The past one week has firmly established the fact that there is a viable non-Congress, non-BJP combination emerging to fight the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. What is popularly known as a third front became a reality when seven parties shared a common platform at the massive rally organised in Dobbspet, near Bangalore, on March 12. The leaders of the Janata Dal (Secular), the AIADMK, the Telugu Desam, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the CPI(M) and the CPI declared that they would work together to defeat the Congress and the BJP and to create a new alternative.
Three days later, on March 15, nine political parties met in New Delhi. Apart from the four Left parties, the TDP, the JD (S), the AIADMK, the TRS and the Biju Janata Dal discussed how to take forward the electoral understanding and seat sharing arrangements they had arrived at in various states. In a joint statement, they declared their resolve to work together to defeat the Congress and the BJP and to form an alternative government for the progress and welfare of the people. The meeting also discussed the policy issues that need to be addressed.
On the same day, the BSP president, Ms Mayawati, released her party's election appeal and called for the defeat of the Congress and the BJP and expressed her party's determination to work for a non-Congress, non-BJP government.
All these developments in the second week of March have dramatically confirmed what the CPI(M) has been maintaining: politics in India cannot be straitjacketed into a two-party system. Although the ruling classes of our country would like politics to revolve around a choice between two political parties, both of which represent their interests, this has proved impossible in practice. Both the major all-India bourgeois parties are unable to command a mass base and the support of the people in significant parts of the country. For instance, in the two major states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the Congress and the BJP together cannot claim to represent even one-third of the seats to the Lok Sabha. In state after state, either the Congress or the BJP represents a minority force.
This inability to achieve numbers that are anywhere near majorities in parliament has compelled them to look for allies. So, they have settled for projecting a two-front system as an alternative – a Congress-led combination and a BJP-led combination.
The emergence of a viable non-Congress, non-BJP combination has caused consternation in the Congress and the BJP camps. While the Congress called the third front as the “biggest mirage of Indian politics”, the BJP has sought to dismiss the third front as a “nautanki” (drama). The BJP has greater cause for worry because, unlike in 1999 and 2004, many of the secular regional parties are no more willing to be associated with the BJP. They are finding their place in the non-Congress, non-BJP camp. The latest partner to break with them is the BJD in Orissa.
As for the Congress party, it fielded its senior leader, Pranab Mukherjee, to attack the concept of a third front. He harped on the fact that the front has not set out any programme, or, vision for government forgetting that the Congress created its front – the UPA – only after the elections in 2004. It is also a strange argument considering that the UPA itself is not going with a common programme or manifesto to the elections. The Congress, the RJD, the NCP and the DMK are all bringing out separate manifestos. So why is Pranab Mukherjee concerned about a common programme for the parties of the third front? Why did not the Congress consider a joint programme with its elusive ally, the Samajwadi Party? He even made the extraordinary claim that the parties of the third front were not even fighting enough seats to get a majority in the House. This is, of course, utterly inaccurate. The Left alone is fighting 150 seats and if the parties with which they have seat sharing arrangements or election alliances are taken into account, then their number is more than 50 per cent of the seats in parliament. If the seats contested by the BSP are taken into account, then the combine is fighting far more seats than the Congress party.
A Congress spokesperson has also charged that the formation of the third front will help the communal forces by dividing the secular votes. The fact is that the emergence of the alliance of the Left and the secular regional parties has struck a body blow to the electoral ambitions of the BJP. The BJP has been left with not a single ally in states like Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu and Orissa. The propagation of a two-party system by the Congress only helps the BJP instead of weakening it.
Both the Congress and the BJP are on shaky ground when they termed the third front as an unstable and unviable alliance. The reality is that both the UPA and the NDA are not durable alliances and that their fragility has come to the fore in the recent period. The Congress, after its Working Committee meeting in January, declared that it has no national level alliance and that it is going in for state level alliances only. This has undermined the very basis of the UPA. In turn, it has freed the UPA allies to look for different electoral partners in various states. Some of the non-Congress partners of the UPA are signalling that alignments will change according to the post-poll situation. The NCP president Sharad Pawar has, unlike the Congress and the BJP, stated that the third front cannot be written off. He has further stated that his party is not a bonded labourer of anyone. As for the NDA, it suffered a major blow when the BJD decided to break with it. Even the Asom Gana Parishad, which has entered into a seat adjustment with the BJP, has declared that it is not part of the NDA.
Although the Congress seems to have gained confidence after seeing the disarray in the BJP and its alliance, it is unwilling to recognise what is happening to the people and the country. One single instance should illustrate this point. The Congress party and the government are happy to claim that inflation is going down steadily. The inflation rate of the Wholesale Price Index is now below 4 per cent. But the prices of food items have increased sharply. According to the Price Monitoring Cell of the Department of Consumer Affairs, there has been a big surge in the prices of food items such as rice, tur, onions, sugar and tea. The wholesale price food index registered 7.5 per cent inflation for the week ending February 28. This price rise at the retail level increased manifold. According to these figures, the price of rice in Delhi rose by 22 per cent between March 2008 and March 2009; sugar went up by 47 per cent, tur by 31 per cent and onion by a whopping 111 per cent.
While the government takes satisfaction in proclaiming that the growth rate has slowed down only slightly, the reality is that lakhs of jobs are being lost due to the global recession and the economic crisis.
The Congress rulers are ignoring the entire agrarian crisis, price rise, unemployment and the falling living standards of the people. This is going to cost them heavily.
When the time of reckoning comes, the people have the choice to reject both the Congress and the BJP, which has similar economic policies, and to look for an alternative. The Left parties have set out a full-fledged alternative policy platform. The CPI(M) is working to see that the parties that have rallied around the banner of a third front come together on a common platform for pro-people economic policies, a firm defence of secularism, strengthening federalism and for an independent foreign policy. Such a platform offers a clear alternative choice for the people. In the coming days, during the election campaign, these alternative policies will be presented before the people.
(March 18, 2009)