Now is the time for all good men (and women) to come to the aid of the party.” Only there is no party, just the atmosphere being created for it. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha hinted at a non-Congress, non-BJP front when she talked about inter-state regional cooperation. The meeting of minds between Jayalalitha, and Naveen Patnaik was evident during the long hours spent in ripping apart the proposed National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC).
The poor showing by the Congress and the BJP in assembly elections has stirred the latent ambition among regional satraps for one more shot at forming a third front government in Delhi. To dismiss this loose grouping with no ideological base, as a joker in the pack would be a grave mistake. Of course, if you play rummy, you would know that a joker could win you a hand.
The Third Front has had two successful attempts at government formation. In 1989-90 under the leadership of N T Rama Rao, the National Front was created with V P Singh as convener. The Telugu Desam, Janata Dal, DMK, AGP with outside support from the Left Front and the BJP formed a government. That experiment failed and we had two Prime Ministers: V P Singh from 1989-1990 and Chandrashekar from 1990-1991. This was a period of political and economic instability in the country.
The second attempt at government formation by the Third Front was after the fractured verdict by the Indian electorate in the 1996 elections which saw the BJP forming a government for a mere13 days but unable to muster up the numbers in Parliament. The Congress with 140 seats refused to form a government but provided outside support to the United Front government of Deve Gowda. The Janata Dal led coalition had the rag tag grouping of the CPI(M), CPI, SP, DMK, TDP, AGP and Tamil Manila Congress.
We had two Prime Ministers during this period, Deve Gowda 1996-1997 and I K Gujral 1997-1998. Again the country slid further into non-governance and tumult. Both Gowda and Gujral were not allowed to settle into their jobs. Sitaram Kesari who headed the Congress at that time, didn’t allow the Third Front to last its term or either of the two Prime Ministers to stay in office
Despite the mess, the electorate still did not give the BJP or the Congress a clear majority in the next election. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition led by the BJP was voted to power and survived its full term from 1998-2004 because of the tall stature of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. This was marked by a period of stability, growth and prosperity.
The Third Front governments receded in people’s memory. Then came the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by the Congress and memories of the Third Front governments became hazier. Other than joking about the now feeble or deceased Prime Ministers one can remember little of what happened then.
But the slot of the pro-farmer, pro-poor, pro-backward castes was and is lying vacant as the BJP and the Congress are ironically seen as being pro-rich and pro-industry. The currently forgotten United National Progressive Alliance or third front of ten regional parties created in 2008 and again in 2009 consisting of the Left Front, BSP, BJD, TDP, AIADMK, and JD(S) is stirring. It consists of egotistical leaders who are all Prime Minister candidates, nothing less.
So what has spurred all this nightmarish realignment once again? It is because of the ostrich like behaviour of the national parties, the Congress and the BJP. The infighting in the BJP is now out in the open. The Delhi-4 comprising of Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh and Venkaiah Naidu see party chief Nitin Gadkari as a bumbling misfit who has delivered a dud in the recent assembly elections, mismanaged in Karnataka and Rajasthan and should be shown the door. But when it comes to a consensus on who could lead the party in 2014 there is no meeting of minds. The rank and file in the party is tilting towards Narendra Modi, but that could lead to a break up of the NDA. In such a scenario the consensus candidate could only be L K Advani.
Within the Congress too there are many who would be comfortable with the prospect of an incomplete term of a Congress backed Third Front government in 2014 so that they could return with Rahul Gandhi with a clear majority. This is the khichdi, which appears to be cooking these days.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash