The Third Front again divides Opposition leaders

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The Third Front again divides Opposition leaders

Wednesday, 25 January 2023 | Kalyani Shankar

A weakened Congress is not a threat to regional satraps but their ambition stops them from including it in their coalition

AThird Front again! Before every Lok Sabha poll, the Third Front idea is floated, and the 2024 polls are no exception. Political pundits predict that there is space for the entire Opposition against Bharatiya Janata Party but not a Third Front, as it will splinter the anti-BJP votes and help the ruling dispensation. The concept was tried and tested in 1977, 1989, and 1996-98, supported by either Congress or the BJP. But they were all short-lived.

Some regional satraps led by Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao are trying to build a Third Front before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. It includes some influential regional leaders heading BRS, AAP, CPI-M, Trinamool Congress, and the Samajwadi party. They want a coalition minus Congress to fight the BJP.

Parallelly, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is also currently on a Bharat Jodo Yatra to unite the Opposition parties. In effect, while Rahul wants to lead the Opposition, regional leaders prefer a front minus Congress.

Many ifs and buts are there for forging a Third Front. Since the 1980s, regional forces like SP, BSP, RJD, and JD(U) have emerged and had a stronghold in their respective states. Whether these leaders would come together to challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the million-dollar question. Moreover, historically, arithmetic has shown the Third Front is only possible with the support of either the Congress or the BJP.

With its glorious past but miserable present, a

weakened Congress is currently attempting to save the party. With this in view, Rahul Gandhi is being rebranded before the 2024 polls. He has undertaken a Bharat Jodo Yatra to unite the secular forces.

The grand old party has invited 21 Opposition parties, including the Samajwadi Party and the CPM, for the concluding ceremony in Kashmir next month.

Rao floated his Third Front idea in early 2018, arguing that the Congress and the BJP have failed to govern the country. In KCR's mind, he and not Modi or the Congress could lead the country in the right direction. He tried to build a non-Congress, non-BJP front ahead of the 2019 general election. But it failed, with most regional leaders stopping at extending only moral support.

In a show of strength to boost his political ambitions, KCR held a mega public rally in Khammam on January 18. The rally was the first after KCR converted his regional party Telangana Rashtra Samithi to Bharat Rashtra Samithi on October 5 last year. To KCR's delight, the Election Commission has recognised the BRS as a national party.

Most of those who skipped the Congress Yarra participated in the Khammam Rally. It included Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, his Punjab counterpart Bhagwant Mann, Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan, Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, and CPI's D Raja. KCR has also opened back-channel communication with Odisha's Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, to join the alliance.

KCR is opposed to the Congress as the two parties are political rivals in Telangana. That is why he aspires to head a non-Congress, non-BJP front. Interestingly, he organised the Khammam meeting days ahead of the grand finale of the Bharat Jodo Yatra later this month in Kashmir.

KCR has never hidden his ambition for a national role while waiting to perform a hat trick in the Assembly polls later this year. He believes he is destined to become a national alternative to Modi.

However, after two consecutive terms since 2014, KCR has faced an anti-incumbency wave. Though he has finished off the Congress and the TDP in the state, to his dismay, the BJP has emerged as the main Opposition party in the state. He depends upon Dame Luck smiling at him.

A big question remains: will the Third Front aspirants manage to capture any space in national politics or match Modi's popularity with their king-size egos? Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who is realistic, believes that "there is no question of a Third Front. There should be one front that includes Congress. Then we can trounce the BJP in 2024."

The Opposition has to decide who their real rival is. Is it the BJP or the Congress? A weakened Congress is not a threat to the regional satraps. Still, their ambition stops them from including Congress in their coalition.

Changing electoral alliances offer only recurring political quicksand. Modi will return for a third term as long as the Opposition is divided.

The fragile unity of the Third Front is often criticised. There is a saying that the Third Front leaders can only remain together for a short time and apart for a shorter time. Only after identifying their prime ministerial candidate and devising a common minimum programme could the Second Front or Third Front succeed.

The regional leaders want to do this after the polls to avoid friction.

(The author is a senior journalist)

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