With both the BJP and the Congress scouting for electoral partners and political allies, many of the major regional parties have the option of tying up with one or the other of the two parties most likely to lead the next government at the Centre. But some like the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu have already chosen the third way: an alliance with the Left parties, whether in the hope of propping up a non-Congress, non-BJP alternative or by way of keeping post-poll options open. By all accounts, a third front does not appear to be a contender for power without the support of either the Congress or the BJP. Unless the combined tally of the Congress and the BJP falls below 272 seats, which is highly improbable at this point of time, a third front stands no chance of forming a government of its own. Indeed, the third front in its present form is a collection of regional parties with the backing of the two Left parties, the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). In many cases, a pre-election alliance is immaterial as the parties have different areas of influence.
While the Left parties would surely like an alternative to both the Congress and the BJP to emerge, many of the regional satraps talking of a third front, such as Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party and Sharad Yadav of the Janata Dal (United), are merely thinking up a way to make their parties more relevant in a Lok Sabha election. By talking up a third front alternative, regional parties who are contesting seats in just one State can make their campaign more purposive and their cadres more enthusiastic. Not surprisingly, the AIADMK wants its leader Jayalalithaa to be the Prime Minister, and Mulayam Singh sees a similar role for himself, noting that Uttar Pradesh sends more members to Parliament than Tamil Nadu or Bihar. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar too would like to be in the race now that he has cut off relations with the BJP. But, realistically, a third front can take shape only after the election in a situation where both the Congress and the BJP find it difficult to form a government. Depending on the results, many of the parties now talking of a third front might actually decide to back either the Congress or the BJP, as they have done in the past. The two major national parties would have to do very badly if the amorphous third front is to lead the next government at the Centre. But the leaders of the regional parties would have to voice prime ministerial ambitions and a role in the next government if they are to enthuse their party cadre and maximise their voter support in a Lok Sabha election.