Jaipur: Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has said Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has to come to the forefront despite the party's drubbing in the Lok Sabha polls as he is the only alternative to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In an interview to news agency Press Trust of India, Mr Gehlot said Rahul Gandhi is the only opposition leader who can counter PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah "courageously and fearlessly".
The Congress veteran described the Gandhi family as the "cementing force" for the 134-year-old party and rejected the charge that it practised dynastic politics.
He said Rahul Gandhi has to come to the forefront despite the setback the Congress faced in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
Praising the 49-year-old Wayanad MP, who quit as Congress president after his party's poor showing in the April-May Lok Sabha polls, Mr Gehlot said Rahul Gandhi raised key issues related to farmers, youth, employment and inflation during the campaign.
"It is wrong to say that there is no alternative leadership to Narendra Modi. Rahul Gandhi is the alternative. It is true that people could not connect with him since Modi's style and approach is different," said the Rajasthan Chief Minister, who assumed office a year ago.
Rahul Gandhi worked so hard for the 2017 Gujarat polls that people felt the BJP will lose, he said.
"But, Modi ran a sentimental campaign, misconstrued Mani Shankar Aiyar's comments (his derogatory remarks against PM Modi following which he was suspended from the Congress), travelled in a seaplane. He can do anything to win elections," Mr Gehlot said.
Rahul Gandhi campaigned extensively for the Lok Sabha polls and before that for the Gujarat elections, he noted.
"It is only Rahul Gandhi who can stand up to Amit Shah and Narendra Modi," the 68-year-old Congress leader said.
He said the core issues raised by Rahul Gandhi during the Lok Sabha polls were overshadowed by surgical strikes and narrative around nationalism.
"Rahul Gandhi felt people would support the Congress on issues of farmers, youth, employment, inflation. But, the core issues were left behind and surgical strikes and nationalism were highlighted. The Congress was dubbed a Muslim party. Aren''t we nationalists?" Mr Gehlot asked.
Rahul Gandhi only asked why procurement of Rafale jets was brought down from 126 to 36 and why the price was raised from Rs 526 crore to Rs 1,600 crore per jet, he said.
"There were no answers. The country had the right to ask the question. Just because the BJP won the election, doesn't mean the Rafale case is closed. Why is the BJP having problem in appointing a JPC in the Rafale deal?" he asked.
On the issue of the Congress being a Nehru-Gandhi family-centric party, Mr Gehlot said the BJP's agenda has been to try and damage his party leaders so that the organisation collapses, but this has not happened.
"The Gandhi family is the cementing force for the party. If the party's rank and file have trust and faith in the family, why should the BJP have any objection?" he asked.
Since 1989, no member of the (Gandhi) family has been a minister, Chief Minister or Prime Minister. How can there be dynastic politics? There are several leaders of merit in the party, Mr Gehlot pointed out.
"You need to have credibility to manage the merit you have in hand and give due respect to all. The leaders of merit have trust and faith in the Gandhi family," he said.
Mr Gehlot said after the Maharashtra and Haryana poll results, the BJP has stopped talking about a "Congress-mukt" Bharat (Congress-free India).
"The MVA government (of the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress combine in Maharashtra) has come to power under extraordinary circumstances. I think it will last," he said.
In the Maharashtra and Haryana polls, people voted for issues being faced by the country and not on the lines of what the BJP wanted, like Article 370 (its abrogation in Jammu and Kashmir) and nationalism, he added.