The 17 regional parties that met on Wednesday at a convention gave no signal they will form a Third Front anytime soon but their leaders stressed upon the need to unite against communal and divisive forces, a euphemism for any BJP-led formation.
Leading the charge was Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar who said, "Democratic forces should forge maximum possible unity to defeat the threat fascism, communalism and terrorism posed to the country."
"Does this convention mean formation of a new front? As of today, this is not the case. But the 17 parties that have assembled here have to maintain maximum possible unity defeat such powers," he said.
Nitish was addressing the Left-sponsored 'Convention against Communalism', viewed as the step towards forging the non-Congress-non-BJP Third Front before the Lok Sabha polls.
At the convention were leaders of the parties that have earlier been a part of the BJP-led NDA government and which the saffron party is viewing as potential alliance partners in 2014. Such leaders included Dr M Thambi Durai (AIADMK), Babulal Marandi (JVP) and Bijayanta Panda (BJD).
The conclave was attended by NCP leader DP Tripathi, who justified the party’s presence at the "non-Congress, non-BJP" forum saying that "taking a stand against communalism was not in contradiction to being a part of the government".
In the backdrop of the disastrous experience of 2009, the leaders stopped short of describing the meeting as a precursor to the formation of a Third Front. But senior regional leaders including the Bihar and Uttar Pradesh chief ministers underlined the need to establish such a front.
The Bihar CM said the regional parties felt the need to raise voice against communalism together after Muzaffarnagar communal clashes. At least 60 people were killed and 40,000 others displaced amid reports the violence was engineered by politicians for electoral gains.
VIDEO: Nitish calls for unity against fascism
A leader who attended the convention said on the condition of anonymity that aggressive posturing on the Third Front concept at this stage will eventually help the Congress, as it had happened in 2009.
Attacking Modi for the second time in as many days, Nitish said "some people were so desperate to unfurl Tricolour at Red Fort that they were making replicas of the Fort at their poll rallies".
On Tuesday, Nitish likened the Gujarat strongman to Hitler and warned the people that "fascist" forces were trying to gain ground in the country, a day after Modi accused him of betraying the NDA, a reference to the bitter split between the BJP and JD-U in the state over Modi’s elevation as PM candidate.
"Their rise is a threat to freedom of the press too. Media will not be able to operate freely. There is a threat to democracy and free speech," he said.
Taking a dig at Modi’s model of development, he said, "A choice has to be made between models which favour corporate houses or inclusive models which focus on the development of common man."
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, who said on Tuesday the next PM would come from the Third Front, told the convention "at least we got together. If we unite, communal forces will not able to raise their head".
"We have crushed communal forces and we will continue to crush communal forces whenever they rear there head again," he said.
Yadav's colleague Ram Gopal said today's meeting was a "beginning" for the shape of things to come in the future.
CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury said the convention’s objective was to "save the country from communalism", while key UPA ally Nationalist Congress Party’s Praful Patel defended its participation by saying "we have to keep our options open of working with other parties in the era of coalition politics".
In a swift reaction to Nitish’s attack on Modi, BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad said why the Bihar CM was silent on the corruption charges against UPA and the Congress. Prasad said Nitish already accepted the "certainty that Modi will be the next prime minister" because he has focused his speech on him only.
On the convention in Delhi, Prasad said: "There is a ritual going on in Delhi, the quest for an illusory Third Front. The Third Front is history, with no relevance today."
VIDEO: Participation in Third Front meet won't create problems for UPA