National Conference leader and former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on Sunday said the Congress will have to be the “backbone” of opposition unity ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi will have to lead this campaign to remove the Bharatiya Janta Party from the Centre, PTI quoted him as saying.

“The Congress has to be the backbone as the lion’s share of seats of the opposition in one particular party will have to be from it as there are a number of states where there will be a direct contest between the Congress and the BJP,” Abdullah said. Regional parties by themselves would be unable to reach the 272-seat mark to form the government at the Centre, and so the Congress would have to win 100 (or more) seats before finding allies, he added.

Abdullah said that Gandhi, as president of the single largest opposition party, would be expected to lead the campaign. “But at the same time, Sonia Gandhi is the leader of the UPA,” he said. “Therefore, to the best possible extent, one will hope she will also be part of the campaign.”

Abdullah, who was in Kolkata on Friday to participate in ‘Think Federal Conclave’, met West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to discuss a possible opposition front. He said that forming a federal front was “an ongoing process”.

“As we get closer to general elections of 2019, I am sure it will take greater shape,” IANS quoted him as saying. “You have seen a number of efforts were made by Sonia Gandhi to bring opposition parties together.”

The former chief minister said his party was very much a part of an opposition front and that regional parties would play a vital role in ensuring the BJP’s defeat. “The Congress, by virtue of its pan-India presence, will have greater responsibility, but that’s not to minimise the responsibility of other (regional) leaders,” he said. “It’s very important that we fight tactfully and tactically and this is the way forward.”

Mamata Banerjee will fight against the BJP in Bengal, while Lalu Prasad, supported by Congress, will steer the fight in Bihar, he claimed. In Uttar Pradesh, it will be Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party and Mayawati of Bahujan Samaj Party, while in Tamil Nadu DMK’s M Karunanidhi and his son MK Stalin will fight against the BJP, Abdullah added.

On the question of whether Gandhi was capable of leading the Congress, Abdullah said that the party’s role in government formation in Karnataka was proof of his maturing leadership. “If anybody has any doubt about his leadership quality, then it has to be from his party,” said Abdullah. “His party has absolutely no problem with him, then why should anybody else have objections?”

Abdullah added that a united opposition front would be required to have a clear agenda on various issues, such as job creation, demonetisation, economic progress, and the Jammu and Kashmir matter. “Obviously, they have to look at both facets of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said. “One is Pakistan as our (India) relationship with it impacts the situation in J&K and secondly, internally all the problems that have happened in the state after 2014 should be addressed.”