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Messages to Modi and Didi
Bangalore: The Bangalore head-turner turned out to be a head-bump designed to give a headache to the principal opponent on the other side as well as potential challengers on the same side.
Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday greeted Mayawati with an affectionate head-bump, sending ripples that are likely to eddy past the Opposition platform in the south and reach northern states where the last skirmishes before the 2019 election will be fought.
The bonhomie between Sonia and Mayawati became the most striking feature of the ceremony where H.D. Kumaraswamy was sworn in as Karnataka chief minister.
Sonia repeatedly held Mayawati's hand. The BSP leader, barely known for public display of emotion, threw her arm around Sonia and laughed merrily.
Although the two leaders had developed a strong personal bond over the past year, the public show of intimacy in Bangalore injected an element of the unexpected - and needless to say - conjectures.
Some felt Sonia had gone out of the way to flash a political message of "togetherness" as the Dalit leader is expected to play a crucial role in the 2019 general election as well as the preceding Assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
Little stops Narendra Modi from retaining power if he repeats his performance in Uttar Pradesh. Such a surge can be upset by Mayawati alone by sustaining the BSP's alliance with the Samajwadi Party.
Only Rahul Gandhi was supposed to attend the swearing-in ceremony on behalf of the Congress central leadership but Sonia decided to go to ensure that the picture of Opposition unity looked complete and no glitches cropped up.
Although Rahul has been trying to establish a rapport with Opposition leaders, age often stands in the way of developing a natural connect with the veterans. The chemistry among Rahul, the SP's Akhilesh Yadav and Tejashwi Yadav of the RJD has worked out well but the Congress president is yet to win the trust of the old guard of Indian politics.
Some sources felt Sonia might also have sent a subtle message to leaders like Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao who have been pitching for a separate political front not led by the Congress.
In Bangalore, Mamata, who appeared to have been miffed with traffic arrangements as a snarl made her walk, stressed on the need to strengthen regional forces.
If Sonia succeeds in luring away Mayawati, Akhilesh and Tejashwi, the Congress can render the third front purposeless. In this endeavour, the political realities of Maharashtra help the Congress as Sharad Pawar's NCP cannot hope to become a significant player without a prop.
Sonia did speak to Mamata and others but the manner of interaction appeared to have been carefully crafted.
Whether political signals were sent or not, the on-stage chemistry among different leaders reflected a willingness to bury individual egos. When Mamata and CPM leader Sitaram Yechury came across each other for a fleeting moment, they shook hands.