The elections are not really round the corner, but the talk of political alignments is already in the air. And as always, there will be talk of a Third Front. And indeed this could well be a possibility. But let me take you through the present scenarios. The UPA is very much there. It seems to be getting a spring back in its step after its third anniversary bash that had Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh in attendance. The NDA should be getting its act together now that the party president has got another shot at the job.
A Third Front could be a possibility given the number of parties that have shown a proclivity for such experiments in the past. Once upon a time, the Left was a glue to hold together the alternative forces. Unfortunately, that situation no longer holds. There was a time, I thought, that the Left might have played a crucial role in politics. But sadly, that was not to be with the likes of Prakash Karat holding the CPI(M)'s reins without the flexibility and pragmatism of his predecessor, HS Surjeet. At one time, a Communist leader could actually have become the prime minister, but alas, that was not to be thanks to the party's ideologically dogmatic core.
So if I was to look at the gameplan for a Third Front, what would it look like? There are several players here who have all made their presence felt on the national scene. Let me start with J Jaya-lalithaa, who holds all the aces in Tamil Nadu as of now. She is also trying to make her voice heard beyond Tamil Nadu with her very open support for PA Sangma for president. Then again, on her own she may not be able to hack it.
But she seems to have made an alliance with Naveen Patnaik. Here is a chief minister who has apparently not left his state ever since he came to power. There have been problems that he has faced with the kidnappings and the Maoists, but somehow or the other it does not seem to have diminished his stature.
The other person who might be part of this pack could be the very mercurial Mamata Banerjee. As of now, she is in a bit of an angry mood with the government, but given her temperament, she is easily swayed. She has a very definite agenda. As seen recently, on a television show, she is very clear that anyone who is even remotely seen as pro-Left is an enemy. She certainly has numbers but she is a maverick in the extreme. But could she be an ally and take a backseat to the likes of Jayalalithaa?
The man who really could be the pivot in the Third Front is Nitish Kumar. He has delivered the goods in Bihar. He has changed the face of Bihar from one of a state driven with criminality to one where girls can go to school on bicycles that he has provided.
Another possible Third Front candidate, though she may object to it, is Mayawati. She has a unique brand identity, she has a presence, and with a bit here or there, she has the numbers. But I really see her as a person who would like the top slot.
And so we come to the crux of the matter. The Third Front cannot happen in a long time since most of the players are not willing to accept second place.
But most important, they come from different ideological backgrounds. The issue of caste is not overwhelming in Tamil Nadu, for Mayawati it is one. For Nitish Kumar, the whole focus is on development as also for Patnaik.
Our past experiences with the Third Front have not been extremely happy. The main issue which brought Third Fronts together was to be in opposition to the government of the day. Today, that does not seem to be a reality. For the satraps in states seem far more interested in getting their own packages through than aiming for any big-ticket role on the national stage.
Banerjee certainly wants a bail-out package, she does not seem to want to pitch any higher than that. Jayalalithaa seems to want to get her way with the presidential election, as also Patnaik. Mayawati does not seem to want to look beyond the next state election. So the birth of a Third Front before elections will depend largely on how the smaller parties' collective strength compares with that of the single largest party, be it the Congress or the BJP.
But as of now, it would really seem that two is a company but three is a crowd.