The third front comes up promptly every five years and then goes off the radar. One wonders whether the hastily cobbled up arrangement is to give an alternative direction or just to throw a spanner in the voting patterns. It is mostly the latter especially when it has no positive impact.
In the late 90s the governments led by IK Gujral and Deve Gowda could not last with outside support from the Congress on anti-communalism plank because the vote banks were clearly divided and demarcated on pro-BJP and pro-Cong lines. Regional parties like the SP and BSP were more concerned with consolidating their local vote banks on the basis of reservation and less on mandir issue. However the Left was well entrenched in Kerala and West Bengal and was able to provide a cushioning effect of seats. So far as the DMK and AIDMK were concerned they did not mind aligning with the BJP or Congress depending on their political convenience.
Vajpayee’s government lasted the entire term – 1998-2004 – because the electorate was thoroughly disillusioned with the bickerings among the third front parties (there were too many claimants for the top job) and the time-serving politics of the Congress. Under Vajpayee the BJP also underplayed the mandir-mandal politics sensing the kind of response it evoked from the regional parties across the spectrum – be it SP or the BSP, DMK or the AIADMK. The BJP had by then understood the voter dynamics under the clever direction of Vajpayee who knew the emerging young voter base was not so much concerned with divisive politics on religious lines but to move forward on growth and the opportunities it provided for them. They wanted an environment where investors would not shy off because of perceived instability and technology-based innovative initiatives. (That was the time when Information technology was well grounded and mobile telephony seeking to dig in.) Also they were concerned with immediate needs, both basic and otherwise. The voter base of youth is supposed to be 150 million plus now and clearly planking for a believable development agenda, not polemics.
In this situation the constituents of the third front are in a vulnerable situation. With Muzaffarnagar riots the SP is on the defensive, what with its inability to take prompt action and has alienated the minority community. Akhilesh Yadav has come out in poor light and the Netaji’s desparate talk about sychophancy is not going to refurbish its image as the leader of the backward castes or muslims. The BSP however remains unscathed in the recent occurrences and may well cash in on the SP vacuum to garner the votes of backward castes and Dalits. Mayawati had aligned with the BJP in the past and may not be averse to backing it in future if political needs demand it. The possibility of her throwing in her lot with Mamata’s Federal Front cannot be ruled out either though the latter’s idea is too fragile now.
Sights on Delhi
Jayalalitha has decided to go it alone and in terms of numbers could still pull her punches, if need be. On the count of performance in the last two plus years there is the promise to commission new power projects and bridge the power shortage by March, (the state has been leading in Wind energy till recently) and subsidized schemes such as Amma canteens, water and vegetables. If these schemes are sustained for a reasonable period despite the downside of cost it could generate a favourable response among the rural poor and also the middle class. She has her sights on Delhi because she thinks she could play a decisive role in the formation of the new government, especially if it is Modi-led. It is a fact that she has not said anything negative about Narendra Modi though Mayawati and Mamata were more eloquent.
The JD(U) in Bihar is less sanguine now about its Parliamentary poll prospects and weakly trying to make up for its break with the BJP by making noises about communalism. Their ground in Bihar is shaky because their thrust is to tap the Mahadalit and Muslim vote which could go either way; Lalu’s RJD is aiming to garner its usual Yadav and Muslim votes. Poll forecasts are already saying that BJP is poised to increase its seats in the state.
Finally the Left is down because of its doctrinaire rhetoric and inability to understand the changing situations or reframe its strategy. It could not live down Nandigram any more than its Front partner SP the riots in Muzaffarnagar. In Kerala and West Bengal alone it could pin its hopes though the numbers might not give it a political muscle. Essentially it has lost its plot.