Janata Dal-Secular leader H D Kumaraswamy met Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday night, fuelling speculation of further cracks in the Third Front as the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party hunted for allies to shore up numbers with no signs of a clear winner emerging in the Lok Sabha elections.
Even as his father and former prime minister H D Deve Gowda, who was behind the formation of the Third Front, issued a statement saying it was too early to write the obituary of this grouping, his son met Gandhi at her 10 Janpath residence.
While details of the hush-hush meeting were not known, it triggered intense speculation whether the grouping of Left and regional parties was facing further trouble after the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti led by K Chandrashekar Rao dumped the Front and jumped on the National Democratic Alliance bandwagon on Sunday.
The former Karnataka chief minister tried to cover his face with a handkerchief when newsmen and photojournalists spotted him in a white Mercedes at the gate of Gandhi's residence adjoining the Congress headquarters.
Earlier in the day, the Congress reached out to parties outside the United Progressive Alliance saying all secular parties are welcome to join its endeavour for the formation of the next government under its leadership.
"The UPA is intact. We have not left any of our allies.All secular parties are welcome," All India Congress Committee spokesman Janardhan Dwivedi told reporters in New Delhi.
And there was no dearth of claims by major alliances about new allies gravitating towards them. BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu said, "Any party which is willing to support Advani as Prime Minister, any party which is willing to work with the NDA is welcome. This is the general stand and there are a number of people who are inclined towards us. The party will talk to others only after the results are out on May 16."
With the Kumaraswamy-Sonia meeting sending different signals, party secretary general Danish Ali said the JD-S was united under Gowda and Kumaraswamy. On his part, Gowda said in a statement," I am amused at the tendency to write the obituary of the Third alternative even before the last phase of the Lok Sabha election is over. "This, according to me, betrays the anxiety of the once who wish to spread the false gospel of bi-polar polity in India," Ali added.
War room meetings were underway as the Congress, BJP and the Left reworked strategies and scouted for new allies while it was a case of of who will blink first on the possibility of Samajwadi joining the Third Front, a grouping of the Left and regional parties. Samajwadi also set conditions like "No Bahujan Samaj Party". Political parties kept all lines of communications open and leaders like Samajwadi's Amar Singh used imageries like a rail engine and compartments to suggest that since the Left is taking the lead in cobbling a non-Congress, non-BJP alliance it should take the initiative to woo his party.
Singh said he would "love to do business with Prakash Karat but minus the BSP. In fact, I am still in touch with old friends like Comrade Sitaram Yechury." He, however, ruled out making the first move and suggested that Communist Party of India-Marxist chief Prakash Karat should initiate it. Amid talk of disunity in the newly launched 'Fourth Front', Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan asserted that his party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Samajwadi Party would remain together and strive to form a secular government at the Centre.
With speculation mounting on who is going with who, it was also time to clear the air, especially from among the regional parties. Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu said his party was firmly with the Third Front after the TRS deserted the Front in Andhra Pradesh to join the NDA.