As the nine-phase Lok Sabha elections move into its last fortnight, the option of a “third alternative” — a possible throwback to 1996 when the Congress propped up a grouping of Left and regional parties — is being floated again, with several senior Congress leaders talking about it over the weekend.

After External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid reportedly said on Saturday that the Congress could consider supporting a third alternative or taking its help to form a government, Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel and Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh expressed similar views on Sunday.

In an interview to NDTV, Mr. Patel said the Congress was always “for like-minded parties” that could keep “communal forces at bay.”

Maintaining that this was still a hypothetical question, he said the Congress has not had discussions with any party. In an interview to PTI in Hyderabad, Mr. Ramesh indicated that, should a situation arise where both the United Progressive Alliance and the National Democratic Alliance did not have the numbers, he would prefer the Congress to be part of a “third front arrangement” instead of just lending it outside support to ensure political stability.

Third front a failed idea: BJP

The BJP was on Sunday quick to react to the talk of the third alternative by some Congress leaders, with senior leader Arun Jaitley trashing it as an “idea which has failed repeatedly.”

Writing in his campaign diary, the BJP’s candidate from Amritsar said: “Such non-ideological combinations formed purely for convenience can never deliver governance. There are many who rejoice the political instability.

“It is only then that they can claim some relevance. I am sure that the electorate is wise enough to defeat not only the Congress but also the ‘merchants of instability.’”

Earlier this year, the Left parties had tried to put together a non-Congress, non-BJP alternative without projecting it as a “front.”

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