Newly-appointed All India Congress Committee in-charge of Uttar Pradesh Ghulam Nabi Azad on Thursday said the 2017 assembly elections in UP will be a fight between "secular and communal forces" and dismissed suggestions that Rahul Gandhi will be made leader of the state.
He also hoped that Priyanka Gandhi will campaign outside party bastions of Amethi and Rae Bareli.
"It would be a fight of principles and a direct contest between secular and communal forces," said the former Union Minister.
Azad, who arrived here to a rousing reception by party workers, was talking to reporters after his day-long interactions with senior party leaders and office-bearers.
Regarding Rahul Gandhi, Azad said the Congress vice-president will be elevated "at the decided time" and hence, there was no question of making him the leader of UP.
To a query, Azad, who had yesterday favoured Priyanka campaigning outside Amethi and Rae Bareli, once again hoped that she would take time out for the other parts of the state.
He also said the party will declare the name of its chief ministerial candidate at the "right time" as there was "no dearth of faces" for the post.
"But, the selection will be on the basis of leadership qualities and capabilities and not on caste and communal lines," he said.
His remark came amid speculation that Congress was planning to project 78-year-old, three-time Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit as its CM aspirant in UP.
Azad, for whom this is the fourth stint as in-charge of party affairs in UP, said this time around, he saw the state moving towards "communalism".
"Congress has always advocated secularism. It will fight whichever party comes before it to safeguard secularism," he said.
Azad, who has his task cut out, said his top priorities include strengthening the party at the ground level and hoped that Congress will get a new lease of life in the state this time.