Congress President Rahul Gandhi recently said that his party would back any prime ministerial candidate who is not supported by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). However, his statement differs from the Congress Working Committee's (CWC) decision to project Gandhi as the prime ministerial (PM) candidate for the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
The CWC on Sunday authorised Gandhi to spearhead the party's election campaign and make decisions on alliances.
Although, the Congress prefers Gandhi as the PM candidate, his candidacy will depend on the number of seats the Congress wins in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, sources told News18.
Nonetheless, there are rumours in the Opposition camp that the PM candidate could be a woman, possibly Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati or Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee.
However, momentum for a non-BJP, non-Congress third front picked up pace a few months back when Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao (KCR) approached regional leaders to discuss the 2019 election.
It now seems like the Congress could ally with regional parties, which could make the 2019 election a Narendra Modi vs everyone else battle.
What Mayawati has said about the a possible alliance?
The BSP chief has so far not made any concrete statement over forming an alliance with the Congress. Earlier this week, Mayawati said that her party would contest the election as a part of the coalition government only if it gets a respectable number of seats.
There is a likelihood that the BSP could form an alliance with rivals Samajwadi Party (SP) and Rashtriya Lok Dak (RLD).
Mamata Banerjee maintains silence
Banerjee has not reacted to media reports so far, which suggests that the Congress could back her as the Opposition's face for 2019. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader will visit Delhi next week to speak to possible allies about a federal front.
She has also called for a rally of Opposition leaders in January 2019, but it is not clear whether the Congress will be invited or not.
The TMC chief met Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) chief KCR earlier this year, setting the base for a federal front.
Other likely PM candidates
SP's Mulayam Singh Yadav, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) President Sharad Pawar and JD(S) chief HD Deve Gowda cannot be ruled out as possible PM candidates for the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
Times of India reported that Deve Gowda could be the face of the Opposition in 2019 as he served as the prime minister for 11 months in 1996.
The Congress and JD(S) formed a coalition government in Karnataka two months back. Although the BJP emerged as the single largest party in the state assembly election, it failed to get a clear majority.
Also, NCP's Pawar could play a key role in uniting Opposition parties against Modi. In a recent interview
with The Hindu, the NCP chief said the Opposition would likely choose a prime minister only after the Lok Sabha election results are declared.