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.

India Today - - NATION - By Jatin Gandhi

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.

Fol­low the writer on Twit­ter @jatin­gandhi

PANKAJ NAN­GIA

(FROM LEFT) NI­TISH KU­MAR, DEVE GOWDA, PRAKASH KARAT, SHARAD YA­DA­VAND MU­LAYAM SINGH YADAVATTHE THIRD FRONT MEET­ING IN DELHI’S TRIPURA BHA­VAN

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