New Delhi: Indian elections are based on ideologies and not personalities, said key opposition leaders on Friday and stressed that 2019 general elections will be a "Modi vs India" affair.
Speaking at the launch of Congress parliamentarian Kapil Sibal's new book "Shades of Truth - A Journey Derailed", they said that "a very broad-based strategic coalition" would be formed in "at least 25 states" to take on Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the 2019 polls.
After a brief address by former Vice President Hamid Ansari, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh launched a scathing attack on the Narendra Modi government at the Centre.
Charting the "all-round failure" of the government, Singh charged that the country is facing "an agrarian crisis, economic turmoil and deteriorating ties with neighbouring countries".
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He accused the Modi government of ignoring the plight of farmers, which has resulted in numerous protests in state capitals as well as the national capital. Singh, Ansari and Sibal together unveiled the book to a packed house at the Nehru Memorial Museum Library here.
The book launch was followed by a panel discussion participated by Sibal, P. Chidambaram, Sitaram Yechury, Chandan Mitra and Sharad Yadav. They discussed the prospects of a joint opposition front for the 2019 general elections.
The panelists agreed that the opposition unity would be vital in the coming elections, with Sibal asserting that in "at least 25 states" a "very broad-based strategic coalition" would be worked upon to counter the BJP.
Chidambaram recounted that even in 2014 general elections, despite the wind in its favour, the BJP failed to attract the masses in several states like Punjab, West Bengal, Kerala and Odisha.
Sibal also noted that the north Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, both currently ruled by the NDA, would have a decisive role to play in the next elections.
On the question of who will be the prime ministerial candidate of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) against Modi, all panelists, except Chandan Mitra of the Trinamool Congress (TMC), maintained that a prime ministerial face is not important.
Yadav recounted a series of elections where a joint coalition had formed the government without declaring their prime ministerial candidate in advance.
"But, much water has flown through the Yamuna since the time you are talking about," interjected Mitra, who recently quit the BJP to join its adversary in West Bengal. He said the voters are much more aware today and therefore a prime ministerial candidate is important.
Mitra maintained that the prime ministerial candidate of the UPA must be from a regional party, whose credentials are well established.
Responding to an audience question, Sibal said that Congress President Rahul Gandhi has made it clear that he is ready to take on Modi, so there is no question of "whether or not he is up for it". "He is up for it and he has said that publicly," Sibal quipped, adding that a prime ministerial face is not important before the elections.
He recalled that there was a debate before 2014 general elections that the country needs a strong leadership and a prominent face. "The great leader (Modi) has given us demonetisation," he said.
"It will be Modi vs India," said Yadav, as the panelists nodded in affirmation and loud claps by opposition leaders resonated in the packed hall. On their projections for the 2019 general elections, the panelists reiterated that the coming together of the opposition parties at state level would result in their victory.
The attendees included opposition leaders across political parties, including Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference, Sitaram Yechury of the CPI-M, former JD-U members Sharad Yadav and Pavan Varma, TMC member Chanadan Mitra and a host of senior Congress leaders such as Mallikarjun Kharge, Saman Khurshid and Shashi Tharoor, among others.