By Kalyani Shankar
The idea of an alternate Front often surfaces just before or after the polls. The fact that such a front consisting of left and some regional parties ruled the country more than once gives the hope for the Third Front strategists who are waiting for another chance. Janata Party ruled in 1977, National Front in1989 and United Front in 1996. Is the time ripe for another Front at this point of time? It does not appear to be so as there are too many “ifs “and “buts.”
Knives are out against the Congress led UPA after the party’s miserable performance in UP, Goa andPunjab. The result is the possibility of regrouping of political parties. The ganging up of the regional satraps who are getting stronger day by day because of the massive majority with which they had been elected is a source of worry for the Congress party. This is true of Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee,Biharchief minister Nitish Kumar, Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav.
The outcome of the recent Assembly polls has begun the talk of a non Congress- non- BJP Front. Mulayam Singh has always been amenable to the idea of the Third Front. Therefore it is being argued that the SP’s landslide victory may hasten the formation of such a front. Even before the poll results came, the debate began with ten powerful chief ministers including those from the NDA to take on the centre on the NCTC. The Congress got jittery at this combination but the elite chief minister’s club won the first round.
While technically a third or a fourth front could emerge, it is little doubtful on account of various reasons. First of all elections are two years away and no Member of Parliament wants to face another election right now. Although Nitish Kumar has declared that his party is ready for elections, the Congress should call his bluff. While the other parties like the Trinamool, AIADMK, BJD and NCP feel strengthened after successful electoral results, their party members too would oppose mid term polls for obvious reasons. Some of them fear they may not get a ticket while others apprehend their success. Moreover, even the BJP is not encouraged to face a mid term poll although it won Goa andPunjab. The left parties who are reduced to a mere 24 in the 2009 elections form a sixty plus in 2004 are wary of facing polls in view of lack of leadership and also internal squabbles in both Kerala and West Bengal.
These ground realities give the hope for the Congress to complete its term till 2014 as no one wants to pull down this government. Perhaps this was why a confident prime minister declared on the first day of Parliament “I am confident that we have all the numbers that are needed.”
Secondly, a look at the parties that would like to form the third alternative shows that most of them are opportunistic and also strong only in their respective states and have no pan national appeal. This is true of SP, BSP, TDP, BJD, Trinamool Congress, NCP, AIADMK and Akali Dal — all headed by the regional satraps. Surely a genuine Third Front cannot be a mere exercise in Government formation? The role of the Left parties in such a coalition is yet another paradox. Some like Mamata Banerjee want to exclude the left from the new front and call it the fourth front. The BJD chief Naveen Patnaik calls it a Federal Front. So even on the constituents there is some confusion. A rag-tag ‘third front’ or Fourth Front that offers no policy alternative and crowded by forces with dubious track record cannot face this challenge.
Thirdly, despite the SP’s spectacular victory, it is not clear whether Mulayam wants to join the new Front. With cases pending against him would he like to take on the Congress now? Secondly, his election manifesto was full of populist schemes like free power, free tablets and laptops etc and where would he get the money to fulfill without knocking at the doors of the centre? Moreover, the new chief minister Akhilesh, who has come with such good will, would like to stabilize himself in the state before venturing on adventurism. However, though Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has denied talks on forming a ‘third front’ now, the party feels such a bloc is very much possible after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Fourthly, if Mamata has her way, this may be the first time an alternate front could be attempted without the left but Mulayam is sending signals he cannot do without the left. Will such a group tied to various regions, castes and ideologies work well to fill the opposition space inside the Parliament and outside? With the king size ego of these regional satraps could there be no ego clash?
Fifthly, such a front cannot form the government on its own without the support of either the Congress or the BJP. No doubt the two national parties are worried about their decline in one large state after the other.
The Congress party has been weakened at the Centre. How long it will survive depends on its allies. Mamata may be in an adventurous mood while the NCP and the DMK are unhappy with the Congress. The Congress has to do a balancing act for the next two years if it wants to survive. The other possibility of realignment of forces in the fifteenth Lok Sabha itself, the numbers don’t suggest that and again this new combination will have to be supported by the BJP. As Nitish Kumar put it “People keep talking about revival of the Third Front. But I am not sure how and when it will happen. As of now, it has not taken any concrete shape. All I know is that my party is an integral part of the National Democratic Alliance.” So for all practical purposes, a new Front at this juncture may not take off but the powerful regional satraps are having fun in provoking the Congress. (IPA Service)