Neither the Congress nor the BJP relishes the prospect of a third force jostling with their respective formations for political space. But however tenuous the idea of third front might be, none of the parties just cannot wish it away. “Third front is history,” said BJP spokesperson Ravishankar Prasad today, but history has this irritating habit of repeating itself. Come 2014, the country might witness an alternative political formation to the UPA and the NDA.
The experiment has been disastrous with no such formation being able to provide a stable government. The United Front— an amalgam of 13 political parties— formed two fragile governments between 1996 and 1998 and there have been abortive efforts to stitch together parties incompatible with the Congress and the BJP ideologically and otherwise. But none has lasted. Conflicting egos and ambitions among leaders and pervading mutual mistrust ensured that the third front remained inherently unstable.
But the idea won’t go away. The reason is simple: There has always been enough scope for such a formulation in the available political space. Now that the Congress is shrinking across the country and the BJP has not been able to expand enough to capture the space for itself, the opportunity for the formation of a third front has gone bigger than ever before. That explains the sense of urgency in Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s efforts to reach out to other like-minded leaders and parties.
There was an inkling of the core of the front today when Mulayam came together with the Left parties during the Bharat Bandh today and Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu hinted that a new combine was possible. JD(S) chief Deve Gowda is likely to join the party at some point later. Forget the history of betrayal between the Left and the Samajwadi Party — the former has ended up the victim at least three times, all that seemed forgotten today. However, this is irrelevant in the context of the import of the alignment taking shape.
Traditionally, the third front has been a configuration of anti-Congress, anti-BJP and Left-of-the-centre parties. This time, unlike earlier, there are a large number potential backers with enough potential to deliver the numbers for the front to sustain. That probably explains why the Left despite its bad experience with the likes of Mulayam has started showing serious interest.
“Mulayam should take the lead in the movement. He should take the initiative, both inside and outside the Parliament as he is the leader of the biggest party,” said CPM general secretary Prakash Karat. Senior party leader Sitaram Yechury also spoke about the need of a third front. He said people needed a political alternative based on policies. “We want non-Congress and non-BJP political parties to come together to give a political alternative,” he said.
So far so good. Since the third front remains an amorphous entity till the election results are out one can never be sure how it would shape up finally. But would it be a viable entity? Fat chance. The Left won’t go with Mamata Banerjee, Mulayam’s SP won’t go with Mayawati’s BSP and Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP would be wary of the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti. Equations at the state level would always play a role in the composition of the front.
If at all it comes into being there’s the crucial question of the prime minister’s chair. Mulayam’s ambition for the top job is known but what is the chance that other big leaders in the alliance would allow him the chance. As experience shows, such fronts end up throwing up weak prime ministers.
Mulayam has a tough job on hand indeed. But the rest in the political spectrum need not sit smug. The third front could still emerge as a challenge.