If two fronts fail

An alliance of regional parties will need the support of a national party

The rapid approach of the 2019 general election has prompted speculation on the possibility of regional parties forming a non-Congress, non-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance, referred to as the ‘Third Front’. Arguments have also been posed against this idea, including that such a combine would lack stability, and that regional leaders who harbour ambitions to rule from New Delhi do not possess a truly pan-Indian vision.


There is no doubt that regional parties such as the Trinamool Congress, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Samajwadi Party (SP), and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) cannot form a government on their own, since the numbers do not add up. Another problem is that certain non-Congress, non-BJP parties are incompatible bedfellows within a broader alliance. Although unexpected alliances have occasionally occurred, such as between the SP and the BSP, the DMK, for example, is highly unlikely to ally with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

An alliance of regional parties will thus need the support of one of the national parties — more likely the Congress — to form a government. The previous two ‘Third Front’ experiments, in 1996, led by H.D. Deve Gowda, and in 1997, led by I.K. Gujral, received the support of the Congress. In the broader analysis, what this implies is that the concept of a ‘Third Front’ by itself may not be viable, and such an experiment may also not be stable.


Regarding leaders lacking a pan-Indian vision, it is important to first separate this issue from the allegation that certain regional leaders lack the administrative experience and skills to run the country. The case of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee exemplifies this: she earlier served as Railways Minister, has done a reasonable job as Chief Minister, and in recent times has tried to project the business-friendly side of West Bengal through investor summits. West Bengal has in fact emerged as the top State in terms of the Ease of Doing Business rankings created by the World Bank and the Government of India. In any case, the role of Chief Ministers has changed significantly, and in the past decade they have been dealing with a gamut of issues, including external outreach, especially in the economic sphere. Another point to note is that in recent years, regional leaders have emerged as the prominent faces of national parties too.


While a government consisting entirely of regional parties does not seem feasible, a Prime Minister from one of the regional parties, who has a good rapport with other regional parties and strong administrative experience, is important.

Thus, if the idea of a Third Front government gains political traction, the Congress may be well advised to consider joining such a government, even if it is led by a non-Congress Prime Minister. Only then would such a government be stable, and avoid a repeat of 1996 or 1997.

Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi-based policy analyst associated with O.P. Jindal Global University

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Printable version | Mar 27, 2020 7:43:09 PM |

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