Like a soufflé which falls flat just as it is being served up, our experiments with a Third Front have been long on promise but short on delivery. You may recall that the last two Third Fronts did not last out their full term in office. But as the ruling coalition totters and the government-in-waiting totters even more perilously, the possibility of a Third Front is being raised. And into the pit we have all the usual suspects, not exactly an encouraging prospect if we were to look at their political agendas.
This time around, as the government went pale with fatigue after Mamata Banerjee left in a huff, it was Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav who hinted, please note the Third Front is always raised in elliptical tones, that such a formation could be in the offing. This could mean more choice for us. But do you see this formation as any more stable than the fragile NDA and UPA coalitions we have had so far? I am afraid that given the propensities of the dramatis personae, I cannot give you a very optimistic answer.
The first is the vexatious question of leadership. Whatever else its faults may be, the UPA accepted that Manmohan Singh is the first among equals, much as AB Vajpayee was in the NDA government. There were no challengers, no pretenders to the throne of power. But here, let us have a look at the possible main players and the inherent contradictions in such a formation. The UP strongman Mulayam Singh Yadav is a master strategist when it comes to caste arithmetic, it certainly helped him to leave his opponents in the dust this assembly election. He is also considered a messiah of the Muslims, a quality which once earned him the moniker Maulana Mulayam. His party pays lip service to development and clean governance but has no compunctions about filling legislative assembly posts with people with less than savoury records.
In the same corner as Mulayam, casting herself as the saviour of the minorities, especially Muslims, is our very own Mamatadi. So much so that she insisted that her ministers quit the government on jumma baar, a terminology unfamiliar to the Muslims themselves. Do I detect an overlapping of votebanks here? But to give Mamatadi credit, even at the height of her incandescent rages, she has never played the caste card, something that is second nature to Mulayam. I can quite see her in high dudgeon if there was any suggestion that the Third Front does some caste calculations. The very personalities of the two are as different as chalk and cheese. Mulayam, watchful and wily, Mamata impulsive and often impossible. Not a very happy combination.
But that is not all. What would a Third Front be without our comrades who are smarting in the shadow of oblivion after yet another historical blunder, that of trying to topple the UPA1 on the nuclear issue. No sooner did the words Third Front cross Yadav’s lips, the CPI(M) general secretary, the glacial Prakash Karat suggested that the former be the leader of the formation. This cannot have been music to the ears of other potential entrants. But then again, I am not surprised, political finesse is not one of Karat’s strong points and perhaps the result of him never having fought an election beyond the salubrious confines of Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Coasting in the waters also is Chandrababu Naidu of the now largely irrelevant Telugu Desam Party and no doubt others will also follow suit. It is even possible that Nitish Kumar of the JD(U) may bite if the conditions are right. But then we come to the question which is plaguing the other political formations — who will be the leader. In the larger parties, at least we know that once the high command has spoken the others will fall in place. But here, in this motley crew, I get the feeling that most of the significant leaders fancy themselves for the top job. Not tailormade for harmony, would you not say?
The BJP’s iron man LK Advani spoke of a non-NDA, non-UPA government being supported by one of the big parties. Given the vaulting ambitions of both the big parties, I would say, in your dreams.
In fact, I feel that a Third Front would be so busy sorting out its internal contradictions that even the modest gains made in economic reforms and social development by the UPA government will fall by the wayside. And India’s image in the world will fall if we have people in power who have no real vision for India, beyond the provincial concerns of their respective parties. They say third time lucky. Well, it will be the third time for a Third Front were it to happen. But the question is, will the people of India consider themselves lucky if this happens? I think you know the answer to that one.