Whenever an election to the Lok Sabha is round the corner, leaders of regional parties come out with the grand idea of a third front. These parties have different ideologies and their compatibility is suspect. After the election, they dump the front. This has happened in the past and the situation may not be any different now. What starts with enthusiasm ends in a damp squib.
How serious Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar and Naveen Patnaik are remains to be seen. The new third front must also confront the absence of a binding ideology. The anti-Congressism that animated the third force in the 1980s has lost its bite, so has the anti-BJPism that rallied the smaller parties in the 1990s.
By now, most regional parties have flitted in and out of the Congress-led UPA or the BJP-led NDA, or both, for self-serving reasons and at opportune moments. A new unifying idea for a third force has not yet been spelled out, much less nurtured. The third front remains an open and shifting space. Its ambition to be taken seriously seems an overreach.