Millennium Post

It’s right time to party

Last week a very significant political development took place. Under the aegis of Convention Against Communalism, at least 14 political parties, essentially headed by regional leaders came together at Talkatora Stadium in New Delhi to counter the perceived upswing in the fortunes of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under the stewardship Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

The most significant aspect of the composition was the presence of several former members of the erstwhile National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by likes of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and in the later years by Lal Krishna Advani. These parties included Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United), Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal, former Jharkhand chief minister Babulal Marandi-led Jharkhand Vikas Morcha, HD Deve Gowda-led Janata Dal (Secular) and Praful Mahanta-led Asom Gana Parishad.

All these outfits have in the past had power sharing arrangement with BJP and their enthusiasm to share dais at a convention hosted by the Left parties in a way meant sending strong signal to their former senior partner about the non-acceptability of its current leadership. They have all walked out of the NDA especially the two neighbours of Bihar and Odisha on the secular question.

The larger question however is will the coming together of these parties fructify into a pre-poll formation like the amorphous Janata Party in 1977 or the Janata Dal in 1989. Very unlikely, as post-1996, the politics and governance in India has moved firmly towards coming together of parties in coalition to form government – the United Front regime of 1996, the NDA of 1998 and 1999 and the Congress-led UPA of 2004.

Indications to this effect were given by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who said it was too early to talk about political alliances for 2014. Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav had also indicated earlier that his party would prefer coming together of the third front only post-2014 polls as pre-poll alliance could lead to friction among partners.

In such a situation what’s it that would bring these parties together. According to the initiator of the move, Sitaram Yechury of the CPM, ‘The meet took stock of the increasing instances of communal clashes and increasing polarising trend in current politics.’ Nitish Kumar was more forthright. ‘We all have to think that in the face of fascism, communalism and terrorism, democratic forces should maintain maximum possible unity on issues to combat and defeat such powers,’ he said at the convention.

Kumar, who is slowly emerging as the main campaigner against Modi, when emphasises that the 14 parties assembled to forge ‘maximum possible unity’ to defeat ‘fascism, communalism and terrorism’, it should be read as finding ways and means to stop re-emergence of BJP as a formidable force that too under the leadership of Narendra Modi. Their aversion to Modi, especially of the former alliance partners, emanates from the fact that the Gujarat chief minister doesn’t convey the message of being accommodative of the concern of the partners while drawing his own roadmap.

Now what are probabilities of this front actually playing an effective role during the 2014 polls and in the aftermath of its results? According to rough estimates the third front has formidable presence of at least 350 of the 543 Lok Sabha seats. In the worst scenario too it’s going to bag around 175 seats.

The composition of the front though may change when the results come out. Mamata Banrejee may replace the Left; DMK may come in for AIADMK and there also is also an outside chance of Lalu Yadav rising from the ashes like a phoenix.

The Congress playing at even below one-third of its potential should garner around 125 seats; with some of its allies pitching in, say another 25, UPA would have a tally of 150 in the worst case scenario.

This would leave the NDA battling with just about 220-225 seats. This figure would also only be achieved if the Narendra Modi-led NDA bats at over 50 percent of its potential that is winning more than 50 percent of the seats it has presence on.

To achieve the magic figure of 272, the NDA in the present combination will have to perform at arduous rate of winning 61 percent of the seats it has formidable presence on. The spin doctors of Narendra Modi should realise that this is not an easy task to achieve it. The poll managers would do well to codename their campaign as Mission Impossible.

This brings us to the question of government formation. The obvious answer could be a third front cabinet supported from outside by the Congress or a UPA III with a Congress ministers as part of the cabinet with a third front leader at the helm. The implementation of both the possibilities is easier said than done.

In 1989, the third front in Chowdhary Devi Lal had a binding force who gave up his leadership claim in favour of a more popular in the middle class Vishwanath Pratap Singh. Similarly in 1996 and also in 2004 then CPM general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet demolished ideological barriers to give shape to a formation which could keep BJP out of power. To overcome Surjeet’s manoeuvrings, BJP too put its ideological commitments on the back burner in 1998/99 and gave prominence to governance attracting several partners. In 2014, the biggest challenge before the third front would be to find a Chowdhary Devi Lal or a Surjeet to fill the vacuum created by the departure of these patriarchs. This role could be played by Mulayam Singh Yadav but does he possess a large enough heart to give up prime ministerial claims.

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post
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