The resolve adopted by 11 non-Congress, non-BJP parties to contest the general elections as a united bloc on Wednesday drew predictably uncharitable responses from the BJP. “The idea behind the Third Front is to make India a third-rate country,” Narendra Modi thundered at a rally in Kolkata.
Wednesday’s meeting was attended by leaders of the four Left parties, SP, JD(U), JD(S), AIADMK, Biju Janata Dal, Asom Gana Parishad and Jharkhand Vikas Morcha.
The general reactions are that constituents of the emerging formation are driven by the opportunistic desire to grab power and that leaders of these parties lack a national outlook and have competing claims over prime ministership.
Steady vote shares
The fact is that though Third Front governments at the Centre failed to provide stable governments in the past, the regional parties’ clout shows no sign of diminishing.
The vote share of the Samajwadi Party decreased marginally from 26.74% in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls to 23.25% in 2009 while that of the Biju Janata Dal increased from 30.02% in 2004 to 37.24% in 2009. In both these elections, the vote share of most regional parties, including those of the BSP, Janata Dal (United) and DMK remained stable while the BJP’s vote share went down from 22.16% in 2004 to 18.80% in 2009.
Hype versus Reality
It has been seen that when a regional party has lost vote share, the benefits have mostly accrued to a rival regional party in the state. This trend is best exemplified by the results of the recently held assembly elections in Delhi, where the Congress lost 15.8% votes but the BJP-SAD alliance also lost 2.4% compared to their performance in 2008. The point is this: A decline in the Congress’ vote share does not necessarily benefit the BJP.
“The reasons for Modi’s bitterness at Third Front developments are understandable. The BJP had been considering several Third Front partners – including the AIADMK, Asom Gana Parishad, Jharkhand Vikas Morcha and the BJD – as likely NDA partners. These hopes have now been dashed,” JD(U) spokesperson KC Tyagi told HT.
“But the problem is that the regional satraps have been unable to merge their regional concerns with a national outlook,” political scientist CP Bhambhri said.
Leaders of these parties have competing claims for the country’s top job, with about half a dozen leaders including AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa wanting to take a shot at prime ministership. Also, there are many inherent contradictions: The Left and the TMC can’t share the same platform just as the BSP and SP cannot break bread together.
To tide over such contradictions, Third Front proponents are working to constitute smaller blocs. For example, splinter groups of the erstwhile Janata ‘parivar’ are attempting to come together. The idea of an Eastern Group comprising regional parties of Odisha, West Bengal and Bihar has also been floated.