What has been the most common feature of all the Lok Sabha elections after 1996? No, it is not the downfall in the standards of candidates and Members of Parliament. It is the hullabaloo surrounding the Third Front.
Every time a Lok Sabha election draws close, a group of regional politicians aided by ageing Left Front leaders start talking of a Third Front government. They all portray a unified front while they all go through a (to use Abhijit Mukherjee’s phrase) ‘denting and painting’ job to look like prime ministerial candidates in case a non-BJP, non-Congress government comes to power. The fact that post 1996, India has only seen a BJP or a Congress leader as the prime minister somehow doesn’t deter these Third Front dreamers.
So, as we move closer to the 2014 elections, let us see if a Third Front government is actually a possibility. Let’s use all opinion polls as an average (or less than average for the front runner, the BJP, so that this article isn’t accused of being overly biased towards the BJP).
As of now, it appears the BJP + the Akalis + the Maharashtra Mahayuti will cross 210 seats. But let’s peg that figure at 200. The Congress is supposed to be below 100 seats, so let’s take that as 100. That leaves 244 seats for the Left and regional parties.
In 1996, if the Third Front came to power, it was because the Congress + the Left Front had more than what the BJP and its allies (only the Sena then) did. What that did is provide a base for the smaller parties to perch themselves on and form the government.
The state of the Left is such that even a double digit performance should be considered stupendous. None of the other smaller parties look like they could get enough numbers to replace the Left as the base for the Third front. Even a near clean sweep by Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee leaves the base (the Congress + Jayalalithaa + Mamata) at 170, much lower than the NDA. Without a strong base, the Third Front is a non-starter.
Assuming all parties make all sorts of ideological alignments just to keep the BJP out and get every regional player on board, the next question is what about the parties who will go to assembly polls within one year of the Lok Sabha polls? Will any of the parties in Haryana risk being a Congress ally in Delhi while fighting it in the state elections? The same goes for all other parties that have high stakes in respective state elections. It makes political sense for them to finish the Congress in their respective states rather than giving it a fresh leash of life. Most regional players know the importance of a stable stint in a state over an unstable partnership at the centre.
Even if we assume the parties (using the same old drama of ‘secularism’) do come together, the question of who will be PM will arise. George Fernandes once told a group of journalists in the late 1990s that the biggest issue with socialist and regional leaders is that everyone thinks himself or herself as greater than the others. Will Mulayam Singh Yadav accept Mamata or Jayalalithaa as PM or vice-versa? The answer is highly improbable.
So where does this lead us? To a clear answer, which is: the only option based on current predictions is the BJP-ruled NDA at power. Once the NDA crosses 200, allies will fall into its lap, as we saw in 1998. And in 1999 and 2004 for the UPA.
So, the next time someone talks of a Third Front, remember the Ghalib, “Humko malum hain jannat ki haqeeqat lekin, dil ko khush rakhne ko Ghalib ye khayal acha hain.”
Jiten Gajaria is Convener, Social Media Cell, BJP Maharashtra. He is also an entrepreneur and writes on political issues. He tweets at @jitengajaria.