News Wrap: A ‘Third Front’ is Formed

On February 25, a formal announcement was made that the 11 political parties comprising the ‘Third Front’ would jointly contest the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. This bloc, which consists of seven regional parties and four leftist parties, positions itself as an alternative to the Congress Party and the BJP.

The Times of India suggests in an editorial that the electoral prospects for a Third Front are dim.

“[The idea of a] Third Front…presenting an effective challenge to Congress and BJP is totally unreal. First, the formation boasts a host of 'has-beens' — its core, the Left, has been wiped out even in its state of origin, West Bengal, while Deve Gowda's Janata Dal (S), apparently following its leader's example, has dozed off into the political sunset. With little regional power, no common minimum program of targets, not even an agreed candidate as its PM nominee, this is not a formation characterized by coherent ideology, dynamic leadership or growing legions — making its claim to power very weak."

“Secondly, the main agenda driving this formation…is out of step with reality. Left leader Prakash Karat says fighting corruption and communalism is its aim. But [the] AAP [has] stolen significant anti-graft thunder while anti-communal rhetoric doesn't convince many with Samajwadi Party — under whose watch Muzaffarnagar's violence occurred. Given the track record of participants — including Nitish Kumar's JD(U), in alliance with BJP until last year — fighting communalism only sounds like a parroted old phrase.”

Victor Mallet of the Financial Times notes that there are too many strong personalities among the Third Front for it to put up a credible and well-organized election campaign. 

“Probably the biggest weakness of the third front is not the lack of ambitious politicians with mass support, but a surfeit of them. As Lalu Prasad Yadav, a former chief minister of Bihar who has declined to join, put it: ‘In the third front, everyone wants to be the prime minister.’”

An editorial in the Hindustan Times makes a very similar point, arguing that a Third Front coalition will not hold together.

“Nitish Kumar…would not mind trying his hand at the prime ministerial stakes and no doubt many other front leaders would too. This is an in-built flaw in such fronts as past experience suggests. Everyone is a general and there are no foot soldiers. Besides, almost all of them have vastly differing priorities and almost none of them have any national vision on issues like security, foreign policy or the economy.

“Providing a so-called secular front and keeping the BJP and the Congress out of power is not a viable goal in itself. Such a front should have a blueprint which is attractive to the young voters, who form a bulk of the electorate.”

However, the Times of India also featured a contribution which countered the newspaper’s editorial position and cautioned against the tendency of many to dismiss the idea of a Third Front government. 

“A re-emergence of the Third Front…is nothing surprising and only reflects the succinct reality of Indian politics today. With the vote share of national parties like Congress and BJP getting increasingly truncated, it is allies of the Third Front and other smaller groups that have come to represent the largest share of India's electorate…”

“[These] regional parties have strong local leaders who can strike much better rapport with the local electorate and win their confidence. Moreover, with many of them in power in the states, these parties now have the organizational skills and resources to take on national parties on local turf. With Congress losing ground across states and BJP gains restricted to north and west India, a cross-regional alliance representing states from every corner of the country has a good chance of emerging as the eventual winner…”