So it was the Congress party that blinked first. Scaling back prime ministerial ambitions for Rahul Gandhi, the party began its morning with a public message to partners saying "The Congress has no issues if it does not get the PM post". The announcement was made by veteran Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad at an early morning presser.
The white flag before the final phase of voting indicates a re-think in the highest rungs of the party - most of which are occupied by Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia and sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
This is an important first step to find new partners in the league of the opposition and it comes just days after southern heavyweight KCR met with DMK chief MK Stalin to discuss who will tie up with whom after the election results are announced in a week from now. Other opposition leaders such as BSP chief Mayawati have abandoned any coyness about their own ambitions for the top job. Mayawati has talked about which constituency she may contest if she has to be appointed PM. Mamata Banerjee and her party have repeatedly said they have at no point signed up to Stalin's suggestion of Rahul Gandhi for PM. And as KCR tried to supposedly lure Stalin away from his tie-up with the Congress and into a Third Front bloc, it seems to have finally dawned on the Congress that its own revival, aggressively being pursued by the Gandhi siblings in states like UP - can wait; survival is at stake if it does not play its part in stopping the Modi juggernaut.
With this belated realization (and no doubt after much damage has been done in splitting the anti-BJP vote), the Congress appears ready to play the role of the honest broker in ensuring that the fractious opposition can do business together in attempting government formation after May 23 - assuming it's not a clear win for the BJP and its allies, that is.
Sonia Gandhi, who had been absent for much of this election, has finally emerged to serve as the emollient for the gigantic egos of the opposition. Over the past 15 days, she has worked the phones for an outreach to virtually every opposition leader. She has also written letters to MK Stalin and the others inviting them for a meeting.
Separately, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, seen as non-aligned, and KCR, forecast to sweep Telangana, have gotten phone calls from Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath inviting them for a meet-and-greet in Delhi with Sonia Gandhi.
While Kamal Nath worked his school connect with Pantaik (both are Doon School alum), sources in the DMK told me that Stalin was blunt in his meeting with KCR on Monday, warning that he would not ditch the Congress and instead suggesting that KCR abandon Federal Front dreams to join a bloc centred on the Congress, something that KCR has so far declared off-limits.
Privately, sources say, KCR is already in touch with Azad and Congress treasurer Ahmed Patel. And another Congress ally and master politician Sharad Pawar has spoken to Mayawati, who has spent much of her campaign cursing the Congress, and to her ally, Akhilesh Yadav.
The softening all around is not entirely unexpected - with the results now days away, regional leaders want to keep options open in case it's a hung house; who they choose will be justified officially on a better "package" for their states.
So far, they all say they want to see the back of Modi and Amit Shah. A senior Bengal leader who has been fighting a pitched battle with the BJP said bluntly, "I can do business with the BJP but not Modi and Shah. We have also discussed this and if they are short by even 30, the opposition will not support them. They do toxic politics and we have to think of the country".
While every political leader always claims to act only in national interest, the resentment against Modi and Shah is real. Most leaders even in the NDA such as Shiv Sena's Uddhav Thackeray find the duo arrogant and difficult to deal with.
The big lapse here, per habit, is the Congress, which has kept its track record of missing an opportunity and climbing down too late. But Sonia Gandhi is respected across the opposition for ensuring two terms of the UPA. Most senior opposition leaders such as Mamata Banerjee have a personal connect with her. Even BJP allies such as Ram Vilas Paswan would be happy to at least open a discussion with her. Sonia Gandhi is back at alliance power play - one of the most interesting outcomes of the elections this week.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
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