Tunnel vision ails Third Front | mumbai | Hindustan Times
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Tunnel vision ails Third Front

Leaders scrambling for supremacy, squabbles over local tie-ups threaten to tear alliance apart, reports Zeeshan Shaikh. See graphic

mumbai Updated: Sep 18, 2009 02:12 IST
Zeeshan Shaikh

They’re learning the hard way that too many cooks could, well, ruin a coalition. The 17-party Third Front, floated as an alternative to the Congress-NCP and Shiv Sena-BJP combines, is showing signs of falling apart before the race has even begun.

On paper, the front makes for a winning combination: It could have the support of the 13 per cent Dalit population and the backing of regional strongmen like Raju Shetti of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana in Kolhapur and Jayant Patil of the Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) in Raigad.

It was even being touted as a potential threat to the Congress-NCP combine in certain areas, since many of its key support groups — including Dalits, minorities and farmers — overlap with the ruling combine’s votebanks.

But infighting is threatening to tear the alliance apart, as various party leaders try to clamber over their colleagues to the top.

Currently, two factions of the Republican Party of India (RPI) are fighting over leadership of the alliance, while another section of the front is sulking over the PWP’s alliance with the Shiv Sena in Raigad.

Immediately after last week’s show of strength at a rally in Shivaji Park, the first salvo was fired by RPI leader Rajendra Gavai, who accused the Front’s most visible face, fellow party leader Ramdas Athawale, of being “high-handed”.

“We haven’t appointed any leader, yet he goes about taking decisions without consulting us,” Gavai said on Wednesday. On Thursday, Gavai told Hindustan Times “everything had been sorted out”.

But the incident has nonetheless left other major parties giggling behind their sleeves.

Meanwhile, PWP leader Jayant Patil is battling criticism over his tie-up with the Sena in Raigad — an alliance that could be very fruitful, given the anti-SEZ sentiment in the area.

“We forged the alliance with the Sena because of our common opposition to the special economic zones,” said Patil. “It’s just a local, issue-based arrangement, not an ideological one.”

The Third Front was cobbled together by Ramdas Athawale and aims to woo Dalits through the RPI, Muslims through the Samajwadi Party and rural voters in western Maharashtra and the Konkan through regional strongmen like Raju Shetti and Jayant Patil.

Shetti, one of the front’s more prominent leaders, insisted on Thursday that no party was breaking ranks. “This Front is like a tiger’s den,” he said. “You will see people entering, but you won’t see anyone leave.”