Earlier this month, 11 parties met in Delhi for a private chat. Right after the meeting, the voluble and silver-tongued representative of the CPI(M) came out, addressed the media and began spinning a story about the birth of the Third Front. By the evening, two of the 11 parties themselves had debunked this theory and insisted the collective hadgot together for simply coordination in Parliament, not to draw election strategies. Further, within the four-party Left Front, two smaller parties were uncertain.
The following Sunday, February 9, the general secretary of the CPI(M) turned up for a public meeting at Kolkata’s Brigade Parade Grounds and again made a pitch for the so-called Third Front. The next morning, CPI(M) busybodies met the leaders of the Janata Dal (United) and Janata Dal (Secular) for breakfast in Delhi, and again whispered Third Front sweet nothings to journalists.
Soon after, the leader of the Samajwadi Party made a categorical statement that any non-BJP, non-Congress front, whether Third Front or otherwise, would only emerge after the elections. There was no question of a pre-poll alliance. The Communist balloon had well and truly been tricked. Within hours, the voluble and silver-tongued representative of the CPI(M) had to eat crow and agree that the Third Front was at best a post-poll idea.
Frankly the Third Front is not just dead, it was never born. The Federal Front, suggested by Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal and leader of the Trinamool Congress, is another matter. It has a future and is worth discussing.
What is the Federal Front? Is it the same as the Third Front? Are the differences only semantic, or are they substantial? Mamata Banerjee’s belief has been that the Trinamool government has done a good, pro-development job in West Bengal for close to three years now. People are happy with us; voters have blessed us in election after election and will, we believe, show their support and affection for us in the 2014 Lok Sabha election as well. This will give Trinamool an overwhelming majority of seats from West Bengal.
Like the Trinamool government in West Bengal, there are other regional-party state governments – led by able and performing chief ministers –that will do well in their states and come to Delhi with a sizeable number of Lok Sabha seats. These parties have no grand design. They have only the welfare of their states and their people in mind. They believe states and state governments deserve more autonomy and resources to serve their people, and cannot be force-fed ‘one size fits all’ plans from Delhi. Finally, all these parties are opposed to corruption in public life, to dynastic traditions in politics, and to seeking votes in the name of riots and communal identities.
After the Lok Sabha verdict, these parties will form the Federal Front. They will be motivated by just the desire to maximise developmental benefits for those living in their states. The Third Front on the other hand is a hobby horse of the Communists, who want to use the power of regional and smaller parties to manipulate their way to influence without responsibility, and to promote obsolete agendas that have nothing to do with the lives and problems of common people, and certainly not with the aspirations of states.
In sum, the Third Front is a Communist day-dream. As for Mamata Banerjee’s conceptualisation of the Federal Front, it is an idea whose time has come.
MP and Chief Whip in the Rajya Sabha, Trinamool Congress