Mulayam's right, 2014 could be the year of the Third Front
There are indications that the idea of a big national party anchoring stable alliances may have run its course.
It’s easy to scoff at the idea of a Third Front, but given the political ground realities in the country it is not as ridiculous as it is being made out to be. With the big national parties either on the decline or showing no signs of growing - the average vote share of the Congress has remained static around 27 percent and that of the BJP around 22 percent since 1998 - and regional parties entrenching themselves firmly in states, the locus of political power has become more scattered over the last two decades.
There are indications that the idea of a big national party anchoring stable alliances at the centre and being their dominant voice may have run its course - the Congress’s experience with its allies in the UPA and to some extent the BJP’s running problem with partners like the JD(U) are cases in point. Of course, the UPA or the NDA are not going to wither away in a hurry, but the fact that both are looking ideologically and structurally indistinguishable, the climate is right for a third political formation.
Let’s do some number crunching. Of the 543 seats, the Congress and the BJP take on each other directly in only 116. The big states where the direct contest will take place include Madhya Pradesh (40 seats), Rajasthan (25), Gujarat (26), Chhattisgarh (11), Delhi (7), Uttarakhand (5) and some other smaller states and Union Territories.
As many as 136 seats will witness tough multi-cornered contests. These include Karnataka (28), Assam (14) and Jharkhand (14) and Uttar Pradesh (80). The NDA and the UPA square off in only 61 seats - Maharashtra (48) and Punjab (13). In 40 seats the Congress is not a contender and in 106 the BJP’s presence is weak. In 95 seats neither the Congress nor the BJP is a strong player - the states include West Bengal (42) and Tamil Nadu (39). (GVL Narasimha Rao, who conducts BJP's poll surveys also compiled some interesting statistics. Read more here)
As the numbers suggest, the great electoral battle of 2014 will not be between the Congress and the BJP as it is generally perceived, it will be between the national parties and the regional ones. This is the logical consequence of the electoral fragmentation of the country. The situation creates ample scope for the creation of a non-Congress, non-BJP front. It’s rather ironical that there has been no serious effort in this regard. So what is the problem?
The potential constituents in this formation are neither ideologically disparate nor bitter adversaries fighting it out over a common political turf, ensconced safely as they are in their respective states, nor do have any particular fascination for either the Congress or the BJP. So why does everyone laugh it off when someone like Mulayam Singh Yadav talks about a Third Front? The real problem is not the core idea of a new coalition but the leaders and parties advocating it. They have proven to be unreliable as a unit and towards each other so many times in the recent past, that they have virtually made the Third Front a sad little joke.
Speaking at Sangli in Maharashtra on Sunday, Mulayam said the days of single party or single-party dominated governments are over and it’s high time like-minded parties came together. It appears he is dead serious about it. He is believed to have deputed party leaders Ram Gopal Yadav and Naresh Agarwal to scout for potential allies in parties such as the BJD, the Trinamool Congress, the DMK, the Rashtriya Lok Dal, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Asom Gana Parishad. Some other parties have made favourable noises in support of the idea.
But one can safely say that the latest bid at the Third Front is headed nowhere. It’s obvious that Mulayam is desperate because he wants to be the prime minister. He wants to lead a coalition with enough numbers to dictate terms to the BJP or the Congress and bargain for the top job after the elections. His potential partners have seen through this - has anyone noticed that the Left Front is lukewarm to the Third Front? They realise Mulayam could dump them anytime he finds them uncomfortable. This has happened before many times.
But yes, the Third Front is workable. It just needs proper planning and a new set of leaders to execute it.
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