NEW DELHI: Perhaps the most telling comment on who will be the next Prime Minister came from Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, who said at a press conference, “I can tell you that the next Prime Minister will be from Uttar Pradesh.” He did not specify but in politics more is often contained in the words not said, and in this case the Samajwadi leader did not point at his coalition partner, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati sitting by his side. And a definite contender for the post.

Apart from Akhilesh Yadav - who has made it clear he is not a contender - and Mayawati, the only other major leader from UP is Congress President Rahul Gandhi. Although the Congress party has not been included in the UP coalition, it is apparent that this is more because of Mayawati than Yadav, who still enjoys cordial relations with Rahul Gandhi.

All the opposition parties are clear that the Prime Minister will emerge only after the elections, and as almost each leader questioned on this has responded, “It will be easy and immediate.” Three names for the top post in case of an Opposition win have emerged so far… Mayawati, Rahul Gandhi, and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee.

Of the three Mayawati is projecting herself with little apparent support from any other party, except Akhilesh Yadav her ally in the state. Other opposition parties retain a distance, with the BSP chief not exactly renowned for her diplomatic skills.

Mamata Banerjee, after getting 23 political parties together on the stage at her mega rally in Kolkata is now a serious contender, with her diplomacy and hospitality earning her top marks among all the political parties gathered for the event. Leaders gushed over her warmth and attention to detail, with Banerjee demonstrating her accommodative spirit, in sharp contrast to that of Mayawati.

Besides this the rally hosted by the West Bengal Chief Minister rendered a body blow to the BJP, with the numbers, and the consolidation of Opposition forces setting the tone for the Lok Sabha polls.

The arrow on the spinning wheels seems to be fluttering around the name of Rahul Gandhi, who has taken exceptional care not to be projected as the PM candidate by his party. Sources said the BJP would have liked this, so as to pitch him against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and build an election campaign accordingly. But the Congress president has preferred to be one of many Opposition leaders, tackling PM Modi directly, along with pet campaigns as on the Rafale deal and farmers’ distress.

However, he is the only leader for whom at least four regional parties have come out in support so far. ‘Rahul Gandhi for PM’ has been voiced by the DMK’s MK Stalin who is expected to do very well in Tamil Nadu in the Lok Sabha polls; Tejashwi Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal which remains in alliance with the Congress in Bihar; Deve Gowda and Karnataka Chief Minister H.D.Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal-Secular who have both declared their preference for Rahul Gandhi.

The Nationalist Congress Party is also supporting the Congress president, with Sharad Pawar having clarified in Kolkata that he is not in the prime ministerial race.

Rahul Gandhi himself, without declaring or laying claim to any post, has been working steadily to acquire not just a national but an international profile as the leader of the Opposition. His recent visit to the United Arab Emirates further fed into this, with Rahul Gandhi meeting the UAE leadership, addressing the diaspora at a huge event, and then a press conference.

And he has been mounting a campaign against PM Modi, while laying out an agenda of agrarian distress, joblessness and corruption that is being followed by all the Opposition regional parties as well.

But for Rahul Gandhi to emerge as contender for the post with some seriousness, the Congress party will have to get 100 parliamentary seats on its own in the elections. Less than that will increase its dependency on the regional parties, a situation that Congress party managers are not particularly keen to be embroiled in.

Interestingly, the issue of PM is not gaining precedence over efforts to unite the Opposition. Mamata Banerjee urged Aam Aadmi Party and National Conference to hold similar rallies in Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir. Opposition leaders said Amravati was also being considered as a possible venue, with the Telugu Desam in charge. There is little talk of possible Prime Minister except in interested whispers, with most members spoken to agreeing that the election results will determine the party and the candidate that lead the alliance.

The parties are not divided on this issue, and certainly as the sources said, not at all defensive about going into Lok Sabha elections without a declared PM candidate.