kalyani shankar
While the debate is still going about whether it was the Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi or the party patriarch LK Advani who won the first round of the battle for supremacy in the BJP, the weekend drama in the party has added yet another dimension to Indian politics. Modi has shown his divisive powers by not only dividing the BJP but also the NDA even before he has assumed charge.
It is now more or less clear that the NDA will disintegrate. Even before Advani withdrew his resignation, the JD (U) was getting ready to sever its ties with the BJP and the NDA. But what is interesting is that Modi&’s elevation has become the immediate cause for the talk of a Federal Front, although regional satraps have been toying with such an idea for some time. Even Advani had come under criticism from his own party when he predicted the possibility of a third front emerging.
The idea pops up every now and then because the regional leaders feel left out from the national scene and try to come together to assume relevance. With a truncated UPA and the NDA, realignment of political forces is only natural before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. There is disunity in the BJP and the Congress is facing several scams; therefore, there is some space for a third alternative.
Is the time ripe for such a front? This is not the first time such an effort is being made. In the early eighties, Andhra Pradesh chief minister NT Rama Rao talked of Bharat Desam, but did not make any effort to form it. The National Front and the United Front also consisted of non-Congress, non-BJP parties, but while the Right and the Left supported the National Front, the Congress supported the United Front.
In 2007, the UNPA was formed, consisting of SP, Telugu Desam, AIADMK and the Left, but collapsed due to the ego of the regional leaders within months.
With the emergence of more regional satraps in the past few years, some of the non-Congress chief ministers have been functioning as a pressure group in the National Development Council or National Integration Council and have been making noises about the NCTC, FDI and other contentious issues.
The exercise for the Federal Front began when the West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee posted an appeal to all regional parties to come together to form a front before the Lok Sabha polls on her Facebook page on 10 June. Banerjee is looking for some role in national politics after she quit the UPA and this front would give her that. She followed it up by talking to the Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik. JD (U) leader KC Tyagi also met her in Kolkata this week. Telugu Desam supremo Chandra Babu Naidu has already expressed his willingness to join the Federal Front. Naveen Patnaik, who severed his connection with the BJP before the last Assembly poll, has joined the Federal Front chorus after Modi&’s anointment.
Strangely enough, Mamata has not sounded out Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh, who has been talking about a third front. UP has 80 Lok Sabha seats and the two regional parties ~ the SP and the BSP ~ play a crucial role in national politics. Mamata seems to be miffed with the Yadav chieftain because he ditched her earlier on the issue of presidential nomination for APJ Abdul Kalam in 2012. She also suspects that the SP is soft on Congress. This would give an opening for the BSP, but it could only happen after the polls.
Whether this Federal Front will be a reality is a question mark, as it is more complex and contradictory than it looks. First, who will join the front? Even Nitish is now talking of a common platform as he has enough time to decide whether he should go with the Congress, which is wooing him, or the Federal Front. Smaller parties like the Janata Dal (Secular), Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress, Telugu Desam, Telengana Rashtra Samiti, Asom Gana Parishad, and perhaps the DMK (the AIADMK is pally with Modi) could also be a part of the front. All these parties are not part of the NDA or UPA, but at some time or the other, they were partners.
Secondly it all depends on how these regional satraps fare in their own fiefdoms. Nitish&’s influence is waning in Bihar. Mamata Banerjee also has not performed to the expectations of people. Telugu Desam has not been able to raise its head again so far. It is a weak DMK which could join the front. But these parties think union is strength.
Thirdly, almost all the regional satraps have huge egos and dictatorial styles of functioning. Will they be able to co-exist and form a collective leadership? The earlier such experiment in the form of the UNPA in 2007 collapsed due to ego clashes.
Fourthly, no third front will be possible without the Left and if Mamata&’s TMC is a constituent, the Left parties will not join the front. On earlier occasions, it was the Left which was the binding force ~ whether it was the National Front or the United Front governments. The Left has already started to make efforts to nip the idea of the Federal Front in the bud.
Even if this Front fights the next polls together, their numbers will not be adequate to form a government, as they will need 272 MPs to stake a claim. While the Front can boast of providing a clean government, the lack of adequate numbers will pose a problem.
Whether the Federal Front takes birth or not, one thing is certain ~ that there will be new political equations before the next Lok Sabha polls. It will be interesting to see how the UPA and the NDA propose to expand their base or how the proposed Federal Front will find constituents, as all of them will be poaching from the same political
parties.