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The third man

The Third Front is an idea which has long been floating around in the Indian political scenario ? here now, there tomorrow, gone at times, but always to return.

india Updated: May 02, 2006 00:10 IST

All of a sudden, everyone is talking about the Third Front again. The front is an idea which has long been floating around in the Indian political scenario — here now, there tomorrow, gone at times, but always to return. This time it is in the form of former Prime Minister V.P. Singh and Raj Babbar’s joint venture, the Jan Morcha, that is leading the speculation on another Third Front.

What has prompted Singh to emerge from his political sanyas and join forces with actor-turned-suspended Samajwadi Party MP Raj Babbar to revive the Jan Morcha?

A Rajput leader from Uttar Pradesh, Singh had a meteoric rise in the Congress due to his unflinching loyalty to Sanjay Gandhi, known for his excesses during the Emergency. Indira Gandhi and, after her, Rajiv Gandhi promoted him in Congress’s politics.

Singh, along with Rajiv Gandhi’s estranged relative Arun Nehru and Arif Mohammad Khan, revolted against their leader on the Bofors issue and floated the outfit Jan Morcha to fight against corruption in high places. The Jan Morcha movement became a watershed in Indian politics. Despite warnings from the Left and even from his main adversary Rajiv Gandhi for yielding space to a ‘communal’ BJP, Singh forged a kind of open understanding with the latter. To him, corruption posed a bigger danger to Indian polity than communalism.

Rajiv Gandhi lost power and Singh’s Janata Dal and various regional parties formed the Third Front. It came to power with the support of both the Left and the BJP. In the process, from a meagre two seats, the BJP went on to occupy 88 seats in the Lok Sabha in 1989. When the BJP took on a more aggressive stance and decided to pull the rug from under his feet on the Ramjanmabhoomi issue, Singh found a new opportunity in the Mandal Commission’s report on reservations, that was till then gathering dust in an obscure corner of the North Block. He bandied the report in the name of social empowerment. The politics of casteism was Singh’s ‘Brahmastra’ and we are still living with its continuing social and political fall-out.

Now, the former PM wants to remove Mulayam Singh Yadav’s caste raj from UP in the name of ‘farmers’ cause’. Post-Mandal, Singh has been in political hibernation, but he has continued to occupy our mindspace for a variety of reasons — his illness, poetry, paintings and espousal of various causes, the latest being the cause of farmers in UP.

Times have changed. Singh has expressed his regret over his earlier belief that Rajiv Gandhi was involved in the Bofors scam. He has positioned himself as a secular leader, notwithstanding his contribution to the BJP’s growth in the past. His latest plunge into active politics is, of course, not coincidental. UP goes to the polls in 2007 and the outcome there will have a major impact on the course of national politics. This has already led to a lot of political churning in the state. The BJP’s fortunes are declining at a rapid pace. A confused BJP is not sure of the path that it needs to follow to be relevant in the electoral politics. It is aware that in the post-Vajpayee-Advani regime, the party could be relegated back to political obscurity.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and Telugu Desam Party boss Chandrababu Naidu have also spoken about a Third Front. Both are political realists who, for the sake of combating the Congress in their home states, can join hands with the BJP even while taking the moral position that they can have a sobering effect on the communal elements.

An anxious BJP can always accept Mulayam Singh or Naidu in the driver’s seat. It is a game of numbers. To have a bigger say at the Centre, most regional parties will be only too happy to change sides. This is where Singh sees a future for himself. He thinks his Jan Morcha will pose an alternative to Mulayam’s SP and the BJP in UP. It has the support of Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (which shares power with Mulayam in UP). Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad Yadav, who was at the receiving end from Mulayam in Bihar, has also extended support to Singh in his new venture for obvious political reasons.

Let us not underestimate the Left Front, which had supported Singh earlier. This front is crucial to any kind of future formation. It may be close to the Congress today, but it has independent equations with the regional parties. The Congress certainly cannot take the Left’s support for granted. The Left has given enough indication that despite its support to the UPA on the basis of the Common Minimum Programme, it would not repeat the ‘historic blunder’ of missing another opportunity to have its own person as the prime minister. It has the potential to become the nucleus for a non-Congress and non-BJP formation. Even while being allied with the Congress at the national level, it has continued to keep open its communication with regional bosses.

All these speculations about the Third Front rest on two premises. One, that all is not well with the Congress and the Left, which don’t make natural allies. The second, that the BJP has considerably lost its base. The loss of BJP votes could provide a major opportunity to the Congress to consolidate its vote bank and emerge a stronger player.

In the past, Singh has managed to pull out a few rabbits from the proverbial hat. Will he manage to do so again this time around? Highly unlikely. But no harm waiting and watching to see what he does.