WITH the election campaign for the first phase coming to an end, it has become clear that the 15th Lok Sabha election is a three-way contest. Contrary to what the Congress and the BJP hoped would be a contest between the two parties and their respective allies, the coming together of the non-Congress, non-BJP parties are challenging both the Congress and the BJP in a number of states. This is behind the increasing attacks on the third front by the Congress and the BJP leadership.
The Congress President Mrs. Sonia Gandhi has been attacking the third front in her speeches during the election campaign. She has said that forming such fronts just before elections is not good for the country. Such a front has no policy or programme and would push the country to disaster. L. K. Advani while releasing the BJP manifesto called the third front a “farcical illusion”.
Thus both the Congress and the BJP are desperately trying to discredit the coming together of the non-Congress, non-BJP parties. The fact that the Left and six regional parties have entered into an electoral understanding in various states and posing a serious challenge to both the Congress and the BJP is the underlying cause for the stepped up attacks on the third front. If such a front is only an illusion or just a motley bunch of parties without a programme, why are the two parties so worried?
The answer to that must be found in the new dynamic of the election scene. In the 2004 parliamentary elections, the Congress polled 26.53 per cent of the vote and the BJP 22.16 per cent. Together, this constitutes 48.67 per cent, i.e., less than fifty per cent of the vote. If the two parties fail to rally a substantial number of the non-Congress, non-BJP parties to their side, their prospects are bleak.
The Congress party has now no electoral alliance with most of the UPA partners. It has only an understanding with the DMK in Tamilnadu and a partial adjustment with the JMM in Jharkhand. As far as the NCP is concerned, the Congress is allied to it only in Maharashtra and Goa. The NCP is fighting the Congress in other states. The most trusted ally of the Congress, Laloo Prasad Yadav, has joined hands with Ram Vilas Paswan in Bihar and is fighting all the seats, including the three sitting seats of the Congress. In Uttar Pradesh, another ally, the Samajwadi Party, is fighting the Congress in all the seats except those of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.
As for the BJP-led NDA, it has not recovered from the blow it got when the BJD parted ways with it in Orissa. In contrast, the non-Congress, non-BJP combination has emerged with the Left parties having electoral alliances with the regional parties like the TDP and TRS in Andhra Pradesh, the AIADMK and PMK in Tamilnadu, Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka and the BJD in Orissa.
Unlike the UPA which has fallen apart, there is already a pre-election alliance. This pre-election alliance will take a full-fledged shape after the Lok Sabha elections. But there is no doubt that the alliance of the third front parties is a reality.
The Congress and the BJP have both released their election manifestos. They are accusing each other of “copying” their manifestoes. It is irrelevant for the people who has copied whom. But what should be noted is that they are admitting that their manifestos are similar – the same promises and the same policies.
This stands out clearly when the BJP has withdrawn its opposition to the Indo-US nuclear deal. The BJP had been demanding that the nuclear deal be re-negotiated. This was the stand that they took during the trust vote in Parliament in July 2008. However, in the election manifesto, the BJP has dropped this demand. Jaswant Singh, the former External Affairs Minister, has gone on record to say that governments cannot cancel international agreements arrived at. This underlines the fact that both the Congress and the BJP are one when it comes to pursuing a pro-American foreign policy.
This common approach extends to other basic policies. For instance, it is striking that neither the Congress nor the BJP election manifesto has even a reference to the implementation of land reforms. This must be the first time that the Congress has dropped land reforms in a Parliament election manifesto. It shows the grip of neo-liberal policies that the two major bourgeois parties in the country do not consider it worthwhile even to make a mention of land reforms.
Both parties are not for the re-introduction of the universal public distribution system. Both want the continuance of the targetted system which has excluded the bulk of the people in the name of BPL category.
Both parties are against the principle of federalism. That is why their manifestos are silent about the need for restructuring Centre-state relations.
It is these common policies that makes both the Congress and the BJP hostile to any effort to pose an alternative policy platform. This explains the virulent reaction to the emergence of a third front.
The Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have attacked the CPI(M) and the Left in various speeches. One of their main charges is that the third front is dividing the secular vote and helping the BJP. This is patently false. In the first phase of elections, some of the states like Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Kerala are going to the polls on April 16. In these three states, the main fight is between the Congress and the parties belonging to the third front. The BJP has been effectively nullified in these states as they do not have any worthwhile ally. This has come about because of the alliance of the non-Congress, non-BJP parties. It is not the Congress party which can defeat the BJP in Orissa but the alliance of secular parties led by the BJD. So the charge that the third front is helping the BJP is baseless.
Dr. Manmohan Singh, in his campaign in Kerala, has dredged up the usual anti-Communist propaganda about the role of the communists in 1942. Coming from a person who showered praise on British rule in India as marked by “good governance”, this is a bit rich. Dr. Manmohan Singh had made a speech in Oxford University in July 2005 where he spelt out the beneficial consequences of British colonial rule in India. It is significant that this speech came a few days before his visit to Washington where in a joint statement with President George Bush, a global partnership for spreading democracy was declared. Probably, the American experiment in spreading democracy to Iraq inspired the Prime Minister. Dr. Manmohan Singh knows very well that Communist leaders made great sacrifices and spent many years in jail fighting British rule. Being on the “right side of history”, that is the United States, seems to have clouded his judgement.
The BJP Prime Ministerial candidate seems incapable of distinguishing between illusion and reality as far as the third front is concerned. Having seen his thesis of a bipolar polity going up in smoke, the BJP leader keeps harping on the point that no government can be formed without the Congress or the BJP. Behind this constant assertion is the tacit admission that neither the BJP nor the Congress may play a decisive role in the formation of a government. Having failed to convert the parliamentary election into a presidential style referendum, the BJP leader has taken the unusual and disturbing step of writing to one thousand religious figures. Advani has assured the religious leaders that they would be consulted in policy making. He has stated in the letter that, as Prime Minister he would seek on a regular basis the guidance of spiritual leaders “on major challenges and issues facing the nation” and for this “we shall evolve a suitable consultative mechanism”. The letter has been sent to various sadhus and religious figures associated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. It has also been sent to a sprinkling of pro-BJP leaders of other religions. This letter reveals the true outlook of L. K. Advani and the BJP. Here is a brazen invitation to religious leaders to interfere in matters of State and politics. It fully conforms to the goal of Hindu Rashtra.
The Congress party is also not above using religious leaders to meddle in political affairs and the elections. If in West Bengal some imams have been mobilised to appeal to the people to reject the CPI(M) and the Left Front, in Kerala, the UDF is blatantly using sections of the church to appeal to believers to vote against the atheists. Such perverse use of religious appeal will only help the BJP and the majority communalists, who seek legitimacy by pointing to the interference of minority religious leaders in the sphere of politics.
Another disturbing feature is the massive amounts of money being ploughed into the elections by the Congress and the BJP. It has been reported that Rs. 10.6 crores have been seized from a single constituency – Bellary in Karnataka. Both parties have brazenly given tickets to persons who have no other qualification but the fact that they have unlimited money power.
In the face of all such brazen and corrupt practices, the CPI(M) has put in its full strength and effort to bring the real issues before the people : the problem of growing loss of jobs, the distress caused by the agrarian crisis, the relentless price rise and the rampant corruption which deprives the people of the benefits of public expenditure. The Party has put forward the alternative economic policies required to tackle the situation. The threat posed by the communal forces and the resultant growth of terrorism has to be fought through uniting the people of all communities. The struggle to protect national sovereignty and the need for an independent foreign policy is being highlighted only by the CPI(M) and the Left.
It is this alternative policy platform which is finding growing support among the people.