Haldia: TDP chief and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu has termed Rahul Gandhi a "good leader who has concerns for the nation" and asserted that unlike 1996, non-BJP parties won't commit the mistake of keeping the Congress out if such an alliance forms a government at the Centre.
In an interview to PTI on the sidelines of a poll meeting in East Midnapore district's Haldia in support of TMC candidates, he claimed the BJP is on its way out, and batted for a coalition government saying, "It's better to have checks and balances."
On the contentious issue of prime ministerial candidate of a non-BJP front, Naidu, who has been rallying regional parties to form such a coalition, said the constituents "will reach a consensus after tallying the number of seats each party gets".
He claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has become desperate on realising that he is losing the Lok Sabha elections.
"There is anti-incumbency. PM Modi tried his best, but he has no achievement. Because of that, he started talking about Pulwama (terror attack) and (Balakot) air strikes. In every meeting he is accusing and abusing opposition leaders," the incumbent chief minister of Andhra Pradesh alleged.
"If you go through Modi's campaign you will see he is getting weaker and more desperate. Earlier also he was weak but he managed the media. He threatened all politicians so that no one raises their voice," Naidu claimed.
On whether a coalition of regional parties will include the Congress in government formation or keep it out if such an opportunity arises, he said, "You cannot have such restrictions. You need the magic figure (272 seats) to form the government. Restrictions will ultimately break the unity."
"All of us will sit together and reach a consensus to build the future of this country," Naidu said.
He lauded the Congress president by terming him a good leader, but evaded a direct reply to the question whether Rahul Gandhi's name could be proposed as prime ministerial candidate, saying if he names someone others might get hurt which will break the opposition unity.
"He (Rahul Gandhi) is a good leader. He has concerns for the nation, unlike Narendra Modi, who is hollow and never listens to anybody. Modi tries to rule by threatening others," the TDP supremo said.
Naidu's comments come just days after his meeting with Gandhi to discuss the post-poll scenario.
The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) president, who was the convener of the United Front government from 1996-1998, said that time the experiment failed because the Congress was kept out of the government.
"In 1996, there was an experiment. It failed. As we kept the Congress outside, they withdrew support. So for a more stable government, all of us have to come together," he said.
The Congress had provided outside support to the United Front government in 1996, but pulled the plug later.
On the possibility of the Congress staking claim for the top post if it gets more seats than regional parties, Naidu said, "A decision on it can be taken only after seeing the number of seats each party gets. I am not saying anything today. We will sit together and take a call after tallying the numbers on May 23."
Asked whether he has any suggestion for the PM's post, Naidu declined saying, "It is a numbers game as democracy means numbers and everybody has to work together." The TDP chief said he has ruled himself out of the prime ministerial race and one of the reasons behind it was that Andhra Pradesh had only 25 Lok Sabha seats.
"Mine is a new state, I have to develop it further. Secondly, my number is only 25 (Lok Sabha seats in Andhra Pradesh). The number is very less. I can contribute to nation building and support others," he said.
"I got an opportunity in 1996 (during the United Front government). For so many years I have been working as a facilitator. Wherever there is a problem I work with other leaders as part of a collective leadership," Naidu said.
On TRS president and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao's effort to cobble up a non-BJP, non-Congress federal front to prioritize the issues of states and demand decentralization of power, Naidu wondered whether such a proposition would really work.
"Is it really possible? Someone thinks that somebody (Congress) will support them from outside out of compulsion? If nobody extends support then what will happen?" he posed.
Naidu endorsed a stable coalition government, saying, "Checks and balances of coalition are good for this country."
"We have seen coalition governments, then we saw a majority government led by Modi. What has he done? He does whatever he thinks is right. There are no checks and balances. It's better to have checks and balances. At least one can have discussions," he said.
Asserting that more than numbers it is the vision and ability of a leader to execute policies that matters, the TDP chief said the economic reforms of the 1990s was carried out by the P V Narasimha Rao dispensation which was a minority government.
Naidu criticised Modi for his comment that 40 TMC MLAs are in touch with him, saying said the post of prime minister has dignity and such "immoral and cheap politics" should be refrained.