Social graces are finding expression on the secular side of the political divide.
Even as RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav smoked the peace pipe with his Samajwadi Party counterpart Mulayam Singh, AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi laid perhaps the basis of another entente by condoling with Mulayam’s party colleague Amar Singh who recently lost his father.
Singh met Rahul’s overture with a polite conversation over the phone. A few Congress functionaries including former UPCC president Salman Khurshid and his wife Louis Khurshid also met the grieving SP leader with whom their political equations bordered on the bitterest in recent years.
Lalu is pretty upfront about the need to open channels with ideological fellow travellers. It is believed the SP’s support for the RJD and a Congress-sponsored Independent in the Rajya Sabha elections in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh could reduce estrangement and build confidence between these parties.
It would be unrealistic, however, to expect major realignment of forces in the short run: the Congress and the RJD constituting the core of the ruling UPA; the SP playing a pivotal role in the anti-Congress, anti-BJP third formation called the United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA).
The effort broadly is to infuse life into the moribund relations of "secular" forces and formations who may be compelled to work together after the 2009 elections.
"We are part of the UNPA and Mulayam Singh remains our leader," Amar Singh said on Wednesday, refuting suggestions of fissures in the third formation. He confirmed Mulayam's talks with Lalu but made no reference of the interaction he had with Rahul.
Sources said the developments do not represent a thaw -- not yet -- in the Congress-SP ties that worsened in the post-2004 phase. The standoff had even acquired a personal dimension in the office of profit controversy that caused Jaya Bachchan's explusion as the SP's Rajya Sabha member and forced Sonia Gandhi to re-contest her Rae Bareli seat.
But since the UP assembly polls in which Mayawati wrested power from Mulayam, the SP has recognised the downside of fighting on two fronts -- with the UPA in New Delhi and the BSP in Lucknow. The convergence of interests comes with the Congress's own anxiety to foil Mayawati's plans to expand her Dalit-Muslim-Brahmin base beyond UP. The formidable social combine was once a Congress preserve across India.