On the surface, it was just another summer day in Delhi. The ancien regime strutted about the city in the firm belief that everything was hunky dory. A new Finance Secretary was appointed by the government; the Chief Election Commissioner unveiled a film at The Oberoi produced by the EC and made by a lady whose sister is part of Sonia Gandhi's inner circle; and Minority Commission member Dileep Padgaonkar made a seamless switch from being a dedicated panelist on Times Now to becoming a pundit on CNN-IBN. To the beautiful people, it was just a question of waiting till Saturday afternoon for the Congress to reassume the reins of power.
"Was the nuclear deal discussed during the campaign?" a businessman asked me at lunch. I was left speechless. Clearly, I didn't belong to the world inhabited by the beautiful people.
But underneath the placid surface there were strong undercurrents. Early this evening I received a call from one of the top analysts of a big merchant bank. He was trying to make sense of today's staggering 4 per cent jump in the Sensex. It seems that the rally was triggered by a rumour that the NDA was going to form the government. One evening paper in Mumbai even published a so-called IB assessment that the BJP-Sena would win 28 of the 40 seats in Maharashtra. "Is this likely?" he asked me.
Wait for Saturday, I advised him. In case he was impatient, I told him to check tomorrow's exit poll results. I understand there are two planned and I understand that two of these are going to show the Congress emerging as the largest party quite comfortably. The editor of an English-language daily has told his staff that he expects the Congress tally at 170.
If the Congress reaches 170, Manmohan may as well get ready to be sworn in next week. But how come this optimism isn't shared by the so-called High Command? H.R. Kumaraswamy of the JD(S) tried to cover his face while entering 10 Janpath for a private audience with the Empress. On TV, Jayanthi Natarajan argued that the cameras had no right to be so intrusive.
The BJP meanwhile is appearing a bit too cocky and over-confident. As part of his PR, Advani has produced a volume of the interviews he gave during the campaign. Some silly BJP "sources" have also spread wild stories about a "crack team" conducting negotiations for a "greater NDA". It's all very dubious.
The rally in Ludhiana, the leader of a NDA party told me on Monday, was good "but the audience was sullen". Was it a sign of the mood in Punjab?
Meanwhile, Amar Singh is angry with the Congress over its complicity in the denigration of Jayapradha by Azam Khan in Rampur. Some disgusting morphed pictures of the Telugu film star is being circulated in Rampur--Amar Singh claims that this misdeed has the full backing of the Congress. I went to the Pioneer office and asked if any of the women's groups have come out against this denigration of a woman. None, I was told. Why hasn't the TV channels asked Begum Noor Bano of the Congress to explain? Is it because the Congress owes no explanations?
In the lane opposite the Pioneer offices, A.B. Bardhan of the CPI was delighting everyone with his acerbic wit. He railed against the monopoly press--rhetoric we haven't heard in a long time.
It was just another hot day in Delhi. The predicted storm is four days away.
Postscript: Pieces of revealing trivia that came my way this morning:
- The news about Kumaraswamy meeting Sonia Gandhi was leaked to the media by the Congress itself. A top aide of the Congress president personally contacted many TV channels with the prior information that left the JD(S) embarrassed.
- Some Congress people are of the belief that the CPI(M) will not only vote out the Karat line on May 18 but that Karat will be removed as general secretary of the party.