If Third Front initiatives in the past were associated with the rhetoric of anti-Congressism, this was missing at Wednesday’s gathering in New Delhi of 14 regional parties that included former NDA allies and an alliance partner of the UPA, besides the four Left parties.
The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi was the apparent reason for leaders including the CPM’s Prakash Karat, SP’s Mulayam Singh Yadav and JD(U)’s Nitish Kumar getting into a huddle, but none of the speakers named either Modi or the BJP.
Leaders who gathered at the Left-sponsored convention were openly resistant to the idea of the meeting being described as another Third Front initiative.
So, what was the exercise all about?
Opportunism in play
Previous Third Front initiatives have ranged from being disastrous to extremely disastrous (see box). The United National Progressive Alliance, formed in the run-up to the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, speedily disintegrated within months and ended up helping the Congress.
“We are learning from past mistakes. Strident posturing on the Third Front concept is a sure-shot method of ensuring that the concept gets derailed,” a leader said. “If the Congress gets fewer numbers in 2014 and the BJP is unable to find the numbers to form the government, the regional parties will have a key role in government formation,” JD(U) leader KC Tyagi said.
“But the politics of the Third Front seems one of sheer opportunism. A front or an alliance has not been formalised. This means that these parties are willing to get or extend support from or to either the Congress or the BJP,” political analyst Neera Chandhoke pointed out.
Regional leaders including Mulayam Singh Yadav and Nitish Kumar are evidently working to consolidate and expand their political bases, and to ensure that they do not cede secular political space that they see a weakened Congress vacating.
Coalition politics of the past two decades have stoked national ambitions of several regional leaders and each is vying for a major role in government formation in 2014, if not eyeing PMship.
“Wednesday’s event was no more than an attempt by these fledging outfits to maximise their interests in these turbulent times. A secular front without the Congress means nothing,” political scientist CP Bhambhri said.
Clash of personalities
The trouble with this formation is less about nomenclature and more about its inherent contradictions. It is well known that Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav cannot break bread together.
Similarly, the DMK and the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and the CPM and Trinamool Congress in West Bengal cannot be on the same platform.
Indeed, there are suggestions that the Left leaders took the initiative in organising the New Delhi conclave to pre-empt possibilities of a bigger role for TMC leader and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee in the post-poll scenario in 2014.
Personality clashes between leaders of these parties are far too many, while their interests are far too dissimilar to form a durable and united front.