Third fronts in the past are known for being ideologically loose and opportunistic. Many parties with diverse political ideologies joined hands without any common vision. They neither had charismatic leader like Atal Bihari Vajpayee to glue the parties together nor they had dynastic leadership like in Congress which can still appeal to the people and parties.
Third fronts in the past were also known for internal differences within the coalition. Morarji Desai had a rival in Charan Singh within Janata Party, VP Singh had rival in Chandrashekhar within National Front, Deve Gowda had to transfer the power to IK Gujral to appease Congress, only to loose its support subsequently. Though Jyoti Babu (Basu) could have been a better prime minister than Deve Gowda, CPIs Polit Bureau made historical blunder by not letting him become PM. This time around, Deve Gowda, a familiar face at third front get togethers, played a key role in forming the latest version of third front. We have plenty of prime ministerial candidates to keep the differences on!
More over, third front lacks common vision and objectives. The only stated objective of third front so far is to form a non-Congress non-BJP government at the center. Third front feel that, NDA and UPA governments in past have created a hatred feeling in the minds of people due to their policies which (allegedly) failed to deliver. Is this nothing but a failed history in making?
Every time the third alternative was born in India, it was when there was hatred against ruling government. While at power, third alternative could neither nullify the hatred nor it could deliver what it had promised. Instead, it created more hatred in the minds of people against the government. Subsequently it was either Congress or BJP who gained due to the hatred created by third front. A quick look at the history tells us the story.
- In 1977, Janata Party government (headed by Morarji Desai) was installed after much hatred created by infamous autocratic (emergency) rule by madam (Indira) Gandhi. Result was, fall of Janata Party government owing to failed policies and internal differences. In 1980, Disgusted voters brought Madam Gandhi again at the helm. Beneficiary? Congress.
- In 1989 general elections, Congress was thoroughly defeated owing to infamous Bofors Scnadal. National Front (headed by V.P Singh) formed the government with outside support from BJP and Left, to keep Congress out of power. BJP took advantage of the outside support and continued to pursue its own agenda. Rath Yatra, Babri Masjid demolition, Reservation of backward classes, insurgencies in Punjab and Kashmir, forced VP Singh to resign. Hatred created by National Front government coupled with Rajiv Gandhis assassination sympathy votes, Congress again emerged triumphant. This time both Congress and BJP gained significantly.
- In 1996, though BJP emerged as a single largest party, it failed to form government. To keep BJP out of power, United Front(headed by Deve Gowda and IK Gujranl) formed the government with outside support from Congress. Congress successfully flirted with United front to finally see its fall in 1998. Beneficiary? Subsequent general elections in 1998 and 1999 favored BJP and finally brought Atal Bihari Vajpayee led NDA at the helm.
- In 2008, eight political parties grouped to form a transient coalition called United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA). It was a short lived love affair and dissolved/split after 2008 presidential elections. Though Samajawadi Party supported UNPA for President Kalams candidacy, it later joined UPA and supported it in Trust vote.
- On March 12, 2008 yet another Third Front was born with Deve Gowda, a familiar face at such get-togethers, playing the host at Tumkur in Karnataka. A failed history in waiting? time is the only answer
Way ahead and possibilities
As in the past, we cannot rule out surprise results in 15th general election. Here are few possibilities with respect to third front.
- If third front come to power without outside support from BJP/Congress: In case this happens, there will be a familiar chaos as it was in the past. So far, there is no consensus on leadership, seat sharing, future programs, no common vision and of course, no common political ideology. The struggle for power within the coalition will continue to widen the rift between its partners. The manifesto of CPI is confusing, it talks about strong market regulation as it was in pre 1991 era, prohibition of FDI in retail, renewed Non-Aligned movement, anti US policies, right to strike for govt employees, etc.. This may not be acceptable to other partners. Even if there is a compromise formula, the ideological barrier of Left parties will continue to create differences within Third Front. As in the past, we may see short lived government at the center and subsequent fresh elections (if any) will help either BJP or Congress for sure.
- If third front come to power with outside support from Congress/BJP: In this case, Congress/BJP (depending on who supports them) will have virtual control on the governments policies. Congress will continue to pursue its aspirations of breaking the third front within as it did in the past. BJP will continue to pursue its Hindutva agenda and will have renewed Operation Lotus at national level. Again, as the history suggests, third front will end up strengthening Congress/BJP.
- Third front with Mayawati at the helm: Though her Dalit/Woman leadership background appeals to third front, it will be difficult for her to win over rest of the parties in third front. If she does, Madam (Indira) Gandhis rule can again tell us the story. Indira Gandhis conviction in electoral malpractice case in Allahabad high court resulted in widespread political unrest followed by emergency. Mayawati is already facing cases due to her (allegedly) misappropriate personal wealth. Her party has already seen corrupt law makers and some even have criminal background. More over, opportunistic nature of other parties may lead to (anticipated) chaos in running the government. Its difficult to say if her government completes five year term.
- If NDA/UPA forms government, current third front will be yet another transient conglomeration of political parties ending up strengthening two main stream parties.
Even though third front in the past has its own failed story, it wasnt a failure altogether. It has its own significance. Every time the third front was born, it alerted main stream parties to learn from their own mistakes. It strengthened the democratic education in the elections. 1977, 1999 elections were the best examples. People in India took lot of interest to keep the notorious leaders out of power. Parties in third front have their own dominance in states and the government at center cannot completely ignore them. Because, government knows, their collective (bargaining) power cannot be ruled out. whether or not third front forms the government, its legacy will only strengthen the democratic culture in our country.