Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Friday said Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati's decision not to have an alliance with his party in Madhya Pradesh will not impact its poll prospects in the state even as he suggested that the BSP may come on board for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati announced early this week that her party would not forge an alliance with the Congress 'at any cost' for the upcoming assembly polls in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, dealing a blow to the opposition's efforts to stitch a united front against the ruling BJP ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
"The alliance in the state and the alliance in the centre are different and I think Mayawatiji has sort of indicated that...I don't see the BSP alliance impacting us much in Madhya Pradesh. It would have been a good thing to have them, but I think we will win the election in Madhya Pradesh, in Chhattisgarh. I think, in the national election, the parties will come together, particularly in Uttar Pradesh," he said at the HT Leadership Summit.
Asked if he does not rule out having an alliance with BSP in Lok Sabha polls, he said, "That is an indication we have."
He said the two parties were in conversation with each other on an alliance in Madhya Pradesh and claimed he was 'more flexible' than the state Congress leaders on seat-sharing but the BSP decided to go its own way.
Announcing her decision to go it alone in the state polls, Mayawati had said that even though the Congress chief and his mother Sonia Gandhi appeared to be in favour of an alliance, there were other "senior leaders" who worked to foil any possibility of an understanding.
Mayawati alleged the Congress had not mended itself and like the Bharatiya Janata Party 'betrayed' her party.
Gandhi also said that he would become prime minister if the allies want him, but the first step is for all parties to get together and defeat the ruling BJP.
It's a two-stage process and a decision on who will be prime minister comes second, Gandhi said.
"We have had discussions with allies and what we decided is that this is a two stage process -- one is to get together and defeat BJP and stage two is, once the election is over then we will decide what happens," the Congress president explained.
Probed further about the possibility of him becoming prime minister, Gandhi said, "If they (allies) want me, sure...I will."
Taking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP and its ideological fountainhead RSS, Gandhi said a single, suffocating ideology is being imposed upon 1.3 billion Indians.
"There is an ideological war taking place and the people who define the BJP ideology are the RSS. The ideological centre that is fighting the BJP can only be the Congress," he said.
"I am ready to take criticisms and questions. Why can't the prime minister do the same. India desperately needs healing and listening and all sections want it," he said.
He also attacked the government on various fronts, including demonetisation, foreign policy, mounting non-performing assets of banks, and governance.
The Congress chief, answered questions on a range of issues, including his temple visits and noted that 'it not just irritated the BJP, but infuriated them'.
Gandhi said he has been going to temples, gurudwaras and mosques for years, but the issue of his visits to temples has suddenly been publicised.
"I guess, this type of thing, it irritates the BJP, they feel that only they can go to temples. I don't know, may be they don't like it.
"I don't see why I can't go to a gurudwara, a church on a mosque. If somebody invites me to something they believe in, me not going there is actually insulting. I, as a political leader, if I'm invited by someone, I need to reach out and I need to stand with those people, but for some reasons it irritates the BJP. It actually infuriates them, because they have a sense of monopoly," he said.
Gandhi said the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh want to have monopoly on everything they deal with and want to have monopoly on institutions, on who goes to temples, that being their nature.
"But, that is not India's nature. India's nature is 1.3 billion imaginations and you really can't suppress them...So, re-imagining India to me is allowing those 1.3 billion imaginations to thrive.
"Re-imagining in India for the BJP and the RSS is to shut down that imagination of 1.3 billion people and impose one big imagination on top. I mean, it's ineffective, it's boring. I can give you a list of adjectives," he said.
Gandhi said after his criticism by BJP/RSS, he has developed a thick skin and is not disturbed by it. "My response is to listen."
"Leadership is an evolution. It is something which is constantly changing and you learn. At least in my evolution, I am going much more into listening to people and trying to understand them," Gandhi said.
He added that while he does not see India in silos, he believes every Indian is a stakeholder. He also said that the Congress does not need cadres like the RSS, whose aim is to capture India's institutions. The Congress does not want to do that, he added.