Ground realities rule out Third Front  ~ kalyani shankar
The concept of a third front or a third alternative crops up now and then when the two national parties appear to be weak. With political pundits predicting that neither the Congress-led UPA nor the BJP-led NDA would be in a position to form the next government, the third option is back in focus once again.
Ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, groups of political parties are trying to form various fronts, but are shy of calling themselves as the third option so soon. The four Left parties have convened a national anti-communal convention on 30 October roping in powerful regional parties like the Samajwadi Party, the AIADMK, the BJD, the JD-U and other non-Congress,  non-BJP secular parties.  While the Left is categorical in claiming that this is not the Third Front, SP chief Mulayam Singh also says that any new formation could only come into existence after poll results are announced.
The Left knows that regional satraps are hesitant because they want to get the maximum number of seats on their own and then bargain in the post-poll scenario. In fact, almost all the regional satraps are prime ministerial aspirants, be it Mulayam Singh, Jayalalithaa, Naveen Patnaik or Nitish Kumar. The Left is reconciled to this situation, but then without the Left, there can be no Third Front. Also there is no Surjeet or Jyoti Basu today to mobilise a credible Third Front.
In such a situation, why is this effort for a secular grouping being made ahead of polls?  It is simple. None of these parties want to concede the secular space only to the Congress. They fear that with the entry of BJP&’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, there is bound to be a Hindu-Muslim polarisation. When that happens, these parties, including the Left, do not want to lose out on secular votes. They will compete for the Muslim votes in their respective states as well as at the national level.  Ironically, most of these parties do not mind doing business with the Congress in the post-poll scenario or take Congress’ support as they had done earlier. 
Then there is the Samata Manch, which consists of small parties that are neither part of the UPA or the NDA and close to former Defence minister George Fernandes. The Samata Manch will organise rallies in all state capitals and invite all non-Congress parties, including the BJP. Although there are other parties including the AGP in this front, it is more Bihar-centric. These Bihar leaders who have been sidelined by Nitish Kumar, including the former Samata Party leader Shambu Shrivastava, now see an opportunity to isolate the chief minister, who they feel is down after the JD-U walked out of the NDA.  They will not be averse to helping the BJP in the post-poll scenario. Former BJP chief Nitin Gadkari&’s presence at its first meeting gives away this secret.
Last week at the initiative of AGP, eleven regional political parties formed the North East Regional Political Front (NERPF) to press the Centre to solve the "common and vital issues" of the region. The Front has been formed with the aim of bringing into focus the way rest of India has ignored the region. Together, they have a strength of 25 MPs in the lower house. The Front includes all major regional parties in the northeast – AGP, Nagaland People’s Front (NPF), Mizo National Front (MNF), Sikkim Democratic front, Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP) and several other parties from Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura.  At its first meeting, the Front demanded a comprehensive amendment of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution with devolution of powers to the states in all matters, except those pertaining to defence, external affairs, currency and foreign trade. It also demanded scrapping of the concurrent list and transfer of all the subjects in it to the state list, besides immediate scrapping of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
This brings the larger question of whether such a third alternative would succeed at this point in time. Such experience in 1989 and 1996 had proved to be disasters. In recent times, there have been many attempts like the UNPA, but they did not take off. Recently, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee tried to rope in the chief ministers of Bihar, Odisha and Tamil Nadu to assert the rights of the states and form a federal front. Does anything remain today of such a federalist third force? So where is the guarantee that it would be successful? The ‘federal front’ concept needs a positive agenda to outgrow its definition in positional terms – anti-Congress, anti-BJP.
Secondly, the constituents of these various groups are clear that any front could be formed only after the 2014 polls and not before. SP, AIADMK and BJD chiefs are categorical about it. The smaller regional outfits are no less opportunistic.
Thirdly, experience shows that there would be no cohesiveness in such groups, as they come together for the sake of opportunism or power. They have no commonality on ideology or any other policies.
There is no doubt that there is a leadership vacuum and there is space for an alternative, but the alternative should not become a nightmare. But a third alternative would be a section of unscrupulous regional leaders pulling in different directions with their king-size egos and who may in all probability form a short lived government if the UPA and the NDA get less than half the Lok Sabha seats.  However, they could play kingmakers if not be the rulers themselves.