It’s that time of the electoral season again when politicians’ thoughts turn to that predictable pastime — the formation of a third front. And this time is no different. With the two main formations not exactly covering themselves in glory, the UPA after a series of scams and the NDA after an unseemly power struggle, many parties are justified in thinking that a new formation could be the answer. Ideally it could be. Many of the allies have good reason to be disillusioned with both the NDA and the UPA. Already BJD chief Naveen Patnaik while maintaining that he would like to be equidistant from both the NDA and the UPA has raised the possibility of a third front. The JD(U) has also hinted at it. The Left is perpetually in favour of a third front as are others like the Telugu Desam Party’s Chandrababu Naidu. The Trinamool Congress’ Mamata Banerjee too would want a third front, the only person who has not raised the issue is the AIADMK’s J Jayalalithaa.
It starts off quite predictably. All the leaders will talk of the need to bring in better governance, sweep out the old rickety formations and so on. They will, to a man or woman, say that they are absolutely not interested in being prime minister of a third front. But past experience has shown that a third front suffers from the problem of too many generals and too few foot soldiers. Despite claims to the contrary, it is obvious that each party leader feels that he or she has a better claim to the top slot than the other. Then there is the question of ideology. Whatever else their faults the NDA and the UPA are held together by their respective ideologies. In a third front, disparate parties have differing ideologies and vastly different methods of functioning. In such a situation, it becomes difficult to choose a first among equals. A third front cannot really have a campaign plank that goes beyond saying that the big two must be shown the door. Given the manner in which the Left behaved while it was part of the UPA coalition, it is unlikely that anyone will buy the theory that it can co-exist with parties whose ideologies are at vast variance with its own.
Then there is the question of personalities. Any formation, which has a volatile person like Ms Banerjee, is bound to run into trouble very soon. Both Nitish Kumar and Mr Patnaik have very differing styles of governance. The weight of all these contradictions militates against a third front. All in all, the third front is an idea whose time keeps coming and also goes just as soon.