As India is moving towards a “Congress-mukt Bharat“, the concept of the Third front making a government is gaining ground. Third Front is basically a coalition of regional parties like TMC, AIADMAK, TDP, BSP, SP, and RJD across India. The idea is not new to the politics of the nation, as it was tried after the 1989 general elections when Congress was the single largest party with 197 seats but far from gaining a majority. At that time Janata Party, TDP, DMK, Assom Gana Parishad(AGP) with various other regional parties in coalition came together under the umbrella of ‘National Front’ to make a government at the Centre, supported by the BJP and Left parties from outside. The Mandal Commission fame V P Singh became Prime Minister, but due to internal fighting for power sharing the government could not last for more than even two years.
The idea was propelled once again in 1996, this time to keep the BJP out of power. In 1996 general election BJP emerged as the single largest party with 161 seats under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Congress was reduced to second place with a mere 140 seats in hand. Again, all the regional parties like Samajwadi Party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Asom Gana Parishad, Tamil Maanila Congress, Telugu Desam Party and most Left parties came together under the umbrella of the United Front to form government at the Centre , the only difference this time being that the communist parties were sharing power rather than supporting from outside. The search for the Prime Minister began, with all parties agreeing on the then Chief Minister of West Bengal Jyoti Basu. The decision was vetoed by the CPM that declined to make him Prime Minister in a coalition government. Finally, HD Deve Gowda, father of H. D. Kumaraswamy became Prime Minister. Congress extended its support from outside to keep Atal Bihari Vajpayee away from the PM seat. But once again, internal fighting began and the government fell within a short period of two years.
Therefore, the idea of such a coalition against the largest party has been tried and tested in the past. Today, with BJP sweeping across the length and breadth of the country, and Congress being reduced to a mere two and a half states (Punjab, Puducherry, and Mizoram), the idea is being floated once again. Earlier regional parties used to form a coalition to grab power, this time they are doing it for their survival from the Modi-Shah Juggernaut.
None of the parties have faith that Congress president Rahul Gandhi can take on BJP which seems unbeatable under the PM Modi- Shah Duo. As powerful regional leaders are expected to head the campaign against Modi with Congress supporting them, most political pundits think Trinamool Congress head Mamata Banerjee could lead the Third Front. In the Karnataka election when BJP fell few seats short of majority, Congress lent unconditional support to JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy.
Just a few hours later when the results became clear, Mamata Banerjee tweeted that had the Congress allied with JD(S), results would have been different. How the results could have been different in case of pre-poll alliance is a question for psephologists, but the tweet clearly indicates Mamata is in favour of leading a Third Front government.
Congratulations to the winners of the Karnataka elections. For those who lost, fight back. If Congress had gone into an alliance with the JD(S), the result would have been different. Very different
— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) May 15, 2018
HD Kumaraswamy had a half hour long chat on the strategy to make the government with Mamata, indicating she has acceptability among regional party leaders.
The big question is whether Rahul Gandhi will agree to the idea of sidelining Congress party and himself from the position of the main rival to BJP and Narendra Modi? Will Congress agree to leave the driver seat for regional parties as they have done in Karnataka for the JD(S)? Irrespective of whether a Third Front is capable of challenging the BJP in 2019, the one thing that is very clear is that Congress will not be spearheading the opposition this time around.