The Left's fascination for an anti-Congress and anti-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) third front led by it stems from a desire to play a meaningful role in Indian politics.
As the agenda outlined by Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) general secretary Prakash Karat shows, the front will be "anti-communal, will advocate pro-people economic policies and will fight for an independent foreign policy".
What these points mean is that, apart from opposing the BJP's "communalism", the front will reject what the Left regards as the market-oriented and pro-American policies of the Congress and the BJP.
Unfortunately for the comrades, the effort to project a motley group of regional politicians as an alternative to the two major parties doesn't seem to have made much headway.
Karat's latest claim, therefore, about presenting the country with "a new platform" is unlikely to be taken seriously. All that it can do is to convey to the Congress what is already known - that the Left is unhappy with the Manmohan Singh government.
The latter, however, may not lose any sleep over the message because the proposed front appears to be even more rickety than some of its predecessors. The reason is that it began to fall apart even as it was being formed under the name United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA).
The group's first task was to request then outgoing president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to stand for a second term. But before a UNPA delegation could go to Rashtrapati Bhavan, one of its putative members, former Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalitha, dropped out. Since then, another member, former Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala, has been absenting himself from the UNPA's deliberations.
As a result, the group now only comprises two former chief ministers, Mulayam Singh Yadav of Uttar Pradesh, and N. Chandrababu Naidu of Andhra Pradesh, and Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) chief Brindaban Goswami. But, as is obvious, they are all losers in their states - a political status which does not quite make the UNPA look like a winner.
As if the gathering of these defeated politicians was not enough, the Left itself is not in the pink of health in its strongholds of Kerala and West Bengal. While the squabbles between Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan and party chief Pinarayi Vijayan seem to have become a permanent feature of CPI-M politics in the state, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya's industrialisation drive has caused visible rifts in the ruling Left Front.
One of its constituents, the Forward Bloc, can be said to have begun to distance itself from the front, considering its decision to contest the forthcoming panchayat elections on its own, while the Communist Party of India (CPI) has warned Big Brother CPI-M against running a "one-party government". One of the ministers of the third constituent, the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), had threatened to quit the state council of ministers in the wake of the Nandigram incident. Although he desisted, the RSP's displeasure with the Marxists is not unknown.
Since the Left considers itself to be the focal point of the third front, the dissensions in its ranks will clearly make the task of keeping the non-Left parties in line difficult. It was the Left's ideological coherence, which made it the automatic leader of the front, whose other constituents generally follow caste- or region-based politics. It was the communists who gave a socialistic veneer to the formation.
But now that some of the Left Front's own members as well as sections of the Left intelligentsia are questioning the CPI-M's ideological integrity because of the latter's support for private sector investment in West Bengal, the glue which was binding the third front is seemingly no longer very effective.
The other danger that the third front faces is the possibility of a quiet rapprochement between the Congress and Mulayam Singh Yadav as a result of the increasingly strained relations between the Congress and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati.
Since an enemy's enemy is a friend, the Congress may not mind moving closer to the Samajwadi Party before the next general election. In that event, there will be no alternative for the Left but to give the third front a quiet burial.
In historical terms, the third front represents the Left's unfulfilled dream of emerging as an alternative to the Congress on the national stage. The communist hope was that it would fill the vacuum caused by the Congress' decline. But since it is the BJP and the various regional parties that have stepped into the political space vacated by the Congress, the Left has been trying to draw the regional outfits into its camp to bolster its own position.
The BJP has been more successful in winning friends and influencing people as the 20-odd parties, which constituted the original National Democratic Alliance (NDA) under Atal Bihari Vajpayee's prime ministership, showed. Since then, some of the politicians, like Chandrababu Naidu, have left the BJP's company or switched their allegiance to the Congress, like Ram Vilas Paswan, or have become lone rangers, like Farooq Abdullah.
Since the Left itself has teamed up with the Congress, it can be accused of playing a double game with its attempts to set up a "new platform". But its exertions may seem all the more pointless since the proposed third front is unlikely to set the popular imagination on fire.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)