Friday, July 20, 2007

The Third Front suffers a jolt

Indian politicians many times have illusions of grandeur, and in the biggest dreams, they believe that they can create a party that can take a national role. India currently only has 2 parties that play a national role, the Congress (with some support from others) and the BJP (that has the NDA of people opposed to the Congress). The Left can hardly be counted as a national party with stakes primarily in West Bengal and Kerala, and with some power in Tripura, but a has-been in all other states.
Now at a state level, the situation is totally different. Each state typically has a party that is fighting with either the Congress or the BJP, or with both, for power. In such a case, given political opportunism, the state parties will typically tie up either with the Congress or the BJP for elections. The only exceptions to these are mostly Uttranchal, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress and the BJP fight each other without a third party coming in between.
Now, if states have more than one major party, there will come a time when these parties are not aligned to the central party, and this is where the fun starts. Anti-Congress runs in the roots of many of these parties, and aligning with the BJP makes them worry about a drifting of the Muslim vote. If the Samajwadi Party in UP cannot align with either the BJP or Congress, it is Jayalalitha who has burned her bridges with both the Congress and the BJP, the AGP in Assam is anti-Congress and has had a tie-up with the BJP earlier, and so on.
The left parties really do not like the dominance of the BJP and Congress in the national arena since it denies them a voice (their lack of many seats anyhow prevents them from being much of a voice on their own), and they believe that a Third Front will give them more stature (very unlikely, given the mix of personalities involved in the Third Front). So, this time a third front started to form out of the SP, AIADMK, INLD, AGP, with them claiming that they would be equi-distant from the BJP and the Congress.
Looks like all this happened too early, and their own political instincts at state level will make it very different for them to maintain this posture. Indeed, if they really try to be independent, they will get a much reduced section of seats.

Presidential polls dealt a serious blow to a strong bid to erect a non-BJP, non-Congress platform when four UNPA components - AIADMK, MDMK, INLD and AGP - abandoned the alliance's decision to abstain and instead voted for NDA-backed aspirant Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. The political betrayal by crucial ally AIADMK, whose supremo J Jayalalithaa emerged as the face of the UNPA during the strategy sessions, comes only days after their new catch, National Conference, did a U-turn to join the Congress fold.
The unravelling of the fledgling grouping is disappointing for proponents of UNPA as it came at a time when the disparate outfits had begun to gel together. More so, it also came at a time when Left too showed signs of joining hands at a later date, with CPM general secretary Prakash Karat openly stating that he was looking at a "third alternative" for the next Lok Sabha polls. Political compulsions of regional parties appear to have trumped the larger considerations of erecting a non-BJP, non-Congress third front, a platform which Left could be lured to for 2009 Lok Sabha polls.

Any third front will have no common agenda, no common ideology (except maybe that each leader is supreme in his/her own party), and no shared belief other than the anti-BJP and anti-Congress slogans. In reality, such parties also base their support on attacking central parties, and find increased support very easily by joining hands with another third party. India has seen only one experiment work like this in the past, which was VP Singh's experiment, but even that worked only with the support of the BJP.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 3:50 AM