The opposition should not pitch the next Lok Sabha polls as a presidential-style contest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, says Trinamool Congress leader Derek O'Brien who feels a "collective leadership" would bring parties together against the BJP in each state.
He also says that Bengal will play a very important role in the collective leadership of opposition parties, an obvious reference to his party supremo Mamata Banerjee.
"In 2019, the opposition has to work out a strategy which will be to play to its strength in all 29 states. I am saying this as student of politics. For example, when we are fighting the election in Bengal, obviously it is going to be Mamata di who is the prime mover there," O'Brien, Trinamool Congress leader in the Rajya Sabha, told IANS in an interview.
He also said that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee can play a role in bringing opposition parties together in crucial states such as Uttar Pradesh.
"In Uttar Pradesh, there is Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Samajwadi Party (SP) and Congress. Who is the most credible person to make this thing happen? Congress is a player, SP is a player, BSP is a player. Mamata di is the good one to do this job in UP. They will have to listen eventually," O'Brien said.
He said Mamata Banerjee has won a second term and has credibility of four decades.
"She has got a track record of people's movement, struggles. They are not some five-six year phenomenon, this is an old track record. Those are the people who will take the important roles but it will be a collective leadership," he said.
Asked if Mamata Banerjee could be prime ministerial candidate, O'Brien said: "I told you it is collective leadership. Bengal will play a very important role. Don't ask me about personalities," he said.
He said Trinamool Congress can play the role of a bridge between the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi and, in the same way, the Congress can play the role of a bridge between the Trinamool Congress and the Left in West Bengal.
Answering another query, the chief national spokesperson of Trinamool Congress said the Prime Ministerial candidate is chosen from the party with largest seats in parliamentary democracy.
"This is not a Presidential election. Why should the Lok Sabha election be pitched as a Presidential election. This is not Trump versus Clinton," he said.
On the likelihood of the Congress projecting party Vice President Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate, O'Brien said: "At this stage, it looks (like)... it's easier to take on Modi with a strong face in each state."
He said Rahul Gandhi will be president of his party and Trinamool Congress wishes him well.
Asked if he was suggesting there should not be a single candidate against Modi, O'Brien said he was not a spokesperson for 18 parties which have been coordinating their actions against the government.
He said opposition should play to its strengths in all the 29 states.
"Who says opposition does not have a face? Doesn't Karnataka stand a better chance if Mr. Siddaramaiah is the face to take on whoever in the BJP?"
He said Rahul Gandhi's imminent elevation this month was "Congress' internal decision".
"What I can tell you from what I have seen, again as a student of politics, is that there has been a lot of momentum after his US townhall style meetings. There has been some momentum in the Gujarat campaign... Obviously, if he keeps this momentum going, it's good for the opposition. A strong Congress is good for the opposition," he said.
Asked about leaders like Mamata Banerjee having a certain comfort level with Congress president Sonia Gandhi, O'Brien said: "Please give Rahul Gandhi some time as president of the Congress."
He said Trinamool Congress will do what it takes to make the opposition stronger to defeat the BJP.
The party's target, he said, is to win all 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal. "For two reasons people will vote for us -- one is development, the other is communal harmony."
O'Brien's first political book, "Inside Parliament: Views From the Front Row", was released last week. It has a chapter "BJP is beatable in 2019".
The Trinamool Congress national spokesperson also said opposition parties have been coordinating inside and outside parliament and had made a statement by fielding good candidates for the presidential and vice-presidential polls.
Referring to 18 parties' observing the first anniversary of demonetisation on November 8 as Black Day, O'Brien said: "We came to the conclusion that let us allow every party to interpret that protest in the local language and idiom, in the local situation and then make it a success."
He said the opposition strategy to oust the BJP government was not a negative strategy. "It is a positive strategy. Strengthen federalism to run; that's the positive strategy."