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The Third Front – How likely does it seem ?




Every few years, there is discussion of a third front, or sometimes that of a fourth front. This is a front of parties that seek to be independent of the Congress or the BJP and are mostly regional parties, focused on one state or at the most a region. There have been Governments like this in the past (primarily the Gujral or the Gowda government), although their records were even worse than that of any BJP or Congress Government. Over the past many years, there have been a number of attempts to create such a formation, but there is a striking difference between those attempts and the current set of attempts. These attempts have been invoked in the past many times by the Left parties, looking to form a nucleus for the third front separate from what they call the communal forces of the BJP and the liberalization forces of the Congress; however, over a period of time, the Left parties have got disillusioned with these efforts and no longer seek to lead such efforts, or even believe in them.
And of course, some of the people who were most sought out as being leading lights of such third or fourth fronts turned out to be totally unpredictable and gave huge shocks to the communist parties and others who had thoughts of having a viable national alternate to the Congress or the BJP. Mulayam Singh, Karunanidhi and Laloo Prasad Yadav come to mind, with all of them having supported the Congress or the BJP, or even both. Even the current proponents of the third front, namely, Mamta Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik, and Nitish Kumar all have those same set of attributes about having supported the Congress or the BJP to some extent. Further, the communist parties are in a bad position politically and cannot lead such a front, and if Mamta Banerjee is the leading light of such a front, it is totally something that they cannot think of being a part of.
And this is another problem. The position in many states where there are multiple non-Congress and non-BJP parties which also cannot stand each other; such as Uttar Pradesh, Benagal, and even Tamil Nadu (and Andhra Pradesh if Jagan continues to pull in popularity from the Congress vs. the TDP). Given all this, it is unlikely to ever believe that such a combination of parties can get even 150 Lok Sabha seats; so while they may be able to form state level Governments, they are unlikely to have a role greater than that of a supporting party, and that is where the front starts to break down. These are essentially parties that are in a strong position in one state; so if turns out that right now Naveen Patnaik is strong, but starts to lose some support against the Congress and in the next election, the Congress wins more Lok Sabha seats from Orissa, and the BJP drums up around 5-15% support (you can take many other supports where a similar situation happens); in such cases Naveen Patnaik would be forced to swallow his pride and look to get support from the BJP for the same. A similar situation was seen earlier in Bihar where the combined the electoral support of the BJP and the JD(U) was more than the combined support of Laloo – Paswan and the Congress. Naveen Patanik did show a reversal of that trend when he split off from the BJP support and won enough support of his own, but if that trend reverses and the Congress and Modi both manage to pick up some support, his support will become very tenuous. In such a situation, it is each party for itself, and the third front does not have any kind of glue to hold it together, something that a national party can do.
Yet another problem is that all these parties are very dependent on eccentric individuals who are the strongmen of each party, such as Mulayam Singh, Laoo / Nitish Kumar, Naveen Patnaik, Mamta Banerjee (as I prepare this list, each individual seems more eccentric than the other). In such a case, for them to accept that one of them is the leader of the other, or even if they remain in the states, the power of a central Government and ministerial nominees from their party seems difficult. It is more likely that leaders who are connected via family ties to the all powerful leader is the one who will also be the nominee for central posts. And many of these leaders are at the peak of their power, Mamta, Naveen, Nitish are all powerful in their states and it is unlikely that they will reach any higher or become more powerful, and hence if they start to become more shaky, all their efforts will be spent in just running their state will no longer the energy to make a bid for more power in the center. Mamta is fearful that 2 years of rule has not show any difference to the people of the state, Nitish has just lost an important election where the BJP did not provide support, and Naveen has seen an insider form a rival party that would become the center of any dissidence against him. Further, Naveen has already been forced to start blaming the center for lack of development in the state, and if the message of a higher development level as enunciated by Modi starts to filter through, things will become more difficult. On the other hand, these parties have been helped tremendously by incredibly bad performance by both the Congress and the BJP.




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