The present BJP government needs a "Vajpayee touch" to come up with a winning pre-election coalition in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Naresh Gujral said on Thursday.
Gujral, who is a Rajya Sabha member from Punjab, was speaking at the launch of book "Newsman: Tracking India in the Modi Era" written by veteran journalist Rajdeep Sardesai.
"The success of the NDA will depend on the kind of a pre-election coalition that they are able to stich up. If they are able to carry their existing partners and some more. It is important that the BJP treat their allies with kid gloves. This is where a Vajpayee touch is required."
"I am sure the Shiv Sena will stay with them, provided they do not demand more seats from them. I am sure Nitish Kumar would want his number of seats, and I am sure we will refuse if they ask us (SAD) even one more seat," he said.
Though the topic of discussion was 'Who will win 2019 elections?' Gujral, while recounting the NDA's 2014 comprehensive win in the general elections, said it was the last-moment coalition with Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu that made the BJP touch the 282 mark.
"Last time, at the last moment, we were able to bring in N Chandrababu Naidu and he was a force multiplier. Personally, I think the BJP would not have been able to touch the 282 mark had Naidu not joined the coalition," the SAD leader said.
Naidu's Telugu Desam Party (TDP) had on March 16 ended its four-year-long alliance with the BJP and walked out of the NDA over the Centre's refusal to grant special category status to Andhra Pradesh.
The debate, which had panellists from different parties including Rajasthan Congress President Sachin Pilot, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi and BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia, among others, saw many expressing their opinions on the question of Prime Minister Narendra Modi versus who in the 2019 general elections.
While Owaisi argued that "regional parties" will counter the Modi juggernaut in 2019 and not Congress's Rahul Gandhi, according to Pilot, the upcoming elections would be about issues and not individuals.
"BJP will try its utmost best to have a contest between Modi and Rahul , and if that happens then Modi is on a very stronger wicket. Once the regional parties come forward... and they are coming forward, Modi will definitely lose," Owaisi said.
However, arguing that this time issues will surmount the personality-centric elections -- the one that the country saw in 2014 -- Pilot said today more important question is not who is going to win the election but who is losing this election, and that is the "NDA and the BJP".
"You can try make it presidential personality centric, but ultimately the issues will surmount and it will not be about individuals. Today, it is safe to say that the people of India are going to judge the issues, the delivery, the rehtoric, the jhumlas vs what has actually happen on the ground and in my mind Modi's effort as prime minister will be squarely accounted," Pilot said.
When the same question was put to Gujral, whose party SAD is part of the NDA, he replied the question is not that relevant because 2004 was about "Vajpayee vs who and yet Mr Vajpayee lost".