Third-Fronters in a bind

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Can they align with anti-federal Congress?

Every time some ruffling happens in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance or the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, the Third-Fronters see a chance to realise their dream of a ‘non-Congress, non-BJP' Government assuming power in New Delhi. And so, with the rise of Mr Narendra Modi, the prospect of the Janata Dal (United) breaking off from the NDA and the deteriorating position of the Congress, these dreamers have once again begun to believe that they can cobble together what they are calling the ‘Federal Front' as an alternative to coalitions led by the two major national parties. We can only wish them well as, in a democracy every political entity has the right to seek combinations that can propel it to power. But the concept of a Third Front or a Federal Front has inherent flaws that have resulted in disasters in the past. The biggest flaw is that the idea of a Front lacks a cohesive structure. The combine seeks to be a conglomeration of regional parties that have nothing in common except their stated desire to shut the doors on the Congress and the BJP. Each of the potential parties is driven by a parochial regional agenda, and the big national picture is missing. So disparate are they that there is little possibility of these Third-Fronters even approaching the electorate as a united outfit. They hope to do well individually and then come together to consolidate the numbers and present to the people the fiction that the voters have given them the larger mandate to govern. Essentially, therefore, the Third Front is a post-poll phenomenon and banks entirely on how well the parties perform individually. Since even the best consolidated effort of the disparate regional parties is unlikely to give them the numbers to form a Government on their own, they will yet again have to take the outside support of a larger party or grouping to claim power. But before they look to the Congress, they must recall recent history. We have seen in the past how minority Front Governments led by HD Deve Gowda and IK Gujral came to power through the outside support of the Congress, lasted for a few months at the mercy of the Congress and then fell when the party decided the regime's days were up. In fact, the Congress has a history of such betrayals; remember, it had propped up the Charan Singh and the Chandra Shekhar regimes and then unceremoniously brought them crashing down one fine day.

A more practical solution would be for the Third (or the Federal) Front to extend support to coalition Governments led by either of the two biggest national parties. The Front, after all, will not be in a position to form a majority Government on its own; it cannot even hope to garner more number of seats than what the Congress and the BJP will together get — which should be more than the half-way mark. Given the past bitter experiences such Fronts have had with the Congress, the Third-Fronters have to take a call on whether they would like to align post-poll with a party that has torpedoed similar experiments. Also, stalwarts of the various regional parties have to keep in mind that the Congress-led Government has in recent months taken many decisions that have been patently against the federal spirit of the Constitution. It would be ironical if a Federal Front should end up supporting an anti-federal party such as the Congress.

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