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K Chandrasekhar Rao's pitch for third front may be stymied by lack of cohesive leadership, concrete agenda

TRS chief K Chandrasekhar Rao has called for a ‘third front’ comprising of non-Congress and non-BJP parties. Several parties like the TMC, JMM, MIM and RJD expressed their support to the idea. Though there is always a space for an alternative to the Congress and BJP, the third front is beset with several problems like the lack of a cohesive leadership and concrete agenda, and the vacillating character of these regional parties. Meanwhile, sceptics see a political strategy in KCR's newfound enthusiasm to rally non-Congress, non-BJP parties, given the fact that he has been avidly supporting the Modi dispensation all these years.

Since the 1990s, the Congress and BJP accounted for only about half of the Indian political space, with non-Congress, non-BJP parties accounting for the other half. In 2009, the Congress fared well, while the BJP performed well in 2014, suggesting a revival of national parties. Yet, regional and smaller parties still hold sway in large parts of India. The so-called national parties resort to piggy-back politics and remain as junior partners to their regional allies in many states. For instance, BJP is a junior partner to its respective allies in Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Bihar, Jammu Kashmir, etc. The Congress is a junior partner to its respective regional allies in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh etc. Similarly, both the Congress and the BJP can only be junior partners in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal etc. Thus, a political space certainly exists for a non-Congress, non-BJP front in Indian politics.

However, several questions still remain on the feasibility of such an idea, given the experience of many such attempts in the past.

File image of K Chandrasekhar Rao. AFP

File image of K Chandrasekhar Rao. AFP

Regional parties could thrive in a national coalition only when there is a major national party heading such a coalition. The experience of the UPA and the NDA are illustrations to offer. Otherwise, there should at least be a strong player within such an alternative front to anchor the coalition. The Left during its heyday could play this role. But with the massive erosion of the Left's political clout and electoral strength, they can no longer inspire the formation of any such alternate alliance at the national level.

Meanwhile, regional parties always displayed a pusillanimous character and tended to vacillate between either of the national parties. The TRS, the Dravidian parties, RJD, TMC, SP, BSP, TDP, etc. were either part of the UPA or NDA or even the both the alliances at different points of time in India's contemporary political history. They displayed a similar lack of consistency in taking positions concerning these national parties. For instance, even KCR zealously supported the Modi dispensation’s controversial policies like demonetisation and GST.

The so-called third Front has a plethora of leaders, each nursing prime ministerial ambitions. The elevation of leaders like Deve Gowda and IK Gujral to the highest executive office in Indian democracy, despite a minimal presence of their party, further rationalises the ambitions of these regional satraps.

Besides, many of the regional parties which could constitute a third front are contenders for power in their respective states. For instance, the TDP and YSR Congress compete for power in Andhra Pradesh, relegating both the national parties to the backseat. Similarly, the AIADMK, DMK and the new entrants in Tamil politics compete with each other at the state level for political space. Thus, these parties cannot be together in any national coalition. One of them can join such a coalition, with the other party shifting towards one or the other national party, depending upon the local political context and the national political arithmetic.

The abortive experiments of the United Front and National Front stand testimony to all the weaknesses discussed above.

Nevertheless, strong federal aspirations can bring them together. But many regional parties surrendered their tax autonomy to arrive at a consensus on GST. This indicates the Centre's capacity to manoeuvre viz a viz these regional political formations. Yet, radically restructuring Centre-state relations, especially fiscal federalism, remains a strong point of unity among regional parties. In fact, KCR was shrewd enough to raise such federal concerns as a justification for launching such a third front. He argued that the Centre's role should be confined only to external affairs, defence, national highways etc. Such voices of dissent are nothing new. Political parties like the Shiromani Akali Dal and Telugu Desam have earlier evinced such strong sentiments in the past, only to reconcile with the truncated federal polity of India.

Meanwhile, critics infer a larger political strategy behind the sudden outbursts of the TRS chief. Two distinct interpretations have been made in political circles about KCR's strong remarks.
Notwithstanding the recent electoral successes of the BJP in the North East, the master strategist in KCR could perceive Modi's popularity sliding across the nation. He even anticipates the Congress retaining power in Karnataka. Thus, any ascent of the Congress would impact Telangana politics much to the disadvantage of the TRS as the former is its principal adversary in state politics. The state Congress is already running a campaign claiming that the TRS is an extension of the BJP. The TRS chief may be eager to shed the negative image of being a non-NDA ally of BJP. Pitching himself firmly in the national political context would help him to successfully challenge the Congress in the state.

The second explanation, which is less sympathetic to KCR, is that the TRS is acting at the behest of the Modi-Shah duo. The BJP is concerned about possible electoral reverses in the next phase of Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The BJP's tally has been significantly contained in Gujarat too, though the saffron brigade retained power.

Any gains for the Congress could mean regional parties gravitating towards the Congress. The BJP, in a bid to thwart any such possibility, is operating through parties like the TRS. It is extremely difficult to either validate or reject such formulations. However, the sudden shift in KCR's stand towards Modi certainly gives currency to such a point of view.

However, only the future actions of KCR and other regional parties can provide any conclusive understanding of the purpose and intent of the third front.

Updated Date: Mar 05, 2018 17:53 PM

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