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Third alternative a pipedream

So when the CPI(M) is unable to carry with it even those who are ideologically similar, then how will it go along with other parties which have their own regional agendas? Pankaj Vohra examines.

columns Updated: Apr 02, 2008 18:59 IST
Pankaj Vohra

The CPI(M)’s wish to form a third alternative at the Centre — minus the Congress and the BJP — is an effort aimed at preserving its separate identity. This effort, however, could end up strengthening the BJP and its allies because the public still sees the CPI(M) as a sympathiser of the Congress and the UPA, even though the Left party has opposed the Indo-US nuclear deal and some other decisions taken by the UPA.

Prakash Karat, the CPI(M)’s General Secretary, is desperate to convey the impression that his party was never supported the UPA but agreed to do so on the promise of a common minimum programme and also because it wanted to isolate the communal forces led by the BJP. But he and his colleagues know that it is important to maintain the CPI(M)’s ideological profile in order to motivate its cadres. Karat is accustomed to taking the high moral ground on issues and his detractors have often accused him of pursuing an agenda that ignores the practical realities of politics.

The CPI(M) knows that the general elections may be round the corner and if it persists with its threat of withdrawing its support from the UPA on the nuclear issue, it will find it very difficult to align itself with either the UPA or the NDA after the poll results are out. Therefore, it has little choice but to float the idea of a third alternative comprising regional parties.

In fact, apart from qualifying as a national party by fulfilling the rules laid down by the Election Commission, the CPI(M) has also been reduced to a regional outfit. It has limited presence outside West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. Its objective is to cobble up an alliance of the TDP, DMK, Samajwadi Party and National Conference, with the hope that some others like Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal, Sharad Pawar’s NCP and Ramvilas Paswan’s Janshakti Party would join it.

But the question is whether such an alliance would provide the third alternative, which in electoral terms has never worked out in Indian politics as a long-term option. Post-poll alliances are always fragile as V.P. Singh, H.D. Deve Gowda, I.K. Gujral and A.B. Vajpayee (during his 13-day stint) had discovered. It is unlikely that some of the parties that the CPI(M) maybe eyeing for a third alternative may join hands before the elections are held. The tie-ups for such a formation will happen only if the big two — the Congress and the BJP — fail to make the grade.

After the polls, many of the players will try to align themselves with the winning combination and the CPI(M) may be left out in the cold. Its worries may increase if the party’s seat count goes down. This maybe less than those won by an ally such as the Samajwadi Party, which would then act as the big brother. Another significant dimension to the CPI(M)’s desire for a third alternative is whether it will enjoy any credibility among the people. In West Bengal, the Left constituents don’t see eye to eye. For instance, the CPI has asked the CPI(M) not to ignore the other allies and run the Left Front government as a one-party government. There were differences over Nandigram and some other matters too.

So when the CPI(M) is unable to carry with it even those who are ideologically similar, then how will it go along with other parties which have their own regional agendas? Would it like to face the risk of allowing separatist forces and regional chauvinists to run over the national agenda? What will happen to the Indian-State if various constituents of an alliance pull it in different directions? Will it not land the CPI(M) in a mess? Won’t its credibility be in question?

At this stage, it is also very difficult to think about a central government without the Congress or the BJP acting as the glue. The performance of both the Congress and the BJP may have left a lot to be desired, but as large parties they are capable of providing stability. Also, they would ensure that regional interests do not override national interests.

If one traces the origins of the third alternatives we have seen till date, one can give the example of 1989 when the formation of the V.P. Singh government with the BJP and the CPI(M) supporting it from outside had anti-Congressism as its main motivating factor. In 1996, the Deve Gowda government was formed to keep the BJP out. But both the experiments failed to achieve the desired result and the country faced three quick elections (1996, 1998 and 1999), before some stability was achieved. True, the Congress dislodged the government in 1998, but it was unable to cobble up majority required to provide an alternative to the BJP and paid the price. The CPI(M)’s ideological purity is a myth. In 1967, 1977 and 1989, it joined hands — indirectly or directly — with the BJP, which is often flaunted as its No. 1 enemy. On the nuclear deal, the two ideologically opposite parties are coming in the way of any kind of consensus.

The CPI(M)’s behaviour has prompted some Left leaders outside the party to think that a third alternative at this stage will only help the BJP to rejuvenate itself. For them, the fight against communalism is foremost and any deviation from it could put this agenda on the backburner.

Today, public support of the Left is low because most think that it is ‘bullying’ the UPA. It is true that the Left wants to keep its constituency intact by identifying itself with the pro-people measures. They claim that they were initiated by the UPA due to the Left’s pressure. It also spared no efforts to attack the Congress even during the polls against the BJP in Gujarat. Why? Because a weak Congress would need the Left’s help to sustain it.

The events that are going to unfold till the Budget session would determine whether the national polls will be held this year or the next. Similarly, the posturing of all parties, including the CPI(M), will keep the voters guessing about the their real agenda. Between us.