Encounters of the third kind
Even before the much publicised effort of some regional parties to form a Third Front — as an alternative to the UPA and the NDA — could take off, cracks developed that threatened the very existence of what was being flaunted as the United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA). Former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and others decided to act against the collective decision to abstain from the presidential polls. The immediate implication of this is that the UNPA may disintegrate sooner than later and the expected alignments for the 2009 parliamentary polls may have to begin all over again.
One of the principal reasons why this effort was not able to sustain itself was because this formation was premature and its sole objective was to help leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Chandrababu Naidu occupy the talking space while the process of the presidential polls was on. Yadav and Naidu used the opportunity to send the message to minorities that they endorsed neither the UPA nominee nor the NDA candidate, whose RSS background was a big liability. It is another matter that some MLAs belonging to the Samajwadi Party decided to violate the party directions and voted — in Madhya Pradesh and some other places.
The present Third Front also did not fit into the scheme of things that the Left have for the next round of parliamentary polls. The actual Third Front would, therefore, emerge only closer to the polls with the Left, particularly the CPI(M), as the main driving force. Several analysts are of the view that the Left has a clearly defined agenda for the next polls and may project itself, along with a number of regional parties, to present a Third Front as an alternative to the UPA and the NDA.
The hypothesis for this power game is based on the assumption that the BJP, which had bagged around 138 seats last time, may suffer some losses primarily because of its own infighting and state of affairs. Similarly, the Congress too may not be able to make any substantial gains given its present perceived image, which is tilted more towards the haves than the have- nots. The CPI(M) and the Left for long have been wanting to cash in on forces which are secular but are opposed both to the BJP and the Congress. They may, therefore, go for a front that will be projected as a secular grouping with left-of-centre leanings.
The preparations are evident in the conscious attempt by the Left parties to distance themselves from unpopular economic measures of the present government. It is common knowledge that the Left has succeeded in raising aam aadmi issues and has created an impression that it was the only group which still stood for the weaker sections and the downtrodden. On many occasions, Left leaders have actually bullied the Congress into accepting their demands. At times, both Prakash Karat and A.B. Bardhan, the general secretaries of the CPI(M) and CPI respectively, have used very sharp language to hit out at the Congress.
The luxury of being the UPA’s supporting party without being a part of the government is evident in the Left’s projection of its own agenda, while putting the entire blame for negative implications on the ruling dispensation. Even important decisions like the choice of the President and now the Vice-President have been forced on the UPA by the Left, which rejected many luminaries for the top post while agreeing to settle for Pratibha Patil whose candidacy got enmeshed in unnecessary controversy. The name of the country’s home minister was rejected because some Left leaders felt that he was not fit to occupy the ceremonial position of the President because of his hindutva association. It is another matter that these objections were not raised when Shivraj Patil was made the home minister.
Now the Left has ensured that Mohammad Hamid Ansari, the minorities panel boss, will be the Vice-President. His candidature was facilitated by the UNPA (Mulayam and Chandrababu Naidu) decision to field Rashid Masood for the same post. The argument in several political quarters was that Masood’s candidature necessitates that a Muslim should be the Vice-President. But it was not considered that an apolitical, though eminent, person like Ansari may have great difficulty in running the Upper House of Parliament with no legislature experience. The Vice-President is also the presiding officer of the Rajya Sabha and must have full control over the proceedings, apart from being conversant with the rules and regulations. The Rajya Sabha already has Rehman Khan as its vice-chairman and now both the chairman and the vice-chairman will be from the same community, something which the BJP may exploit later.
If a Muslim was to be selected, a person like Farooq Abdullah, who helped the UPA presidential nominee, could have been selected. Or maybe a Kashmiri Pandit since the community is in a minority in Kashmir and has been at the receiving end for many years. But the Left sees things differently.
But politics compels parties to take decisions which defy logic. Sensing that the Left had its influence on several constituents of the UNPA — for instance, the good rapport between Mulayam, Chandrababu Naidu and DMK boss M. Karunanidhi who could be a future partner, made Jayalalithaa decide to move away. However, the future third front could have several members of the two present alliances — the UPA and the NDA if they agree to go along with the Left. Therefore, while the UNPA has virtually collapsed, a new third front, with the Left at its helm, may start taking shape, something which will make the Congress and the BJP cautious of new alignments. Between us.