Left and regional parties in India have formally launched a “Third Front” offering an alternative to the ruling Congress and the opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, in elections scheduled for April and May. As more parties are likely to join the front in the coming days, it might play a decisive role if the elections result in no clear winner.
Prime ministerial hopeful: Mayawati, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh
Leaders from ten political parties with strongholds in six Indian states have launched their new election alliance with a great fanfare with a rally in Tumkur, Karnataka. The Third Front is seeking to repeat the performance of the United Front, which ran the government from 1996 to 1998, after neither of the two main parties could cobble together enough parliamentary seats for a majority.
Danish Ali, the spokesperson of the Janata Dal-Secular, whose party was instrumental in stitching this grand alliance says the grouping is important:
"It has its own significance because the people of India want the third alternative, an alternative to both the national parties, the BJP and Congress. Because they have seen 6 years of the BJP-led NDA and 5 years of Congress-led UPA. People are disgusted and frustrated, particularly the farming community."
Regional parties' clout
The influence of smaller regional parties has grown consistently in the last two elections and even national political parties realize that coalition governments have become the norm.
Chandrababu Naidu, a former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh and a key constituent of the Third Front, says both the national parties have failed. He criticizes the BJP for its divisive Hindu-nationalist agenda, but also the Congress.
"Even if you see Congress, it is totally corrupt. As of today there are so many scandals. They have done nothing for the last five years. The economic agenda is very important today."
Hung parliament possible
In July last year, a similar alternative alliance was formed after the Communist parties pulled out of the ruling coalition in protest against India's nuclear deal with the US. At that time, Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party and the chief minister of the most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, was chosen as the leader. As a prime ministerial hopeful, she will certainly play a key role should the elections result in a hung parliament.
Political analyst G.V.L. Narasimha Rao says the formation of a third front could create political uncertainty if no alliance manages a majority.
"Now we are looking at three major formations which will be jostling for power. And for any two of them to come together is likely to be a very, very difficult task. Unlike in 2004, when it was the BJP-led NDA versus the rest, today you have the left parties leading the third coalition, and this could really create problems for the formation of a government. A fractured mandate could lead to political uncertainty after the general elections."
With southern parties like the AIADMK and TDP on the comeback trail in their states, the Third Front is quite likely to grab a formidable number of seats. The question is whether these parties will stay together after the elections.
Elections for 543 parliamentary constituencies in the world’s biggest democracy will be held in five phases from April 16 to May 13. Counting of votes will take place in all constituencies on May 16.