NEW DELHI: The Congress party, under the leadership of its relatively new president Rahul Gandhi, is not going to stake claim to the Prime Ministership focusing instead on defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. For this the party has started serious work on building alliances in te states, aware that Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra hold the key to the next Lok Sabha.

These three states elect a total of 168 MPs for the Lok Sabha. The BJP does not have a major regional party in alliance in UP with the talks between the Samajwadi party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Rashtriya Lok Dal and the Congress on seat sharing almost in the final stages. The alliance will hold and the division that helped the BJP sweep UP in the last polls will now be in the form of an united opposition.

In Bihar, the BJP alliance with the Janata Dal(U), Lokjanshakti party and the RLSP is facing huge anti-incumbency with reports suggesting a large scale revival of the Rashtriya Janata Dal. If this holds the RJD-Congress alliance along with smaller local parties is expected to do well in the general elections, according to Congress assessments. Here too talks are in an advanced state for seat sharing.

Maharashtra the NCP and Congress are expected to contest the polls together, for both Assembly and Lok Sabha. Both are in close touch with the Shiv Sena that has been firing missles at its current ally BJP, with the possibility of Udhav Thackeray moving out altogether not being ruled out. The Shiv Sena is feeling the pressure of a BJP on the ascendant in the state, and is worried about its own survival in the alliance. A split in the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance could change the election scenario dramatically in this state.

The second stage of the elections follows the defeat of the BJP through political alliances in which the Congress is clearly playing a major part. However, instead of insisting on the lions share in states like UP and Bihar where its presence is secondary to the regional parties, the Congress under Rahul Gandhi is willing conceding ground and playing the role of a junior partner. If the BJP is defeated the Congress is not rushing to be the Prime Minister, and has made it clear that this will depend on the results of the polls.

Rahul Gandhi again will not be rushing for the chair that could go then to a regional leader, depending on the permutations and combinations post poll. This approach is expected to pay dividends. In that the Congress seems to have assumed the role of the Left parties in the earlier elections in cementing opposition unity. The ‘selfless’ approach seems to be working well for the Congress, with the regional leaders now meeting the top brass without either side standing on ceremony. Let us work together is the message from the Congress party that seems to have been picked well by all the regional groups keen on defeating the BJP.

The Congress has not decided yet who would be its ally between the Trinamool Congres and the CPI(M) led front in West Bengal which has 42 Lok Sabha seats.The West Bengal Congress is divided on going with the Mamata Banerjee led party. The AICC wants Mamata Banerjee and the CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury to talk to each other and resolve the issue.

The Congress is fairly optimistic about the 2019 outcome. Party leader Sonia Gandhi has still to decide whether she will contest the elections from Rae Bareilly, and if not whether Rahul Gandhi will shift to this constituency. Or whether his sister Priyanka will contest the seat.

The factionalism in Madhya Pradesh has been noted by the party that however, remains confident that all will come together to fight the elections as an united whole. But the Congress will not be announcing the Chief Minsiterial candidates for MP, Chhatisgarh and Rajasthan where the Assembly elections are to be held in the next two to three months.

Rahul Gandhi, however, will lead the party into the elections with all decisions being taken by him. He has introduced a non-confrontationist, bridge building approach that is working very positively for electoral alliances.