February 08, 2014



With seven regional parties joining hands with the Left Front earlier this week, it seems like the much hyped 'Third Front', a term which gains momentum months prior to General Elections and then fizzles out, is on the cards. The eleven constituents who have around 90 MPs in the Lok Sabha have formed a united block and have planned to oppose any bill brought in by the government since it could electorally benefit the Congress. In the coming days, it is expected that the leaders of the Front which at present includes the Janata Dal (United), the Samajawadi Party, the Biju Janata Dal, the Janata Dal (Secular), the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik), the All India Anna Daravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Asom Gana Parishad, apart from the four parties of the Left Block will hold talks to finalize the seat sharing arrangements. A non-BJP, non-Congress government at the Centre has been the ultimate dream of the federalists. However, the big question is whether it is a viable option. The increase in the vote share of the regional outfits and the emergence of strong state satraps has made them extremely important in national politics. Meanwhile, the anti-incumbency is hurting the Congress whereas the polarization of votes could affect the BJP's prospects after it named Narendra Modi as its PM nominee. As such, some believe that 2014 could see witness a Federal Front heading the regime in New Delhi. In fact, in a bid to prevent the NDA from coming to power, the UPA may offer such an alliance consisting of regional players outside support. However, I believe that the Third Front is bound to fail. Firstly, it will need at least 120 plus seats to be a force to reckon with and considering the present situation of its constituents, it seems to be an uphill task. In fact even if it gets 120 seats and forms a minority government with the outside support of the Congress, it is unlikely to last over two years. And here are the five reasons why I think so...

(1) Present Situation: As I have mentioned earlier, the Third Front has to get over 120 seats to even dream of forming the next government. However, in the present situation, it is expected that most of the regional parties who met this week are going to drop seats. Nitish Kumar, the most vocal leader of the new formation has to battle anti-incumbency, a resurgent BJP and the Congress-RJD-LJP alliance this time around. Having walked out of the NDA over the leadership issue, the JD(U) is likely to end with a tally of 10-15 seats only. In neighboring Uttar Pradesh, the Muslims who have been a prominent vote bank of the Samajwadi Party may desert it following the inability of the Akhilesh government to prevent the Muzaffarnagar riots. Meanwhile, the BJP and the BSP are likely to spoil the prospects of Mulayum Singh Yadav in the upcoming polls. The Left Front could be heading towards its worst showing in many years. Having stormed the Left bastion of Bengal in 2011, Mamata Bannerjee is all set to take the lion's share of seats in the eastern state. In Kerala too, the LDF is said to be extremely weak. Down south, the Gowdas have never been able to increase their clout outside the Mandya region of Karnataka. Besides the father son duo of Deve Gowda and Kumarswamy, they do not have any strong leaders who can win them seats. The AGP and the JVM (P) can at max, win 10 and 3 seats in Assam and Jharkhand respectively. On the contrary, Jayalalithaa's AIADMK and Naven Patnaik's BJD are expected to put on a good show. Considering the above arguments, I think the Third Front will finish with a combined tally of 80 - 110 seats, falling short of the 120 mark. On the other hand, if the NDA or the UPA manage to cross the 200 mark on their own, some parties in the confederation may not be averse to joining either of them. Amma is known to be close to Modi whereas Patnaik and AGP were a part of the BJP led alliance earlier. Similarly, the SP and the JD(S) have bailed out the INC many times in the past in the Parliament.

(2) The ideology: To get votes, the Third Front will have to project an ideology to the people. This is exactly what the coalition lacks as of now. The only reason for these parties who come from diverse backgrounds, who cater to different vote banks and who have varied 'founding principles' to come together has been to the aim of forming a non-BJP, non-Congress regime in New Delhi. In fact, this has been the stand of many regional players since decades. Earlier, with many of these fighting the INC in their back ground, anti-Congressism was the glue that kept them together. Over the years, with the 'Secularism' debate dominating the political scene, there has been a slight change here with anti-BJP sentiments taking over, especially after the nomination of Modi as NDA's Prime Ministerial candidate. However, the point to note here is whether the masses will vote for the regional players only to keep the mainstream national parties at bay? Also, the Federal alliance has never spoken about its 'united' vision for the country, the economic policies that it plans to implement once in power and its views on the nation's foreign affairs, social issue and key reforms are unclear. Besides, another challenge for them is whether the individual parties will ever rise above regional lines. One important thing is that each of the member of this alliance has a vote bank to protect. With every outfit trying to safeguard its own political interests will the Front be ever able to deliver on vital issues. My answer to this question is a No. Probably, the biggest problem will come while presenting the annual budget as every leader will want to get the maximum funds for his or her state.

(3) An incomplete front: Another head ache for the federal alliance is that in several key states, it has virtually no presence. Of course, in the coming days I expect several smaller parties like the People's Party of Punjab, either the National Conference or People's Democratic Party in Jammu & Kashmir and some other outfits in the North-East to join this confederation. Still, this does not solve the issue. In Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Himachal and Uttarkhand, the coalition has no leader who can win them seats. In Andhra, where there are as many as three regional parties, namely the YSR Congress, the Telugu Desum Party and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, none of these have indicated their willingness to join hands with federal front. Same is the situation in Maharashtra. Though the ties between the NCP and the Congress have been strained, they continue to share power. On the other hand, the BJP has already brought together several parties in its Mahayuti. Another issue facing the new front is that most of these regional players, except for Naveen Patnaik has a strong traditional regional rival and getting them on board is an impossible task. With Mulayum in the group, there is no way that Mayawati is going to give her support to the coalition; DMK and the AIADMK do not see eye to eye; Nitish will never allow bete noire Lalu Yadav to be a member of the alliance where Mamata's TMC can never work with the Left parties. With Didi and Behenji out of the equation, there is no way that the Third Front will get the numbers to form the next government.

(4) Leadership: Lets suppose that the Third Front is all set to form the government, either on its own or with outside support of the Congress. The question staring at the alliance will be who will head the government? All this while, the Third Front members have tried to evade this issue by claiming that the decision on who will be their PM choice will be taken after the polls. However, with nearly half a dozen leaders harboring ambitions for the top job, selecting one person will be extremely difficult. In a party meeting, the AIADMK cadre have proposed Jayalalithaa's name for the post. Knowing how things function in the Dravidian parties, it is for sure that this announcement too has the matriarch's blessings. It is a well known fact that Mulayum Singh Yadav too wants to become the Prime Minister. In fact, when he asked his son Akhilesh to become the CM of Uttar Pradesh after the SP dislodged the BSP from power, it was being speculated that he was planning to move to the national scene. Bihar CM Nitish Kumar too is seen as a probable PM candidate. While he had denied any such ambitions in the past, his repeated calls for the formation of the Third Front and his excessive campaigning in the last few months tell a different story. Nitish's party colleague Sharad Yadav is the dark horse. His experience as the convener of the NDA may come in handy while keeping the different allies happy. And how can one forget the humble farmer H D Deve Gowda. A former PM, he like Sharad Yadav too can be a please-all candidate. However, what goes against him is that the JD(S) may fail to win over 5 seats. Probably, the best amongst the pack, at least in my opinion is Orissa CM Naveen Patnaik. Having governed his state fairly well for three consecutive terms, he has the experience to handle the PM's post.

(5) Bitter experiences of the past: They say 'History repeats itself'. The four federal governments that were formed in the 1990s are testimony to the fact that such an experiment can never be sustainable and will only result in political instability. In 1989, Vishwananth Pratap Singh led the first such government at the Centre which barely lasted for an year. The reason for the fall of this regime was that Chandra Shekar led faction broke away, a clear indication that such formations never work. Chandra Shekar who succeeded Singh fared even badly, staying in power only for 223 days after the Congress withdrew its support, accusing him of spying on their leader Rajiv Gandhi. The third experiment of a regional alliance was in 1996 when Deve Gowda headed the United Front government. Prior to the government formation, there were several uneasy meetings to decide the new PM. It is widely believed that Lalu Yadav prevented Mulayum from being the PM to make sure that he does not emerge as the biggest Yadav leader in the country. Less than an year later, his regime fell and I K Gujral occupied the highest executive post in the country. There is one important event that took place while Gujral was at the helm of affairs which is worth reading. It is relevant because such situations may arise in case of a Third Front government comes to power in 2014. As PM, Gujral tried his best to shield Lalu Yadav as the CBI was investigating the multi-crore Fodder scam. You see the regional parties have a narrow minded approach. They fail to see what is good for the country as a whole, rather focusing on their states. Such an approach is not ideal for leading a nation as diverse as ours. Though I firmly believe that smaller outfits are one of the greatest features of our democracy, I think that giving the reins of the Central government to them is like allowing a 15 year old drive a car. While the teenager may do a decent job, there are high chances that he may crash his vehicle. At the same time I do not say that the two national parties or rather the coalitions that they are heading - the UPA and the NDA are the best choice. However if I have to choose amongst the three 'Devils', I will definitely chose them any day over the Third Front.

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