Nitish Kumar might only have been playing a bit role in the L.K. Advani affair, but his statement on the possibility of a third front minus the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party could gain a momentum of its own. The Bihar Chief Minister spoke of a third front taking concrete shape as a project for the future if the parties he had in mind — former BJP allies Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and Biju Janata Dal in Odisha — could raise a united voice on a common cause with his own party, the Janata Dal (United). For the moment, this appears as no more than a ploy to deny Mr. Modi, recently named head of the BJP’s campaign committee, the further satisfaction of being promoted as a prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Significantly, Mr. Kumar was not talking of all the BJP’s allies coming together as an alternative to the Congress and the BJP. With the JD (U) having little in common with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and the Akali Dal in Punjab, Mr. Kumar chose to hold up the possibility of teaming up with the Trinamool and the BJD, which have, at different points in time, been uncomfortable with the BJP’s Hindutva agenda. Even if the game plan is limited to strengthening Mr. Advani’s hand within the BJP, and thereby the ‘secular’ wing of the NDA, Mr. Kumar could actually end up boosting the ambitions of several regional satraps who would like to be part of a non-Congress, non-BJP government at the Centre. If circumstances are propitious, the Telugu Desam Party and the AIADMK could think of lending their weight to the new project.
But whether or not Mr. Kumar’s proposal finds the wind to take off, 2014 is unlikely to usher in a government without the involvement, in some form or the other, of either the Congress or the BJP. Just as the two major national parties need regional allies to capture power, no formation of regional allies can hope to keep out both the Congress and the BJP. In purely electoral terms, a third front means nothing since it is not an alliance whose constituent parties can help each other add votes and seats. No party in this putative front is in alliance with any other. So the JD(U), Trinamool, BJD, TDP and others may enjoy the warmth of their partnership but they don’t get to add seats to their tally. The other problem with Mr. Kumar’s third front is that the Trinamool and the CPI(M) cannot be in one front and without the Left driving the agenda the third front can at best offer a mathematical rather than a policy alternative to both the Congress and the BJP. Thus, while Mr. Kumar’s proposal might go farther than he intended it to, it is unlikely to go so far as to make a third front, by whatever name, a standalone force in Indian politics.