Now that the CPM appears to have softened its anti-Congress line, and counting day looms, the Congress finds that it is faced with four key decisions on alliances in the post-poll scenario.
Decision one: Does it accept the support of the Left? In some ways, this would be the obvious thing to do because the Left was its ally for most of the UPA government.
But there are problems. The Left is certain to ask for a change of prime minister and a review of the nuclear deal as pre-conditions for support. The Congress is not inclined to grant either request.
Another problem concerns West Bengal. From all accounts, the Congress-Trinamool Congress alliance will do well in the elections. Does the Congress sacrifice the prospect of long-term success in West Bengal only for the short-term gain of forming a government at the Centre this time?
The final decision will depend on numbers. If the Congress is near the magic 272 figure and can make do with the 13 seats or so that the Trinamool is expected to win, then it will turn the Left down. If the gap is larger and it needs the 30-35 seats that the Left is likely to win, then it may have to ditch the Trinamool and make some compromises.
Decision two: Mulayam or Mayawati. This is the equivalent of being asked whether you’d prefer death by hanging or death in the electric chair.
The Congress has no desire to do deals with either the SP or the BSP. Mayawati will probably ask for further reservation, key ministries and carte blanche in Uttar Pradesh. Mulayam is easier to handle because he has nowhere else to go unlike Mayawati who could go to the NDA but the SP is not an attractive ally.
There will be the same demands for key ministries, a completely irresponsible policy of inflaming Muslim sentiment and the daily demands on behalf of one corporate group or the other.
On balance, the Congress will probably take Mulayam but this is not a happy prospect.
Decision three: There is a great deal of bitterness within the Congress over the behaviour of Lalu Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan. Besides, the duo may get less than 10 seats in Bihar.
Ideally, the Congress would have liked to tie up with Nitish Kumar. And over the last three months, Nitish has kept channels of communication open.
But following the Ludhiana rally, where Nitish was cuddled with Narendra Modi, the Bihar chief minister’s options have dried up. He is now stuck with the NDA and unlikely to be a potential Congress ally.
Decision four: Jayalalithaa has made it clear that she wants a Congress tie-up because then, the DMK government in the state would fall.
But Jayalalithaa is not a reliable ally. Her demands are excessive and despite her obvious fondness for Rajiv Gandhi, she is pathological about Sonia Gandhi, who she insists on referring to as Antonia Maino. At some stage, that almost-psychotic hatred is certain to topple any future alliance.
Ideally, the Congress would like two independent alliances in Tamil Nadu: with the DMK and the PMK. Though the PMK is allied with the AIADMK for the election, it is quite possible that the Ramadosses will return to the UPA once the results are declared. That would give the Congress the numbers it needs.
All this, of course, is entirely dependent on the Congress getting over 140 seats. Should it get less, it will happily sit in the Opposition. At the moment, however, party managers are confident that the Congress will cross the 150 mark.
We will know on Saturday if they have been deluding themselves.