As propaganda exercises go, the NDA rally in Ludhiana was a roaring success. The rally achieved three purposes:
- It scotched all speculation of a rift in the NDA even before the results are out. The Narendra Modi-Nitish Kumar photo-op in particular was good piece of showmanship. NDTV was particularly agitated and made it appear that Nitish's main crime was to have reneged on an assurance to Barkha Dutt. However, I don't think that Nitish was too happy over being ambushed by Modi--such public displays are not his style.
- The symbolic presence of the Telengana Rashtriya Samiti, hitherto a part of the Third Front, suggested that the NDA's ability to draw in post-poll allies shouldn't be underestimated. However, don't take the TRS presence as constituting the last word.
- The show of unity by the NDA was in sharp contrast to the perceived disarray in the UPA. There was an implicit message to other Third Front partners, notably TDP and AIADMK. The Muslim factor in West Bengal rules out Mamata Banerjee joining NDA, although she may ditch Congress if it cosies up to the Left again.
The BJP is wallowing in the euphoria of Ludhiana. It hopes the momentum will help it in Punjab and UP in the fifth phase of voting. The NDA needs to desperately recover ground in Punjab and consolidate gains in the Bareilly-Rohilkhand belt of UP. In the next two days, the BJP is planning two new advertisements.
- The first, a brainchild of Narendra Modi, commemorates the 11th anniversary of the Pokhran-2 tests and showcases decisiveness in government.
- The visual of the BJP manifesto advertisement has been modified to make it into an NDA appeal. Sharad Yadav has apparently given his go-ahead.
The Congress hasn't been sitting idle either. It has undertaken a few initiatives with an eye on post-poll arithmetic:
- Sonia Gandhi and Rahul have not only cancelled their visits to West Bengal for the fifth phase but taken care to let it be known that this constitutes an overture to the Left. Mamata Banerjee is furious but she will hold her peace till voting is over.
- The CPI(M) has been persuaded to soften its stand and agree in principle to approach the May 18 Politburo meeting with an open mind. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has said nice things about Somnath Chatterjee who was expelled from the CPI(M) for his opposition to the withdrawal of support to Manmohan last July. The CPI(M) hopes that keeping speculation alive could lead to a partial neutralisation of the Congress in the fifth phase in West Bengal--all the seats in that phase are being contested by the Trinamool. The CPI, incidentally, is not too happy with the perceived softening of the CPI(M).
- Congress has gone out of its way to remove apprehensions in the DMK over the future. Congress candidates in Tamil Nadu were fearing that after Rahul's press conference and the cancellation of a Sonia meeting, the DMK cadres would not work for the success of P.Chidambaram and Mani Shankar Aiyar. Both these Cabinet ministers have made very strong anti-Jayalalitha statements, calculated to make the lady furious. Has the Congress pushed Jayalalitha to the NDA?
There is not much both parties can do in the next few days after Wednesday's polling but await Saturday's counting. All they can do is keep rapid response teams in place once the numbers are known.