Third Front, anyone?
If there was anything missing in the whole handling of the Anna Hazare issue over the last few weeks, it was lack of governance. A man from a Maharashtra village comes along and puts the whole UPA government out of whack. That doesn’t say good things about the government’s talent for crisis management.
No doubt Hazare has a good idea in mind. But the fact that the government should have had an answer is equally valid. The Opposition, such as it is, came up with no reasonable arguments on the issue of corruption except to beat the government on predictable topics and hitching a ride in the Anna car.
So what did we miss most in this whole imbroglio? The absence of a new voice that could have been a firm, cogent Third Front. But that seems to be the problem with our polity today. Once upon a time, we had something akin to an ‘alternative’ voice lying outside the bipolars of the Congress-BJP universe. This ‘Third Front’ had substantial leaders like Chandrashekhar, Inder Kumar Gujral, and even the somnolent HD Deve Gowda. Today, we still have mass leaders who could make a difference like Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Sharad Yadav and other Yadavs or otherwise. The Left was also there as a wagging finger to the Congress hand. But to see their performance in Parliament over the last few years gives little hope that they will come up with new ideas that could revitalise our political debate. On the ground too, they seem to have lost their bearings, with not even their traditional votebank going along with them keeping the good old herd mentality intact.
The tired shibboleths about backward classes and Dalits and Muslims have run their course — as was evident when no one really picked up the half-hearted complaint about the Anna campaign being an ‘upper-caste’, Hindu-rightwing-leaning concoction. Other mass leaders like Mayawati and Jayalalithaa do not seem interested in these issues anymore. So, where are we at today? We’re clear that we don’t want a rightwing government (it comes in the way of the social cohesion needed to lead a better life). We’re equally clear that we don’t want to go the other way (it comes in the way of economic opportunities needed to lead a better life). Is it then possible for us to conjure up a new way of thinking, the next Big Idea that doesn’t seem to be coming from anywhere except from outside the box of parliamentary politics?
Something to trigger the mass imagination is the high political need of the hour. The idea of a ‘Garibi hatao’ from Indira Gandhi had been a vote-catcher, as was the hookline of the ‘aam aadmi’ from this government for a while. But a catchy slogan alone is, well, just a catchy slogan. While Indira Gandhi and the 2009 elections managed to convert an idea into something believable, this government seems to have lost its ability to make people believe that what it says has any bearing to what it does.
In the VP Singh days, the idea of Mandal, no matter how unworkable it may have been, took the political centrestage and set the agenda. Today, we find neither the government nor the Opposition setting the agenda — but responding (at times belatedly), as if Parliament was a bureaucracy told to push or block a file drawn up in some maidan. When the Left was in the UPA (outside support notwithstanding), it did come up with ideas, even if they served as cautionary notes rather than anything proactive. When the Left talked about economic reforms it went a little overboard about its fears of an economic meltdown. The Left, now it turns out, was not terribly off the mark. In hindsight, we can even look at the Left’s trenchant opposition to the India-US nuclear deal resulting in the prime minister’s finest moment. The same government hasn’t had such fine moments to offer since then. In any case, the Left shot itself in the foot and ceded ground to the UPA government. It just appears that the UPA government has, in turn, ceded this ground to forces that lie outside Parliament.
So where do we go from here? A Third Front is not always a good option. There was a time when my groans could be heard each time I read an editorial that spoke about the impending return of the Third Front. But a viable third option may not be such a bad thing. We can keep hoping that new ideas will emerge from the younger leaders of the two main national parties. But till then, if anyone’s ready to take a serious shot at the Third Front thing again, this is the time.