SPOILERS OF THE WORLD UNITE
The Third Front makes a comeback riding on the Left’s desire to stay relevant. But the numbers don’t add up.
In the Indian context, most marriages of convenience last a lifetime. But, in the Indian political context, most alliances are open relationships. Partners walk in and out depending on electoral calculations. So, on February 25, when leaders of parties that loosely constitute what is officially now the Third Front met at Tripura Bhavan in New Delhi to issue a grand joint declaration, representatives of two out of the 11 parties that have come together were already missing.
The emergence of a Third Front at this stage—when the Congress’s decline is imminent and BJP itself is unsure of how many seats it can get to reach close to the government-forming mark of 272—is a crucial development. More so because the Congress hopes backing a similar front can keep a BJP- led government out of power. But the hiccups in cobbling together the pre-poll alliance may spoil the party for the spoilers.
First and foremost, the numbers don’t add up. The 11 parties that have come together to form the front currently hold 92 seats between them in the Lok Sabha. When Congress or BJP roughly need around 175 seats to form the base around which a coalition can be built, why would an uneven cluster of parties that have double-digit numbers and leaders with monumental egos require any less? In which case, the new front will have to nearly double its current tally to become a viable alternative that can even begin to seek support from either Congress or BJP.
Already the divisions are showing. Leaders from the Asom Gana Parishad ( AGP) and the Biju Janata Dal ( BJD) were not present at the hour-long meeting and the joint declaration that followed, proclaiming the motley group’s antiCongress and anti- BJP stance in the upcoming elections.
“They ( BJD and AGP leaders) are not
present here but they have conveyed their support. The AGP president was there at the October convention. He was unable to come today as his mother is critically ill. BJD too was represented at the October meeting. Naveen Patnaik conveyed that he had engagements in Odisha,” CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat clarified. The third alternative—Karat’s coinage since the 2009 Lok Sabha elections for a group whose constituents keep changing— had first come together on October 30, 2013, at a Convention against Communalism in New Delhi. Leaders from the group had then met on February 5 and decided on the February 25 meeting.
There was no word from the two parties however. AGP, which is also negotiating with BJP for an alliance in Assam, seems undecided. BJD on its part too is tight-lipped. BJD MP Pinaki Mishra told INDIA TODAY that the one dealing with the Third Front was his colleague Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda. Queries at his offices in New Delhi and Bhubaneswar revealed that Panda was in his constituency, Kendrapara on the day of the meeting. While BJD chief and Odisha Chief Minister Nav- een Patnaik is a former BJP ally, he had recently declared he was among those “uncomfortable” with the idea of Narendra Modi becoming prime minister. Sources in Bhubaneswar say Patnaik is still toying with the idea of being part of the Third Front and may not want to antagonise BJP at this stage.
The others who were present included parties who have been allies of both Congress and BJP at some point or the other. What has brought the parties together is the prime ministerial ambitions of its leaders—be it J. Jayalalithaa of AIADMK, Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United) or Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party ( SP). For the Left, the third alternative is a fight for relevance in national politics. With West Bengal lost to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and Kerala to the Congress-led United Democratic Front ( UDF) and Tripura the only remaining red dot on India’s map, the Left—that has usually enjoyed more political influence in the past than the number of seats it wins— is fighting against the threat of becom- ing a non-entity in Indian politics.
The last time Karat tried to create a Third Front, his photo-op partners were Bahujan Samaj Party ( BSP) chief Mayawati and President of Telugu Desam Party ( TDP) N. Chandrababu Naidu. Both are missing this time. Naidu is well on his way to joining hands with BJP while SP and BSP are sworn rivals in Uttar Pradesh and cannot afford to be on the same side.
Karat began working on the alliance after the bitter UPA- Left divorce in 2009, and being ditched by Mulayam Singh Yadav. There is nothing to suggest that Mulayam will stay on this time if political expediency requires otherwise. “We are 11 parties now, we want to go up to 15,” said SP’S Netaji at Tripura Bhavan. Currently, there are only 17 parties in the Lok Sabha, other than Congress and BJP, that have more than two MPs. Mulayam’s proposition would then mean he and Mayawati, Mamata and the Left, Jayalalithaa and M. Karunanidhi of DMK all together on one platform. That looks like an impossible proposition even for a photo-op, let alone a long-term political alliance.
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(FROM LEFT) NITISH KUMAR, DEVE GOWDA, PRAKASH KARAT, SHARAD YADAVAND MULAYAM SINGH YADAVATTHE THIRD FRONT MEETING IN DELHI’S TRIPURA BHAVAN