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HindustanTimes Thu,21 Aug 2014
No going back to Front
Chanakya, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, June 22, 2013
First Published: 16:25 IST(22/6/2013)
Last Updated: 22:11 IST(22/6/2013)

This is the moment that the congenital third fronters have been waiting for. Of the two main political formations, one, the NDA is in disarray at the moment.

A powerful ally, the JD(U), has broken away from it and is a free floating entity as of now. So what do we get? Yes, talk of a third front again, only this time it will be called the federal front. Well, you could have fooled me.

Could it work this time around? We know that in the past, it has simply not worked, imploding under the weight of giant egos. But this time around, unless the NDA gets it act together, such a formation could well come into being. And this would be disastrous for the country to put it very mildly.

With Nitish Kumar, the new messiah of secularism and development on the loose, many regional parties see the possibility of cobbling together a front, I daresay for the sake of it. And to top it all, he has just notched up a triumph in the confidence vote, thumbing his nose at the BJP.

The only exception is the iron lady of Poes Garden J Jayalalithaa. In her carefully enunciated English, she told salivating reporters something that many would quail at. Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is my friend, she said immediately sparking off rumours that she will join an NDA led by Modi. Okay, so she is out.

Let us then look at the main dramatis personae. It would be Nitish Kumar, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, the TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu, perhaps the DMK unless the UPA lets it have its own way and maybe the Left.

Of course, the inimitable CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat has ruled out being in any alliance with Mamatadi but then politics at the Centre is always a changeable creature. If some of the names I have mentioned do not frighten the daylights out of you, you are made of sterner stuff than me.

Kumar is, no doubt, an able administrator. But he is so in his state. Not too many people, barring Imran Khan in Pakistan, know too much about him in other parts of India.

Then there is the out-of-work Naidu, the man who has reduced his legendary father-in-law NT Rama Rao’s party to a bit role in the state. Now comes the really spine-chilling name.

Mamata Banerjee. She who sees red everywhere including among women protesting against rapes. And then we have the notoriously rigid Mr Karat, master of the CPI(M), whose knowledge of Marxist movements across the world is infinitely greater than his understanding of the Indian electorate.

But let us put aside personalities for a moment. If such a formation, call it federal front if you will, were to come about, what would it mean for India? I can’t see any economic policy worth the name being formulated. The economy has slipped even under the able stewardship of a renowned economist like Manmohan Singh.

Can you see Mamatadi who got the heebie-jeebies when the tried and tested House of Tata tried to set up a car plant in her state coming up with any free market ideas? No, she will have a hysterical fit and accuse the entire lot of being closet Maoists or some such absurd thing like that.

Or take Nitish himself. We know that he is big on development, but I am not sure he would welcome a Walmart or a big western corporation with open arms.

He would have an eye on his core constituency, which means that he would not like to take any economically risky decisions. The inarticulate Mr Naidu was once a capitalist, or so we thought.

He sold us the idea that he would turn Hyderabad into cyberabad only for us to find that it was actually hyperabad. He is woefully short on ideas and it showed during his tenure as chief minister.

The Left has always considered itself an integral part of any third front. Of course, if Mr Karat overcomes his aversion to Mamatadi at the Centre, then we can look forward to a policy paralysis which would make the ones under UPA 2 look like a Sunday school picnic.

Indeed, the glacial Mr Karat would, like Mamatadi seeing Maoists and Reds everywhere, see an imperialist plot in every decision. He would rail against capitalism and shun all investment and encourage a return to pastoral living. I am exaggerating, of course, but you get my drift, don’t you?

As for foreign policy, I don’t think they have any unless you consider Mamatadi blocking the Teesta water-sharing agreement with Bangladesh. So actually a federal front would set us back by a decade at least. It would be a motley crew of people who have vastly different ideologies and vastly different concerns.

Such a formation will not accept a first among equals, it will simply not hold. So if such a front is floated, we should say thank you but no thank you. And would the NDA please, please get a grip on itself! The voters need a choice and a disparate and squabbling federal front would mean curtains for India’s big ambitions — not something you or I would like to see. 


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