Third alternative idea is based on wrong assumptions and a statistical impossibility

No alliance can cross the halfway mark in the Lok Sabha without the support of either of the two big parties. And despite their projected resistance, the fact is that all these parties have happily cohabited with both the national parties on various occasions.

columns Updated: Feb 10, 2014 11:10 IST
Hindustan Times

It has hardly covered itself in glory with its antics. But it has still given a fright to the big two — the Congress and the BJP — who are facing something of a credibility crisis.

The fact that people in the Capital embraced the newbie AAP suggests that they are searching for an alternative. The Congress failed to live up to the trust the people reposed in it in 2009; the BJP inspires limited confidence among voters, particularly among the marginalised and the minorities.

When people found a third alternative in AAP in Delhi — inadequate as it was — they voted for it.

So the argument for an alternative to the major two is strong. But the gathering of 11 political parties recently to promote a third front sent a shiver down my spine.

This is not the first time that they are trying this, and the earlier experiments to this end by the same gang bring back bone-chilling memories of discord and confusion. It was left to the irrepressible RJD chieftain Lalu Prasad, who once used to be a champion of third front politics, to term the effort as absurd.

I am not saying that regional politics or caste mobilisation can be shunned, though I think it is time we went beyond all this. The growth of such parties appealing to particular social groups is proof of the failure of the BJP and the Congress to accommodate their aspirations. All experiments at forming a central government run by a coalition of regional parties have been dismal failures.

Many of these parties, particularly the Left, have been making a case for this by saying that the Congress and the BJP are mirror images of each other. To assume that the Congress and the BJP have no distinction between them is unfair as they represent two reasonably distinguishable models of governance and politics.

In any case, an inchoate grouping that is known for its opportunism, often swayed more by material considerations than political convictions, cannot be trusted to provide any alternative. In 2008, these same parties had formed the United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA) and opposing the nuclear deal with the United States was one of their proclaimed positions.

Then, in a somersault, the Samajwadi Party supported the deal and the UPA government, leaving the others in the lurch. Besides opportunism, many of these regional parties have also demonstrated an obstinate refusal to appreciate national interests in crucial areas — the Dravidian parties on Sri Lanka and Mamata Banerjee on Bangladesh are cases in point.

Though not all of them were participants at the recent gathering, the fact is that such disparately positioned parties will never be able to unite for a common goal. And even if they overcome all such contradictions, they will not be able to agree upon a candidate who would lead the coalition as its PM.

Driven by ego and prone to petty bargains, their ability to govern is suspect, going by what I have discerned in 1989 and 1996.

The idea of a third alternative is based on wrong assumptions and is a statistical impossibility.

For, no alliance can cross the halfway mark in the Lok Sabha without the support of either of the two big parties. In 1989, the BJP supported it; in 1996, the Congress supported it.

And despite their projected resistance, the fact is that all these parties have happily cohabited with both the national parties on various occasions.

Therefore, seeking to repeat a consistently failed experiment of coalition of regional parties ruling with the support of either of the big parties is a waste of time from the perspective of national interest. Perhaps, some of these parties may be merely using this as a bargaining chip with the BJP or the Congress.

What all parties must work towards is a more coherent political climate. In today’s reality, there are only two poles in Indian politics, namely the BJP and the Congress.

These two parties must take the initiative to articulate their national agendas for the next five years and seek a viable partnership with regional parties.

The regional parties must get real with their national ambitions and learn to work within a pan-Indian framework at the Centre, involving complex issues of global trade, commerce and national security.

Unfortunately for Indian democracy, coalition building in recent years has not been transparent and progressive. So much so that respective prime ministers have cited ‘coalition compulsions’ as an excuse for bad governance and arbitrary decisions.

That is the reason why I really advocate that all these parties must try to move towards stitching up broad-based, programmatic alliances with either of the two national parties. As far as possible these must be pre-poll alliances. The contours of such alliances must be announced beforehand and made verifiable for the public.

The failure of conventional parties to do this substantially contributed to the AAP phenomenon which is a rejection of politics itself in many ways. The strained efforts to cobble together a third alternative will only accentuate this trend and an economy that is severely stressed can ill-afford such a political climate.

First Published: Feb 09, 2014 00:11 IST