When a Congress leader hints at the possibility of his party supporting a Third Front — which in Indian political parlance means a non-BJP, non-Congress formation — to keep the BJP out, and the BJP responds by dismissing the Third Front as a “failed idea” and as a “charter for chaos”, it is becomes evident that what is at work is psychological war between two big parties. The Lok Sabha election has still two phases — May 7 and 12 — to go, and the question of who would form the next government and through what means will become clear only after the counting is done on May 16.
And the nature of the game is such that, every party including the likely losers, makes the claim that they will emerge winners. So, for Congress which still clings to the straw of a hope that it will lead a UPAIII government to moot the idea of a Third Front, and for the BJP which is sure it will form the government any which way to dismiss vehemently the possibility of a Third Front shows that apart from verbal fencing which is the norm during an electoral battle, they are keeping the notion of a Third Front alive, though really in a vicarious manner.
The Congress as well as the BJP prefer a bipolar polity where they are the only two players left to battle for the laurels, and they are loath to acknowledge the presence of regional political parties across the country which refuse to be pushed out of the arena. The AIADMK and the DMK might be confined to Tamil Nadu, the TDP and the TRS are restricted to Seemandhhra and Telangana respectively, the BJD and the TMC in Odisha and West Bengal, make the national political picture a little too crowded, much to the chagrin and discomfiture of the ostentatious national parties.
The BJP had learned in 1998 that it could hope to form a government not on its own but through a coalition of regional parties, and this it did through the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The Congress learned the lesson of the imperatives of coalition a little late but it did learn when it formed the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in 2004, and it was as the leader of the UPA that it won the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The BJP and the Congress have literally squeezed out the space and possibility of a non-Congress, non-BJP Third Front because the potential members of the Third Front have been wooed to become part of either the BJP-led NDA or the Congress-led UPA.
The fear lingers in the hearts and minds of the Congress and the BJP that the other parties may assert themselves and refuse to be part of the two big coalitions. The ghostly existence of a Third Front, neither real nor unreal, is a salutary check on the overweening self-confidence of the BJP and the Congress that they are the only parties strutting on the national political stage. Even when the AIADMK, DMK, BJD, TDP, TMC, SP and BSP fail to form a front of their own, they keep the big two on their toes. It is this tantalising thought that keeps the communist parties of the Left Front active and alive. The Indian political chequerboard is complicated like the Chinese chequers, and that makes Indian political power games elusive if not illusive.