Resurrecting the Third Front!

THE SANGUINENESS WITH which sections within the Left parties have begun talking, in the past few weeks, of resurrecting the Third Front cannot but be seen as mere rhetoric. The attempts by the Left party leaders to ensure that this project and the efforts towards it are rendered visible - take for instance Mr. Jyoti Basu hosting Messrs. V. P. Singh, Chandra Shekhar and H. D. Deve Gowda in Calcutta recently - may well be seen as a conscious exercise to boost the morale of their ranks. This perhaps is necessary for the Left Front in West Bengal in the context of the elections to the State Assembly due in February next year; the `mahajot' project engaged in by the State unit of the Congress(I), the Trinamool Congress and the BJP must have shaken the Left parties and it is important for their leaders to establish that they too are part of a platform at the national level. The idea of a Third Front, a combination of political forces opposed to the Congress(I) and the BJP at the national level, is of critical importance for the Left parties to boost the morale of their cadres and also their support base.

The impression gathered in the past couple of years that the Left parties are no longer opposed to the Congress(I), as they were in the past and its consequence - shift by a section of their support base towards the Trinamool-BJP combine in West Bengal - must be bothering the leaders. This is something that the Left cannot afford in the context of the coming Assembly elections in the State. It is necessary for the CPI(M) to remove the impression that it is playing second fiddle to the Congress(I); after all Mr. Basu himself and other leaders of the CPI(M) had been acting in such a manner as to create such an impression ever since Ms. Sonia Gandhi took over as the Congress(I) president.

But then the prevailing realities, particularly the shape of things in the various parties that could become a part of the Third Front, do not hold any hopes. For instance, the leaders around whom the idea is sought to be constructed - Messrs. V. P. Singh, Chandra Shekhar, Deve Gowda and also Mr. I. K. Gujral - can hardly claim any organisation behind them, leave alone any mass appeal. And yet, even before any serious discussion could begin, there appear to be serious differences among them; one among the differences, as has been reported, is Mr. Gowda's opposition to the proposed front having anything to do with the Congress(I). The reason is not very difficult to identify; after all, the Congress(I) allowed him to remain Prime Minister for too short a term. But then, by insisting that the Congress(I) must be part of the proposed front, the others engaged in the project are only making it clear that what they are aiming at is anything but a Third Front. For any combination with the Congress(I) in it can only be a Front against the BJP-led coalition and certainly not a Third Front. It could only be a Congress(I)-led Front. Any one of these leaders, with hardly any mass base or an organisation, hoping to lead such a front cannot but sound absurd.

Apart from these, there is the issue of corruption and probity in public life; and this will require the votaries of the Third Front idea to take a position on whether or not Mr. Laloo Prasad Yadav's RJD and the AIADMK could be part of the proposed platform. Add to this the anti-Congress(I) rhetoric Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav has begun to engage in, particularly after Ms. Sonia Gandhi took over the party, and also Mr. Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party. Similarly, there are parties even within the BJP-led combine that are unhappy remaining there and may be willing to play the Third Front game. But then, none of them will come forward as long as it is seen as helping the Congress(I). All these imponderables and the fact that the leaders, at least some of them, engaged in the efforts suffer from a crisis of credibility cannot but expose the Third Front idea at this stage to some ridicule.