Rahul Gandhi has had to bow to his party's sensibilities and tell the whole world that the Congress will not sit in opposition.
The U-turn at Tuesday morning's press conference was prompted by alarm in Congress circles that the heir apparent was abandoning the fight midway. In deference to Congress wishes, Rahul indulged in some bravado: Manmohan Singh will be PM after May 16 and BJP has given up the fight.
If Rahul had stuck to the campaign speech script, he would have done his job. He tried to be too clever by half and ended up confusing his party even more.
- He said that he had ideological differences with the Left but could work with them. "I am sure the Left will support Manmohan Sigh as PM." He discovered a reasonable amount of "common space" with the Left.
- He said that a lot of opposition leaders have done good work. He named Chandrababu Naidu and "Mr Nitish". Why did he leave poor Naveen Patnaik out?
The outcome of his first attempt at realpolitik has been laughable.
- He has conceded that the Andhra results have been bad for Congress. Hence the certificate to Naidu.
- He has left Lalu Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan high and dry even before polling is over in Bihar.
- He has ditched Mamata Bannerjee by holding out an olive leaf to the Left. She is apparently furious. I learn that the forthcoming joint meetings with Sonia and Rahul may not happen.She has told Indian Express that if the Congress reforges any alliance with the CPI(M), she is out.
- The Congress is giving the impression of being an unreliable ally.
- Rahul's national security doctrine: "Empower the villagers and terrorism will end in 15 minutes". Now, why did no one think of this before?
- The CPI(M) is jubilant. It sees Rahul baba's hand of friendship as proof that it holds the final veto. It is also thrilled that the Congress-TMC alliance is coming unstuck even before the polls are over.It has raised its expectations from 30 (at the start of the campaign) to 45 seats. Karat's own hands within the party have been strengthened.
- The BJP is thrilled that the Congress is nervous. It is concentrating single-mindedly on picking up every possible seat. There is a healthy unity in the BJP I haven't seen in a long time.
- Just after the press conference, Nitish decided that it was time to scotch the speculation once and for all. He told his circle (which included one gentlemen who was the "source" of all the speculation about a JD(U)-Congress tie-up, that he saw no reason to ditch the BJP at this juncture. It was after that its spokesman Shivanand Tiwari appeared on various channels. Nitish and Arun Jaitley also decided on a common "thank you but no thank you" response to Rahul's praise of the Bihar government.
I can't predict what effect Rahul's pronouncements will have on Phase 4 voting. But it seems to me that Rahul is making the same mistake Sharad Pawar did: concentrating on post-poll games even before the voters have done their job. I wonder why Pawar is so quiet now.
Of course I am ignoring the gush-gushness of the TV groups who were beneficiaries of a Rs 400-crore bailout package by the Financial Institutions last week.