M K Stalin's reiteration that he wants Rahul Gandhi to be the prime ministerial candidate of the opposition parties is a nuanced stance, a continuation of the DMK policy of finding comfort in a national party's leader than with a regional partner. From 1980 when it supported Indira Gandhi, DMK has been by the side of prime ministers V P Singh, H D Deve Gowda, I K Gujral, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. It did not support Rajiv Gandhi, Chandrashekar and P V Narasimha Rao as they went with Karunanidhi's arch-rivals M G Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa who led the AIADMK.
Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not like to support regional parties, he has been closer to Jayalalithaa and her successors than to DMK.
Stalin's statement has however caused some discomfiture among some opposition parties, which feel the choice of prime minister should be made only after the Lok Sabha elections and that too if Modi is defeated.
The regional parties which do not want to project an alternative face to Modi include Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Trinamool Congress and CPM, which think an anti-Modi vote will give them substantial number of seats in the next Lok Sabha. They do not want to give the leadership position to the Congress before the elections, as it would make it a contest between Modi of BJP and Rahul of Congress rather than between Modi and opposition parties. These parties have not been part of a Congress-led coalition, and have only lent outside support to UPA. while CPM and other left parties supported Manmohan Singh government for four years, the Samajwadi Party government gave support to the confidence motion moved by Singh in Lok Sabha, ironically when the left parties withdrew support. BSP and Trinamool Congress have not officially given support to a Congress government, though they supported presidential and vice-presidential candidates of the Congress.
Rahul's leadership of an anti-BJP government has been however projected by the Congress ever since he became the butt of strong attacks by Modi and other saffron leaders. The Congress has said he is the leader whom the party will project to provide alternative leadership and policies.
Within the UPA, Stalin has been vocal that Congress should assume leadership, as the party was comfortable in dealing with Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh during most of the two terms of UPA government. Lalu Prasad and his son Tejaswi Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal have come out in support of Rahul earlier and this has the approval of smaller parties in UPA like the Muslim League, National Conference and Kerala Congress. However, Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party who is part of UPA, has not openly endorsed Rahul, but neither has he opposed. He has only said numbers in the new Lok Sabha would dictate the choice of prime minister, but he has conceded Congress has every right to project Rahul as its prime ministerial candidate.
Soon after the hung verdict in Karnataka, when the Congress went to give support to smaller Janata Dal (Secular) to form a coalition government, there have been debates in Congress on projecting Rahul. But the victory in the three Hindi-speaking states in direct fights against BJP has given wings to the perception that the voter thinks Rahul is the alternative to Modi.
The Congress feels that instead of pushing for an umbrella organisation of political parties across the country, it is better to go for seat adjustments in different
states. The party points out that Janata Dal (Secular) is not a member of the UPA, but the two parties have agreed to seat sharing.
If Samajwadi Party and BSP do not offer a good share of seats to Congress in UP, it can go alone in the largest state where its only two present Lok Sabha members are Sonia and Rahul. But the mood is so high in congress that its Uttar Pradesh leaders point out Congress had won 21 out of 80 seats in 2009, and say no target is impossible when Narendra Modi is under pressure. Thus Stalin's endorsement of Rahul at the unveiling of Karunanidhi statue has come as a big boost for the Congress.