Rahul Gandhi who has held centrestage for the Congress party during Elections 2009 by campaigning vigorously and opening the party's options in the post-poll scenario and reaching out to hitherto bitter political rivals in the name of development is expected to retreat into the background once the results are out.
Instead Sonia Gandhi will take over the tough task of negotiating with both happy and unhappy allies and at the same time personally reach out to new allies in the event that the Congress party is the single largest party. It would be 10, Janpath which would emerge as the pivot on which the party's post-poll politics would revolve as the Congress would look to put together a credible working majority for the next United Progressive Alliance government at the centre.
Party managers state that Sonia Gandhi is their trump card and while all leaders including the prime minister and Rahul Gandhi have been indulging in the politics of charges and counter charges, as part of the Congress' strategy, Sonia Gandhi has remained mum and refrained from attacking the various regional formations who may be needed after the
That, say Congress leaders is part of the party's game plan with the Congress president expected to sit on the high table and personally call up each ally depending on which way the numbers stack up. That is the reason why Rabri Devi has been overheard as saying that whatever the son may say, it is the mother whose word will finally carry the day. And she insists that the mother (read Sonia) has not said a word against either Laloo Yadav or the Rashtriya Janata Dal.
Party sources say that the major spectre of uncertainty is over Tamil Nadu. If the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam sweeps the election in the state "it would be easier to dump the DMK and switch sides to the AIADMK but if both get an equal number of seats in the poll, it could create major problems for the Congress", said a senior party leader. He said that in that situation the Congress may have to look towards the Left parties for support, a likely solution which comes with its own set of problems as both the Left and Mamta cannot co-exist together in the same formation.
With the Left expected to drop almost half its seats, Mayawati a no-no option for most leaders, groups and factions in the Congress party, the DMK expected to reduce substantially, the Congress is seriously in search of a bloc of 25 to 30 seats which would help it to take the tally up and attract many of the smaller formations to its side.
Nitish Kumar is one such option but at the moment he is firmly with the National Democratic Alliance. Sources state that a prominent Mumbai-based business house is working overtime to bring the Congress and Nitish together and the man who is acting as a bridge between the two is N K Singh, a Rajya Sabha MP of the Janata Dal-United and who is being tipped as being the next finance minister ,the price which the UPA would have to pay to bring Nitish on board.
A senior Congress leader commented that the party has noted with interest the manner in which Jayalalitha has also kept her options open and kept her attack on the Congress to the minimal. Sonia Gandhi on a trip to Chennai also refrained from attacking Jayalalitha and the AIADMK.
But sources say that keeping in mind the less than warm vibes between the two ladies in the past, both are unlikely to talk directly but only through intermediaries.
Having said all this, senior Congress leaders also stated that it would not be easy for the Congress to put together such a multi-hued rainbow coalition, particularly since the party has been flexing its muscles rather aggressively in the pre-poll scenario. The last time was different with the Left bailing out the Congress with a solid bloc of 60 seats. This time the moves are all with the bit players and those parties which hold the numbers en bloc are ranged against the Congress.
How much and how far Sonia Gandhi's negotiating skills work in the days after May 16, would show how far she has come as a politician, who can carry disparate groups along and keep the flock together.