From all available indications, even if the so-called and yet-to-be realised the third front does relatively well, it would not be in a position to form the Government at the Centre.
Proponents of a third front to take on both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party have the right to forge such an entity, and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has launched yet another round of attempts in that direction. But it is unwise of them to compare it with the 1996 developments because that’s self-defeating. After all, none would like to recall with any pleasure the disastrous United Front experiment which collapsed after months of a torturous existence.
There are many wannabe architects for the front, there is no one leader that is acceptable to the rest as the face of the front to take on either Modi or Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
Both politics and governance had gone for a toss during that period. The country had had two Prime Ministers in quick succession. Neither of them had the time — even if the inclination had been there — to occupy himself with the larger national good because both were busy protecting their turf. The Congress was, in turn, has its own internal churn, which decisively impacted the fortunes of the United Front regimes it was supporting from the outside. From 1998 onwards, though, stability returned at the Centre. Atal Bihari Vajpayee had a full term, Manmohan Singh had two full consecutive terms, and Narendra Modi is on the cusp of completing his first full tenure. Why would the voters wish for the troublesome old days of instability to return?
The regional satraps will surely rebut the scepticism. They will say that lessons have been learnt. They will claim that maturity has seeped in among them. They will state that the people, in a robust democracy such as India’s, have the right to a choice that is neither BJP nor the Congress. Finally, they will point out that the Congress, given its current state, is not in a position to take on the formidable BJP. All that may be true, but the alternative has to be better.
The potential third front lacks credibility. It is to be a group of disparate regional parties, with no common platform or agenda, save ousting the BJP-led NDA from power. These parties have no pan-India presence, which means that one regional leader would have a little electoral impact in a State outside his or her own. And while there are many wannabe architects for the front, there is no one leader that is acceptable to the rest as the face of the front to take on either Modi or Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
From all available indications, even if the so-called and yet-to-be realised the third front does relatively well, it would not be in a position to form the Government at the Centre. Which means it will again have to depend on the Congress for outside support. And which also means that the country could see a repeat of the 1996 chaos. And so, it would make sense for regional parties to abandon the idea of a grand national front and instead concentrate on the less ambitious, standalone State-level alliances. Some of these may involve the Congress in subordinate positions.
Stalin brings nothing on the table in Andhra Pradesh — neither does Naidu in Tamil Nadu.
For instance, the coming together of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party can pose a stiff challenge to the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. The other opposition parties are largely irrelevant in the region. On the other hand, the Congress tie-up with the DMK in Tamil Nadu can benefit both and keep the AIADMK, possibly supported by the BJP, at bay. In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee needs neither the Congress nor any regional satrap from outside the State to improve her chances. In any case, she is loathed to work within an overarching Congress leadership. BSP supremo Mayawati shares a similar dislike to play the second fiddle and would rather be a lone warrior if she is not rated equally.
But what of the latest wannabe architect, Chandrababu Naidu? The Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister recently met DMK chief MK Stalin. But Stalin brings nothing on the table in Andhra Pradesh — neither does Naidu in Tamil Nadu. Naidu needs to focus on what his TDP will gain by having aligned with the Congress in Telangana — the possibility of a similar partnership in Andhra Pradesh itself cannot be ruled out, depending on the outcome in Telangana. By choosing to go with the Congress, Naidu is letting the latter revive itself at the TDP’s cost. In the medium-to-long run, the decision could adversely affect his party in both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
The bare fact is that no political formulation that does not have either the BJP or the Congress at its core, can hope to last. Whatever the permutations and combination, the fulcrum has to be one of these two national parties. But the fulcrum has to be innately strong. This is where the BJP has an advantage for now.
Footnote: Here is an irony. Chandrababu Naidu, who is straining hard to evolve a non-Congress front to take on the BJP in 2019, has himself tied up with the Congress in Telangana.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.