Inchoate Third Front does not pose a major challenge
Considering that the ambition of the regional parties to form a stable government at the centre without the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hasn't been fulfilled till now, it is open to question whether their latest endeavour will meet with any success.
What was noteworthy about their three short-lived attempts in 1977, 1989 and 1996 was that the regional parties which came to power had former Congressmen in their ranks.
For instance, Morarji Desai was the Janata Party's first prime minister in 1977, followed by Charan Singh - both of them having earlier been prominent Congress leaders.
In 1989, V.P. Singh was the Janata Dal's prime minister, followed by Chandra Shekhar. Again, both were the Congress's stalwarts earlier.
Only H.D. Deve Gowda was the first genuinely non-Congress prime minister of the United Front government in 1996, but he was soon followed in the office by another former Congressman, I.K. Gujral.
Significantly, there are only two former members of the Congress among the latest regional players - Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress and Jaganmohan Reddy of the YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh. But the chances of either of them playing a major role in the so-called Third Front are minimal.
While the YSR Congress is a marginal player in the crowded Andhra scene comprising the ruling Congress (which may split because of the Telangana issue), the Telugu Desam and the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti, the temperamental Mamata Banerjee is likely to find it difficult to be an amenable constituent of a heterogeneous front.
Indeed, it is the mercurial nature of some of the regional leaders like the AIADMK's Jayalalitha which will make it difficult for the proposed front to coalesce. Their prime ministerial ambitions pose another hurdle.
Even in these early days when nothing has been settled, the AIADMK has already advanced Jayalalitha's name for the position while the Samajwadi Party's Mulayam Singh Yadav has canvassed his own cause for quite some time. His argument is that if Deve Gowda could become prime minister, why can't he?
A problem with these leaders is that having been masters of their houses as chief ministers with only a single challenger - Jayalalitha, for instance, faces only one major opponent in the DMK in Tamil Nadu and Mulayam Singh Yadav has to counter only the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh - they will not find it easy to get along as a team with other chief ministers like Bihar's Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and Odisha's Naveen Patnaik of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD).
Apart from the ego hassles between individual leaders, there are also parties which regard their opponents as mortal enemies, such as the Trinamool Congress on one side and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) on the other along with the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Forward Bloc and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP).
Similar antipathy keeps apart the AIADMK and the DMK as well as the SP and the BSP with the result that the DMK and the BSP may well act virtually as the Congress's allies.
Although, prima facie, the proposed group in parliament comprising the AIADMK, the SP, the four Left parties, the JD-U, the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S), the BJD, the Asom Gana Parishad and the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha may look formidable, in real terms the motley group with little to bind them except opposition to the Congress and the BJP is unlikely to be a major threat in a nation-wide election.
Besides, the fact that some of them have been allies of either the Congress or the BJP underlines the opportunism of their current posturing. While the Leftists and the SP have been the Congress' allies, the JD-U was hoping to become one till the Congress chose to dump it in favour of the RJD and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) in Bihar.
The JD-S has been an ally of both the Congress and the BJP in Karnataka while the BJD was the BJP's partner till 2009.
What these permutations and combinations mean is that for all the Third Front's claims of opposing the two national parties, the lines will remain open between the regional leaders and the Congress and the BJP - if only because the conflicting objectives of 10 or 12 regional parties will prove difficult to reconcile.
The scene will be complicated by the Aam Admi Party (AAP) with its left-of-centre economics and right-of-centre sociology, which approves of the Taliban-style diktats of khap panchayats though not their violence.
In contrast to the inchoate Third Front, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) look more compact.
The former, led by the Congress, is likely to have the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the National Conference, the RJD and the LJP among its partners and can expect outside support from the BSP. The NDA will have the Akali Dal, the Shiv Sena and the Telugu Desam as its mainstays.
After the polls, the UPA and the NDA will be engaged in luring the regional parties to their side instead of helping one of the Third Front leaders to become the PM, as Deve Gowda was in 1996 by the Congress.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 08-02-2014)