Does political space really exist for a non-BJP and non-Congress front, come 2019?

The dismal history of non-Congress, non-Bharatiya Janata Party third front formations prompt the poser whether there is space for such a front on an all-India platform. Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) chief and Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao appears to believe that political space does exist to sew up a non-BJP and non-Congress front before the next general elections. It is based on the assessment that the Congress failed to emerge as the rallying point for anti-BJP political ideologies and forces in the country. His confidence seems to have been triggered by the differences between the BJP and some of its alliance partners that have come to the fore lately.

Rao’s aspiration to become the rallying point for the anti-BJP and anti-Congress formations at the national level adds an interesting twist to the political churn that has just begun to happen at centre and states. He is right in the sense that there is space for an effective counter narrative to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, moreso after the virtual extinction of the Left parties and the decimation of the Congress party in the elections to Meghalaya, Tripura and Nagaland. There is no harm in trying out an alliance of regional parties — without the Congress — to act as an effective alternative to the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

It is heartening to see that mass leaders like Mamata Banerjee have endorsed the idea of a non-Congress, non-BJP political front. All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen leader Asaduddin Owaisi, former Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi and other regional and sub-regional leaders have endorsed the forging of such a front. Regardless of the nomenclature, that is third or fourth front, there is need for an effective opposition alliance to counter the NDA that is in command across states and regions. This would only maintain the heartbeat of a thriving democracy because the governance edifice rests on having a strong and vocal opposition to keep the ruling alliance under check.

Rao’s suggestion that he is ready to take the lead in bringing together likeminded people has a big plus. Given that several regional leaders have either lost relevance or are discredited, Rao comes out as a fresh untested face at the national level. However, his acceptability is yet to be gauged among major opposition parties who have a history of squabbling with each other. Yet, if Rao and Banerjee were to come together to head the so-called third front, the big question mark would be on the opposition unity efforts being made by Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar with the Congress a vital link in the opposition front. Sonia Gandhi had, in fact, invited Pawar to take the lead in shaping an anti-BJP alliance. For his part, Pawar had held a conclave for senior opposition leaders in Mumbai only a few months back. Even Left parties had thrown their weight behind this move.

An anti-Congress and anti-BJP alliance narrative suits both Rao and Banerjee in the context of their own states. If these two chief ministers become the rallying point for the political formation, its spread and relevance will largely depend on co-opting parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by Mayawati and Samajwadi Party of Akhilesh Yadav. A non-Congress, anti-BJP front would also go down well with Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik who is increasingly facing a threat from both national parties in the run-up to state assembly and Lok Sabha polls scheduled for next year.

Rao has to consider one key issue if his front is to play a key role at the national level: Is there a way not to split the anti-BJP vote to ensure opposition parties make a big dent in the ruling party’s bastions? How effective would be the front to tap into NDA allies like Telugu Desam Party and the Shiv Sena that have turned uneasy with the BJP for different reasons? In the southern amphitheatre of political churn, how many credible leaders would he be able to mobilise? For instance, actor Pawan Kalyan (in both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh), three factions of AIADMK, two fledgling parties of Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan or the Janata Dal (S) of HD Deve Gowda along with political outfits like AIMIM should first be brought under one roof to extend the third front experiment to the national level.