The Opposition INDIA bloc will pick its prime minister within two days, with the party that gets the maximum seats in the coalition will be the “natural claimant” to the post, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh told PTI on Thursday.

Ramesh made the comments on the last day of the Lok Sabha elections campaign. The final phase of polling will take place on June 1. The counting of votes will happen on June 4.

“In 2004, the [Lok Sabha] election results came out on May 13 and the UPA [United Progressive Alliance] was formed on May 16,” Ramesh told the news agency. “Dr Manmohan Singh’s name as the prime minister was floated on May 17.”

He added that it took less than three days for Singh’s name to emerge, although everyone knew it was going to be him after Sonia Gandhi refused to accept the prime minister’s post.

“But this time I don’t think it will take even 48 hours [to decide on the prime minister],” Ramesh said. “Within a few hours the leader of the coalition will be picked. It stands to reason that the party that gets the maximum seats in the alliance will be a natural claimant for the leadership.”

The Congress general secretary said that the INDIA bloc will get seats “well above” the 272-mark needed for a majority in the 543-seat Lok Sabha.

“I don’t want to get into numbers but all I am saying is that we [INDIA bloc] will get a clear and decisive majority,” he said. “273 is a clear majority but it is not decisive. When I say clear and decisive, I mean well above 272 seats.”

The Congress will make significant gains in Rajasthan, Karnataka, Telangana and Maharashtra, The PTI quoted the Rajya Sabha MP as saying.

“We will improve our position in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Assam,” he told the news agency. “In totality, we are headed for a 2004 type of a situation after 20 years.”

In Uttar Pradesh too, the Congress will make gains and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party cannot improve on its 2019 tally of 62 out of the state’s 80 seats, Ramesh said.

“They are not going to improve on 39 seats in Bihar, it is impossible, they are not going to improve on 18 seats in West Bengal, that is impossible,” he said.

Replying to the question of whether the INDIA bloc would be open to joining hands with National Democratic Alliance members like Janata Dal (United) chief Nitish Kumar and Telugu Desam Party leader N Chandrababu Naidu after the polls, Ramesh said: “Nitish Kumar is the master of palti [volte-face].”

He also noted that Naidu had been allied with the Congress in 2019.

Ramesh added that some parties from the National Democratic Alliance may join the INDIA bloc after it wins the people’s mandate. However, the Congress high command will have to take a decision on whether to include them in the coalition or not, he said.

The Congress general secretary also said that the “difference between the INDIA bloc and the NDA [National Democratic Alliance] is two Is: I for insaniyat [humanity] and I for imaandaari [honesty]”.

Parties with “insaniyat” and “imaandaari” in the National Democratic Alliance will join the INDIA bloc, he added.

Also read: