HD Kumaraswamy said Rahul Gandhi is a "very innocent" politician.
The success of the ruling alliance in the Karnataka by-elections has strengthened the case for a combined opposition to take on the BJP in the next year's national elections. The alliance has a shot at forming the next government at the Centre and it should be led by Rahul Gandhi, said Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, who had hosted the first big informal opposition meet during his oath ceremony in May.
Speaking to NDTV after the Congress-Janata Dal Secular alliance won four of the five seats where by-election results were declared today, the Chief Minister argued that every time the BJP has been pitted against an opposition alliance, it has come up short. The reference was to the by-elections held in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year, in which the BJP was beaten by the combined strength of Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mr Kumaraswamy said, was not a "factor" in Karnataka as the people have seen what he is "capable of".
"According to my analysis, it will be a mahagathbanhdhan sarkar (grand alliance government) in 2019. People will bless the grand alliance," said the Chief Minister, who managed to bring together opposition leaders with a history of rivalry during his oath ceremony.
Visuals of Sonia Gandhi hugging Mayawati, or Akhilesh Yadav, all smiles, standing next to the Dalit powerhouse, had gone viral. Even Arvind Kejriwal, a comparative newcomer who is toe to toe with the Congress in Delhi, had attended.
Asked if Rahul Gandhi will be accepted by other leaders of the alliance — many of whom, like Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, are batting for a pole position for regional leaders — Mr Kumaraswamy said, "That is for them to decide".
Rahul Gandhi, he said, is "a very innocent politician".
"In my interactions with him over the last few months, he came across as very innocent. He has been truthful and honest with me," said the Karnataka Chief Minister. The Congress had reached out to Mr Kumaraswamy as the counting of the assembly election votes in May made it clear that the BJP would win the largest number of seats but fall short of a majority.
Despite winning more seats, the larger party had voluntarily taken a backseat in the alliance, accepting Mr Kumaraswamy in the top post.
"The Congress has supported me and so, in my personal capacity, it is my duty to support the Congress too," Mr Kumaraswamy said.