his public appearances, have been "unseemly and unwarranted".
"I have always maintained that the answer to an opinion must be another opinion. There simply can be no place for violence or a total disregard for individual liberties that have been enshrined in our Constitution such as the fundamental right of expression, in the democratic India of the 21st century," he said.