The Left's hope of cobbling together a mythical Third Front seems as elusive as ever
Rakhi Chakrabarty Delhi , Hardnews
It's not happening. The Third Front doesn't seem to be shaping up, at least not before the general elections.
PM-in-waiting, LK Advani, in the BJP's national executive at Nagpur recently, said that this time there would be a direct contest between the two alliances: the NDA and UPA. However, in the general chaos, he himself is not too sure.
The Left Front (LF) constituents have been talking to a wide spectrum of regional parties to cobble together the Third Front. In the February 15 issue of the People's Democracy, CPM general secretary Prakash Karat wrote: "The CPM has called upon non-Congress secular parties to come together on a joint platform for an effective electoral alternative. Such a platform has to be built around pro-people economic policies, defence of secularism and for an independent foreign policy. The work is cut out for the Left and secular forces to present such an alternative."
Speaking to Hardnews, veteran Left leaders likened this line of thinking to building castles in the air. The ground reality, they said, was still not conducive to form a Third Front which could face the Lok Sabha polls as a united front. CPM leaders, however, are putting up a brave front. "It's not a pre-poll front we are looking at but a third alternative," said Mohammed Salim, CPM MP from West Bengal. According to him, pre-poll alliances will be forged with various regional parties depending on the political situation in each state. "We are looking at a seat-sharing arrangement with non-Congress, non-BJP forces," he said. In fact, the initial buzz was that the Left would try to woo some of the UPA allies, too.
Last year, after the LF withdrew support from the UPA government at the Centre, the mood was upbeat about forming the Third Front. Karat's hobnobbing with BSP chief Mayawati raised hopes.
However, as the country inches towards general elections, the prospect of a pre-poll alliance looks bleak. The Left parties would ideally want to act as a catalyst in forming the Third Front. But, even the LF is not moving together except in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, where they rule. The CPI and the CPM are plowing on their own in a bid to increase their respective seats.
At its recently-concluded national executive, the CPI announced that it would contest in 50 constituencies. National secretary Atul Kumar Anjan told Hardnews that the Left parties have reached an understanding with the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) in Andhra Pradesh, the Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka and the CPI (ML-Liberation) in Bihar.
In Assam, the Left parties have joined with the Asom United Democratic Front (AUDF) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to work out a seat-sharing arrangement. The idea of the Third Front floundered in Assam after the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) went into a pre-poll alliance with the BJP. According to senior RSP leader Abani Roy, his party will announce candidates in Punjab, Orissa, UP and Bihar.
Already, cracks are emerging in these alliances. In Assam, there was some friction between the AUDF and Left after Badruddin Ajmal, AUDF chief, announced his candidature from Silchar unilaterally. The AIADMK is learnt to be making overtures to the Congress. CPI leader Atul Anjan brushed aside the possibility of the AIADMK aligning with the Congress. Election history shows the TDP and AIADMK flirting with political bedfellows across ideologies and back-stabbing ‘secular' politics for opportunism. Hence, political observers are wary about the strength of their commitment to the third alternative even if they go to the polls with the Left.
What the Left leaders are more hopeful of is a post-poll alliance. On February 8, at a rally in Kolkata, held to launch the LF election campaign, the CPM and its partners declared that they would work with secular and democratic forces at the national level to form a non-Congress, non-BJP government at the Centre after the Lok Sabha elections. According to Salim, the post-poll situation this time will be more like 1996, than 2004. Karat wrote in the People's Democracy: "The political situation in 2009 is not a repeat of the one obtaining in 2004 when six years of BJP misrule and communalism had to be fought as a central goal. After five years of the Congress-led government, the country cannot be subjected, once again, to the neo-liberal dogma and ‘crony capitalism' of the Congress leaders and their abandonment of the Nehruvian legacy to convert India into a junior partner of the United States."
The Left's (read CPM's) dream to make the Third Front a post-poll reality is on shaky ground. First, it would depend on how it fares and how many seats the LF wins. Both in West Bengal and Kerala, Left leaders admit, they are on a sticky wicket. That could also translate into loss of seats.
Losing seats would deprive the Left the role of a kingmaker. In the 2004 general elections, the LF won a record 61 seats, highest in its Lok Sabha history. Even if it cannot notch up more seats, the Left would fight to hold on to its existing seats.
In West Bengal, the Left has benefited from a fractured opposition. But, this time there is a hint of the Congress and Trinamool Congress coming together to fight the Left unitedly. However, foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee's jibe at Mamata Banerjee during the inauguration of the East-West Metro Railway in Kolkata recently has left the Trinamool supremo fuming yet again, resurrecting the old allegation that the Congress is the ‘B-Team' of the CPM.
Political observers sense a shrewd strategy in Mukherjee's dig at Banerjee. Even if the Congress ties up with the Trinamool for the polls, the combine is still not strong enough to erode the Left drastically, especially in the rural areas. The Left would still win more seats. And, post-poll, if the situation arises, it could again help the Congress form the government.
RJD's Lalu Prasad Yadav has given more than a hint that he is hopeful of Left support to the UPA post-poll. Left leaders, for all their posturing, are keeping their options open. Anjan reiterated, "We don't want to go with the Congress. We are trying to bring various political forces together. Post-poll, many new forces will join the non-Congress, non-BJP combine."
The Left knows that after withdrawing support from the UPA, its relevance in national politics has dwindled. "Even the media, which hounded Left leaders all the time for TV interviews, panel discussions or just quotes, don't bother us now," said a LF old-timer. Privately, Left leaders don't rule out the possibility of supporting the Congress, if the situation arises. Finally, as they say, the electorate will decide.