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Going left, right and Centre

This week, the two major powers of the subcontinent are in the throes of change, an idea whose meaning seems to be location-specific.

india Updated: Mar 13, 2009 21:35 IST

This week, the two major powers of the subcontinent are in the throes of change, an idea whose meaning seems to be location-specific. In Pakistan, it means uncertainty of a pitch reminiscent of Chanakyan Pataliputra, or Byzantium with the barbarians hammering at the gate. When the long march started on Thursday, Nawaz Sharif was alleging a murderous conspiracy in high places. Imran Khan was suspected to have gone underground. The army chief was closeted with the prime minister, apparently doing a deal behind President Zardari’s back. And everyone wanted to know where on earth Zardari was.

Days earlier, Zardari had ceded territory twice to the Taliban. President Obama had made overtures to the ‘moderate Taliban’, who found it ‘illogical’ — an oxymoron, in fact, as Jaswant Singh pointed out in 2001. And meanwhile, General Musharraf relaunched his political career in a sneak attack from behind enemy lines at a conclave in Delhi. Change of this sort makes you yearn for continuity.

In India, change is continuity by another name. The Third Front, which was formally incorporated the very day Zardari went AWOL across the border, is Version 3.0 of an old idea. It has tasted power twice before and has sent three prime ministers to office — V.P. Singh, I.K. Gujral and H.D. Deve Gowda (not counting Chandra Shekhar). All three ministries fell in ignominy, but two of them changed the national discourse in ways that the major parties would not dare to attempt. Singh and Gujral foregrounded caste rifts and corruption issues that were slumbering under the surface of society, and which remain problematic — even this week, a Dalit boy was thrown into a Holi bonfire, ironically in Ambedkarnagar district of UP, though Dalit diva Mayawati is a possible prime ministerial candidate. Gowda just slumbered a lot, and now he’s back at the helm of the new, resuscitated Third Front.

Third fronts have blazed like meteors and died like Skylab. But perhaps the idea can now deliver enduring value. Our politicians have learned how to handle coalitions and, more importantly, the stars are propitious. Voters now appreciate that if you strip away the veneer of chauvinism and socialism, respectively, from the BJP and the Congress, they are revealed to have similar interests at the naked, quivering heart. Particularly, they believe in a Western capitalistic path of growth which favours the fortunate. L.K. Advani’s shiny new website — which is running a Google Adsense campaign and outraging anti-BJP bloggers by sticking his ad on their pages — accuses Manmohan Singh of making paupers poorer than ever. Ironically, this very sentiment in the electorate swept the BJP out of office five years ago.

Many voters are too young to remember the peccadilloes of earlier avatars of the Third Front, but are painfully conscious of the failures of the two biggest national parties. In this election, the only real issue is human security in its broad sense — security of person, livelihood, food, health, security of the future. Both parties have failed to combat terrorism, fast-paced capitalism has lost its charm after the market meltdown and development remains a half-baked project. Public insecurity is at an all-time high and Third Fronters have never had it so good. But if history is any indicator, they could muff it up again.

(Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine)

First Published: Mar 13, 2009 21:34 IST