If you put all the statements made over the last week by non-Congress leaders of the UPA coalition and its former allies together, a pattern is beginning to emerge. These statements arise not out of mere personal ambition but out of a more complex design.
Lalu Prasad has said that he will reach out to the Left. Ram Vilas Paswan has said much the same thing. And Sharad Pawar has indicated that he is keeping a door open for the Left — in the interests of the UPA, of course.
At the same time, Prakash Karat has declared that the Left will not support a Congress-led government. If the Congress wishes to help in the formation of the next government then it can only do so by supporting it from outside.
The traditional way of looking at Karat’s statement is to say that he is making a pitch for the Third Front and for somebody like Mayawati or even N. Chandrababu Naidu as prime minister.
But over the last few days it has become clear that a new strategy is emerging. Many UPA allies are now convinced that even if the old UPA (including Lalu, Paswan etc.) is going to be in a position to form the government, it will only be able to do so with the support of the Left.
Karat’s belligerence is intended to make it clear to the Congress that in such an event, he will demand outside support to a non-Congress government of old UPA allies and some regional parties.
Everybody knows that the Congress will not agree to this. So a second strategy has been formulated: if the Congress insists on being part of the government, the Left will say that Manmohan Singh, the architect of the nuclear deal, is not acceptable as prime minister. Why not choose a PM from the allies?
Such a choice would probably settle on Pawar — which is why he has been making ambiguous statements all week while his friends lobby to get him more endorsements. (Jayalalithaa’s, for instance, or Naveen Patnaik’s).
Pawar is acceptable to the middle class and the media in a way that Jayalalithaa and Mayawati are not. What’s more, he is probably acceptable to a chunk of the Congress as well.
So, the non-Congress UPA allies and the Left think it is possible that he could head a UPA government that includes the Congress.
There is a problem with this, of course: Pawar is not acceptable to Sonia Gandhi. Nor, for that matter, is any non-Congress prime minister.
Should Sonia stick to this stand, the allies will stick to their’s. And the Left will refuse to support Singh under any circumstances.
The only way out then — if the Congress’s participation is required — is for the party to nominate a new Congress PM who is acceptable to the Left. And that can only be Pranab Mukherjee.
That, in a nutshell, is the strategy. One: knock Singh out of the race. Two: put forward Pawar as his replacement. Three: if that doesn’t work, go for Mukherjee.
At present, all this is in the realm of speculation. Nobody knows what the results and the final numbers will be like. Perhaps the Congress will win enough seats to re-nominate Singh after all. Or perhaps an NDA government will emerge with L K Advani as PM.
But unless you realise what the rest of the UPA is up to, you cannot make sense of the statements about the Left and the prime ministership that the likes of Lalu, Paswan, Pawar and others have been making all week. There is a method to their apparent madness.