Betting on a third front

A tough battle is ahead for the third front. But it is a battle worth joining for the regional parties. They gain nothing by not venturing into a political situation which is fluid and full of possibility.

When asked about the proposed Third Front’s prime ministerial candidate, Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa dismissed the question as being pointless before the election results were out.

One might wonder why she has then decided to join efforts to form such a front before the general election. Her decision has disappointed the Bharatiya Janata Party who had unrealistically assumed that Ms Jayalalithaa would promote the prime ministerial candidature of Narendra Modi. Ms Jayalalithaa’s supporters, on the other hand, are enthused, saying that if “Amma” gets 25 seats in Tamil Nadu, she herself could be the next Prime Minister of India.
It is important to distinguish between the pre-election and the post-election calculations of the constituents of the proposed 11 to 14-party front as they can be completely different.
The pre-electoral strategy of non-Congress, non-BJP prime ministerial hopefuls coming together is to project themselves as viable bidders for power in Delhi. The prospect that each of them could be the next prime minister would also help in bringing additional votes in their respective states for say Ms Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu, for Mulayam Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh and Naveen Patnaik in Orissa.
The formation of a larger front of regional parties besides opening up options for the anti-Congress vote which is not necessarily pro-BJP, also has certain media and campaign advantages. The non-Congress, non-BJP parties are currently off the media map. After the formation of the front, the media would be compelled to put them on the agenda. As the front’s leaders begin addressing the nation through television talk-shows, radio and newspapers, the pre-electoral buzz about them will increase.
This is not the first time that Ms Jayalalithaa is joining such a front. In 2009 also she had supported initial attempts to put together such a formation by addressing a press conference with Amar Singh, who was riding high in the Samajwadi Party at that time, at his residence. However, eventually such a front could not come into being. This time around, circumstances seem better both for the formation of a third front as well as
Ms Jayalalithaa.
The numbers are likely to favour Ms Jayalalithaa because of her accommodation of the Left parties. She may concede a couple of seats in Tamil Nadu to the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) but what she gains is the support of the entire bag of seats that the Left would bring to the table in the post-election scenario. If her party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam gets 25 seats and the Left parties bring in about 30, then together they might be the largest bloc in the third front.
Ms Jayalalithaa could also be a more acceptable leader of the front than those who bring a better number of seats to the front individually.
The pre-election aim of the front would be to maximise the yields of its constituents. However, the post-election objective of the front leaders would be to ensure the best possible deal for their individual parties and themselves. The decision on whether they would join the government or sit in the Opposition would depend on the strength of their numbers.
If the election results are not conducive for the formation of a non-BJP, non-Congress government, then nothing prevents the constituents of the third front from breaking away, or perhaps extending support to a coalition led by the BJP or the Congress. In 1998, N. Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party was the national convener of the anti-BJP United Front. However, after election results were announced and he saw no prospect of a United Front government, he quit the Front and extended support to the BJP-led government without formally joining it. In the bargain, he got his nominee, the late G.M.C. Balayogi as the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. So how the members of the proposed front, including
Ms Jayalalithaa, might behave in the post-election scenario would be difficult to
predict.
There are several factors which would determine whether the potential of a third front government would be realised after the election.
The most important among them is whether the third front would get enough Lok Sabha seats to be viable. These parties have to maximise their wins in what could be called the “zero-zone” of the BJP — where the party is not present or virtually non-existent or has won no Lok Sabha seats in the past — and in the states where there will be multi-cornered contests. The “zero zone” of the BJP consists of about 180 Lok Sabha constituencies including West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, and the entire Northeast. The multi-cornered contest states comprise 190 constituencies in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Orissa and Delhi. The constituencies where the BJP and the Congress are in direct contest come to about 173 and there it looks like it would be advantage BJP. The third front parties, therefore, have to bag nearly half of the 370 constituencies in the zero zone of the BJP and in the multi-cornered contest states.
That number might be brought down substantially because of the internal contradictions among the regional parties — those who cannot go together include Trinamul Congress and the Left parties, the AIADMK and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (United). If, despite keeping out one or the other of the contending parties, the third front is able to get about 170 to 180 seats, then it can form a government with the help of the Congress. However, the Congress itself is losing support precipitously and needs to cross the 100-seat mark. If it fails to do that, then a third front supported by the Congress from outside cannot come into being.
Therefore, it seems a tough battle ahead for the third front. But it is a battle worth joining for the regional parties. They gain nothing by not venturing into a political situation which is fluid and full of possibility.

The writer is a journalist based in New Delhi

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