I alluded to Rahul Gandhi's "off the record" briefing to political editors in my earlier blog. The Congress chose to make the gist of this conversation public on Sunday. The were three significant points of this intervention:
- The Congress would insist on Manmohan Singh as the next PM. In short, it would not agree to either another leader or a Third Front or Sharad Pawar-led government. He said that his mother agreed with making Manmohan's position non-negotiable.
- Rahul said he was not looking at the next 15 days but the next 15 years.
- He said that the Congress had done well and was hoping to do well in Kerala, Orissa, Chhattisgrarh, Punjab and Rajasthan. It is significant that he omitted Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.
Apart from the first point where the Congress signals that it will not yield to Third Front pressure, there is nothing particularly upbeat about Rahul's pronouncements. It is not the sort of statement a party issues in the middle of an election.
What does it amount to?
At the risk of over-interpretation, I would suggest that Rahul is setting the stage for an indifferent Congress performance on May 16. He is trying to occupy a high moral ground to gloss over possible tactical blunders and an unsatisfactory performance.
More important, he is playing a game of brinkmanship with Prakash Karat. He is suggesting that in case the Third Front remains intransigent on a Manmohan-led government, the Congress may be willing to sit in opposition and allow a government with BJP involvement.
The calculation is that "secular" forces will put pressure on the Left and the Third and Fourth Fronts to see reason. There are too many game plans that will be upset if the Congress shies away from leading the government and upholds abstract principles.
There will also be sustained international pressure.
I don't believe that either the Congress and Left have uttered the last word. Both are waiting for the final figures. But Rahul has indicated clearly that he doesn't mind if the Congress sits in Opposition. Digvijay Singh has said so quite explicitly. Will the rest of his party agree?