If you are to believe the hype on TV, Lutyens' Delhi is humming with activity. Every now and then I receive phone calls asking if X is talking to Y using the good offices of A. A lot of bit players are strutting about the city looking self-important and taking care to get themselves photographed. There are constant meetings and the rumour mills are over-active.
Based on information, my take on events are as follows:
- The Congress has had some success in soothing the ruffled egos of the Samajwadi Party. Amar Singh is thrilled that Digvijay Singh has said sorry. The SP believes it is going to win at least 25 seats. Its main focus is to regain power in Lucknow but till that happens it will not be unhappy with at least two portfolios like defence for Mulayam and something visible for Amar Singh. The SP has been the most transparent of the groups and we can assume that the 4th Front is in the Congress kitty.
- The Congress has mounted a full scale psychological offensive aimed at breaking the Third Front. The Third Front partners are still unwilling to budge because they feel that the Congress will perform poorly (despite the exit polls). There is still a big hope that a beleaguered Congress will be forced to bolster a Third Front Government for the moment.
- Despite Rahul's bravado, Sonia wants to be sure that no BJP-led government is formed. She will do everything to prevent it. Her first priority is a Congress-led government but if push comes to shove she will make yet another sacrifice for secularism.
- Prakash Karat's future in the CPI(M) hierarchy will depend on his ability to keep the Third Front together. If the Congress-TMC coalition does very well in West Bengal, the Bengal unit will want to strike an open deal with the Congress and ensure the TMC walks out. Already some, like Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, are openly advocating Left support for the Congress. The wicked people in Delhi say that Somnath is in line for a diplomatic assignment to an European country where they speak English, in case the Congress is back at the helm.
- The possibility of the TMC joining the NDA is almost zero.There is a Muslim veto.
- The Third Front will face difficulties in naming a leader. There are too many conflicting pulls.
- Jayalalitha's nightmare is a split verdict in Tamil Nadu. She wants a clean sweep and bargain with the Congress to bring down the DMK Government in Chennai.
- The BJP has made little headway in its bid to build a Greater NDA. Its hope lies in a good electoral performance on Saturday which will dilute its untouchability. But it will still need the Congress to sit in the opposition before its claims become credible.
- In case there is a hung Assembly in Orissa, Naveen Patnaik's first choice will be the Congress. He wants a stake at the Centre but has developed a block about the BJP. His first priority is still the Third Front but he has shed his distaste of the Congress. He will be dictated by the Assembly results.
In short, there has been a lot of tentative positioning. But everyone is looking to the final numbers game to firm up their stands. Existing calculations can go awry and new equations may be forged by the results.
Update 1: There has been some concern over Nitish Kumar's comments about being receptive to any one who gives a special status to Bihar. Regardless of the interpretation given by a gloating NDTV and CNN-IBN, I have seen nothing as yet to indicate a U-turn. Just see how quickly a Congress spokesman advised Nitish to desist from making demands through the media. Nitish follows the norms of political etiquette; he doesn't desert a team even before he knows the verdict of the people.
Update 2: Just came from an end-of-campaign party hosted at the BJP "war room" in Tugluq Crescent, New Delhi. There were lots of young men and women who interacted with Advani. The nice thing was that Advani underlined the need to harness this enthusiasm for the future. Regardless of the results, the BJP needs lots of new blood into the formal institutions of the party. The modern thinking that was evident in the campaign must remain in the party's bloodstream. At the same time, care must be taken to not appear elitist.