Fresh Lease To Third Front Politics

By Malladi Rama Rao
Spurred by the recent by-poll reverses the BJP has suffered, the old practioners of third Front politics are back in action. For a change, the Marxists appear to be in no mood for pre-poll alliances. Post –poll alliance is ok, says Sitaram Yechury, the CPI-M supremo. His reluctance to test alliance waters is stemmed by the opposition from the Karat school, which has pooh-poohed his plans for a tie-up with the Congress during the Tripura polls. Moreover, the Bengal experience shows that the Congress stands to benefit from an alliance with the Comrades to the glee of Didi.
Akhilesh Yadav has reaped the benefits of aligning with “aunty” Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh. And he wants to extend the alliance to next Lok Sabha poll. But the BSP supremo has not opened her cards. Her aligning with the Samajwadi party appears limited in scope. She wanted a berth in the Rajya Sabha from UP. It was possible if SP votes for her nominee. The LS by-poll support was the bait, and the Yadav scion fell flat for it. Remember Mayawati and BSP never fight by-elections. So transferring BSP vote to SP was no big deal. It is this reality check that puts a question mark over the Alnaskar dreams of Akhilesh – of roping in the RJD as well. The Rahul Congress too may like to jump on the emerging bandwagon but it is no more than a small player in UP politics.

As Shantanu Gupta, the biographer of Yogi Adityanath says, over-reading Gorakhpur result will be a mistake; the BJP may have lost Gorakhpur and; there is not much of a dent in the Yogi’s image as “the new poster boy of BJP”.
Yet the Yogi camp cannot ignore the growing anger amongst allies like Om Prakash Rajbhar of the Suheldev Bahujan Samaj Party, who had stayed away from the celebrations of one year of Adityanath rule.

Congress is willing to catch any straw to remain relevant, and therefore made grand statements about alliance politics from its Plenary in Delhi. The sound and fury of the Rahul show are neither here nor there since the Grand Old Party (GOP) is keen on leading from the front. Sharad Pawar’s efforts on the other hand appear more convincing. And he has begun his effort from home ground where he met Raj Thackeray of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). And Raj fell for the Maratha’s bait and called for a “Modi-mukt Bharat” (Modi-free India). “It is high time we achieved our third independence in 2019,” he said during his Gudi Padwa rally, and appealed to like-minded parties to forge a united opposition against BJP for the 2019 election. Unlike cousin Uddhav, who is heading Shiv Sena, Raj is not a big player outside Mumbai. And Uddhav is not yet ready to desert the BJP though their alliance forged on Hindutva looks as good as wrecked.

A surprise entrant into the Third Front dreams is K Chandrasekhar Rao, the Telangana Chief Minister.

Known as KCR, he sees no challenger to his TRS party on his home turf, where his son, K Taraka Rama Rao (KTR) is enjoying a good run as an able minister and as a youth icon. He is not known to have national aspirations; so much so his plan to cobble up like minded parties as an alternative to BJP and Congress has taken observers by surprise. He appears to have spurred into alliance overdrive by two factors. One the plans of his bete noire, Chandrababu Naidu to desert NDA and realign with the Left. Second the growing impression that Rahul Congress has feet of clay. His visit to Kolkata with daughter Kavita, a MP, in tow is to be seen in this light. KCR-Mamata talks are exploratory in nature. Like KCR, Mamata is an old Congress hand; her priorities are not in synch with the Telangana Chief Minister. This means Hooghly- Musi sangmam offers no alliance nirvana. At least in the near to medium term.

This brings into reckoning, Nara Chandrababu Naidu (NCN), the Telugu Desam supremo, who has just ditched the BJP and left NDA. He did so once in the past in 2009 after being its main outside prop for five years during Vajpayee regime. Well, he is a familiar face on the national scene; he was the convenor of the short-lived United Front. So it is natural for the likes of Shard Yadav, who are adrift, to welcome Naidu’s moves with enthusiasm. But they will do well to do a NCN brand check.

NCN attempted a ‘Mahakutami’ (Grand Alliance) prior to 2009 elections. On 28 May 2011, he was at his vocal best in pouring vitriolic against the BJP and even Narendra Modi, stating “It was a mistake aligning with the BJP. I am expressing my regret to anyone who was troubled by that (alliance). I am apologizing to the Muslims for making that mistake. There will not be any alliance with any communal forces in future.” On 27 September 2012 at a minorities’ convention organized by the TDP, NCN again stated “The alliance with the BJP (1999-2004) was the biggest mistake of my life”. He pledged that such a situation “would never arise again.”

Again in 2013, NCN called Narendra Modi as “Nara Hantakudu” (Human Killer or Butcher).” He replied to media question that “We will not have an alliance with the BJP. Asked about Modi’s leadership, he said, “Modi has done nothing new in Gujarat. He has only replicated what I did when I was chief minister”. He attempted to forge the “Third Front” in alliance with Mulayam Singh Yadav and other so called secular parties against the BJP-led communal forces.
Chandrababu’s dramatic shifts in political posturing leave even his followers and sympathizers non-plussed. During the heydays of Telangana agitation, his critics in both regions accused him of providing an opportunity to the Congress Party to divide the state; he also stood accused of not closing ranks with all other parties opposing bifurcation.

In 2014, the strong Modi sentiment resulted in TDP aligning with the BJP for electoral gains to win against the YSRCP led by Jaganmohan Reddy. Modi and the BJP factor helped the TDP to sweep the polls. With Modi charisma appearing to be waning now, the wily politician, is back to what he is best at. And “Special Category Status” demand has become his manna.

None should also rule out the possibility of the self-styled ‘kingmaker’ at the national level nurturing dreams of becoming another Deva Gowda or Inder Gujral given his “Machiavellian” skills in ruthless pursuit of power. Will he succeed? Doubtful since there is a no Harkishan Singh Surjeet to advice and lead him to the Raisina Hill.
There is no denying that the Modi- Shah combine is faltering in adhering to what is called the ‘coalition dharma’ while running the multi-party NDA. As an analyst puts it, from the manner in which the BJP has dealt with problems from its NDA allies it will seem that it roped in partners not only to come to power but also to fulfill its burning desire to increase its footprints in the country—at their expense. Now, with its electoral base showing signs of erosion, some of its allies in Bihar and UP also are threatening to go their own way.

Jiten Ram Manjhi’s Hindustan Awami Party, has just walked into RJD fold in Bihar. There is an undercurrent of discontent in BJP –JD (U) alliance with brazen communal speeches by some BJP leaders to the dismay of Nitish Kumar, who still stands by his secular credentials long after ditching the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ he had formed with the Congress and the RJD. Is the BJP testing Nitish’s patience? Well, it appears so.

If this remains the trend, the BJP will be sweating before the 2019 polls.
(With inputs from MS Shanker in Hyderabad)

(This commentary appeared in Power Politics in 2018)

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Journalist, South Asian Analyst