‘We have to work it out in such a way that it ultimately is in the interest of the nation.” If this sounds vague to you, I don’t blame you. But when you realise that these are the words of Telugu Desam supremo Chandrababu Naidu on the possibility of a third front just before he embarked on his rather ominously named Vastunna Mee Kosum (I am coming for you) yatra late last year, then it becomes positively alarming. For the notoriously inarticulate Mr Naidu has been a foremost votary of a third front.
Like mushrooms during a monsoon, the third front raises its head every time the ruling formation looks precarious. And now in the life of UPA 2, that time has come. It appears to be up the creek without any paddle in sight with the DMK folding its tent and heading Chennai-wards. The congenital third fronters see an opportunity for their moment in the sun.
The main plank of the third front is that its constituents are against the UPA and the NDA. Now you will say that this is not a solid foundation for a coalition which hopes to govern India, and you would be right. But hope springs eternal in the third frontian breast and this time, the high priests of the potential formation are gathering even as the UPA totters.
It is usually the Left, or rather the CPI(M) that takes the lead in the clamour for the third front. But this time, the feckless party general secretary Prakash Karat has not gone beyond saying that early elections are not ruled out.
A third front in a country as vast as India should have been a feather in the cap of democracy. But past experience leaves me with no confidence in such a formation. For any political grouping to have a fighting chance, it must have some sort of ideological mooring.
The UPA and NDA may be made up of disparate parties but the allies have come on board in the full knowledge of the predilections of the party which pulls the formation along. So, the Congress’s economic liberalisation policies may not have been music to the ears of some of the allies, but they could live with it.
Those who could not left in a huff like the Trinamool, though to this day I am not sure if Mamata was just having a hissy fit or if she really had an ideological divergence of views.
The NDA’s saffron leanings may not be shared by its allies but they are not unduly offended by this either. Those who have a problem with the projection of Narendra Modi as a potential prime minister will sooner or later peel away.
But the third front is neither a melting pot nor a salad bowl. It is, frankly, just plain inedible. It is just a conglomeration of parties who periodically make a stab at aiming for the throne in Delhi.
It comprises an orchestra in which almost everyone is the conductor and very few want to play the violin or the bass. Can you see a Jayalalithaa playing second fiddle to say, a Naveen Patnaik? Or a Mulayam Singh Yadav taking lower billing than a Mamata Banerjee? Can you see a Nitish Kumar agreeing with Prakash Karat on investment?
I could go on. But my point is whether you can see any of them agreeing with each other on anything. And so the inherent structure of the third front has built in flaws, designed to bring the edifice down at the first sign of a political storm.
We have to work it out, as Chandrababu Naidu, so delicately put it. This says it all. The idea is clear, isn’t it? Cobble together some sort of political formation and then make it work. The problem is, and I bet you my bottom dollar on this, it will go the way of similar third front experiments in the past. If it ever comes into being that is.
I would not be wrong if I say that people want nothing more than a stable government. Even the big party-led coalitions have been less than steady but I supposed that people have learnt to live with the comings and goings of the allies in the belief that somehow the centre will hold.
Now when we talk of a third front, the truth is that there is no centre but several centres of power. So in effect, we will be jumping out of the frying pan into the fire if we were to opt for a third front. No, warts and all, we would still like a political formation led by a primus inter pares or first among equals.
It would be fine if a third front coalition were to be one representative of India’s diverse communities and ethnicities. But so far such formations have been representative of their own narrow interests. The two main formations, for all their faults, have a vision of India in the world, the third front does not seem to have a vision of India even within its borders.
The UPA’s famously reclusive chairperson Sonia Gandhi was spot on when she described the third front as being “prone to disintegration.” BJP leader LK Advani was not so circumspect, he described it as a “farcical illusion.” I, for one, don’t want to buy into a concept that comes with a design fault right from the assembly line.