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Third Front? No, it is going to be NDA vs UPA

Various surveys have indicated that both the BJP and the Congress are down in the dumps and the third front or even the mystical fourth front coming up to dictate the national discourse. Most of them, especially a recent C-voter survey, are indicating the possibilities of a hung Parliament. Of course, it is too early to take a call, because neither of the two leading parties have disclosed the cards they hold close to their chest.

Mulayam Singh leading some prospective Third Front members

Mulayam Singh leading some prospective Third Front members

Parkala Observer: Shrikant N Shenoy

News analysts have now started dismissing as a distant possibility a direct fight between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. For reasons obvious, both camps — the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance one one hand and the Congress party-led United Political Alliance on the other — are shy of openly declaring as to who will lead their election 2014 campaign.

A NaMo vs RaGa campaign had excited the media to no end, especially since December 2012. Almost all news anchors, from the right, left and centre, seemed to want the coming elections as a direct fight between the two leaders, a la a US presidential fight.

However, both political sides have been reticent, and understandably so, to oblige the shouting brigade in the media.

Of course, it is not only the media, but also the coalition partners that have been expounding their thoughts, more so in the NDA.

But various surveys have indicated that both the BJP and the Congress are down in the dumps and the third front or even the mystical fourth front coming up to dictate the national discourse.

Most of them, especially a recent C-voter survey, are indicating the possibilities of a hung Parliament. Of course, it is too early to take a call, because neither of the two leading parties have disclosed the cards they hold close to their chest.

The basic issue faced by political pundits from various shades and hues is that they are not yet able to read the stars correctly. The coming monsoon also holds the key. The dark clouds that have been forecast for this year are clearly hiding the skies.

Bravado from either side cannot be an indication, and no one can read the horoscopes nor the minds of the parties which are part of the current coalitions.

Take for example, Mulayam Singh Yadav, the man who hunts with the hounds but runs with the hares. Even Mamatadidi did not know what hit her during the presidential election. Mulayam is the most unpredictable element now.

Others like Nara Chandrababu Naidu have not yet come to terms with remaining out of power for a long time. Events have overtaken him and his Telugu Desam party; they have lost it completely and he — the original reformer — cannot comprehend which side he should go to retain his lustre.

Some like Navin Patnaik and J Jayalalithaa are still keeping their preferences in their hearts, but Patnaik would prefer a third or front rather than joining a coalition led by either the Congress or the BJP.

Nitish Kumar is just a red herring. He faces the same fate which Chandrababu Naidu faced. Leave the NDA and get consigned to the margins or join the UPA and yet be consigned to the margins.

Naidu got infatuated with the Left and he has paid the price. He is now wondering how to get out of the muck which has been has been his own creation. There are indicators that he is now seriously considering getting back into the NDA fold. There is simply no other option for him. Jaganmohan Reddy and his YSR Congress Party and Naidu’s ambiguity over the contentious Telangana issue have made the latter a “no show”, at least in Andhra Pradesh, notwithstanding his attempts to reach out to the populace with his mass contact programme.

A lot has been said about other political combinations and permutations and this will continue for quite some time, may be even after the Lok Sabha elections results have been declared.

No political pundit true to his salt –from either side of the divide — will give a definitive conclusion.

But coming back to the NaMo vs RaGa episodes, which some have still stuck to religiously, let us now take a look at the current situation. Here, we take a look at the much-trumpeted online poll conducted by rediff.com.

Most probably India’s oldest news portal, rediff.com’s results of the online survey shows that a whopping 76 per cent picked up Narendra Modi as their choice for prime minister.

Over some seven days, 64,275 readers cast their votes (figures as on 11 am on Monday, April 15) and the results showed that RaGa was far, far behind with “a mere” 3,577 votes.

Manmohan Singh, destined to be known forever as the man who only kept the “seat” warm for RaGa, got only a few hundred votes behind his political master — or mistress’ — son.

Others followed, P Chidambaram, L K Advani, Nitish Kumar, in that order. The only reason we can comprehend Nitish being in that list of 11 — at two per cent — is because of the noises he has been making against that “iron man” from Gujarat.

We can safely ignore the others on that list.

But then polls are just polls, which we can take with a pinch of salt.

Loathe him as much as you can, but ignore him at your own peril. No one has electrified India as Modi has done. The Modi effect has been felt even deep down south, like in remote villages in Tamil Nadu.

There is one thing we might safely say: We, in the media, enjoy a jolly good controversy. And Mr Modi has always been controversial and will remain controversial, for ever. It helps our “TRPs”, you know!

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Mulayam seeing a mirage…

Now, this is the one singular defect Mulayam has. His image has taken a beating and he is considered untrustworthy. That’s once reason why the Left is not welcoming him with open arms. A confused Mulayam’s contradictory signals evoke no sympathy, only curiosity. For everyone knows, his strings are being controlled by the Congress party with the CBI as an effective tool.

Mulayam Singh Yadav: Hallucinating for PM

Mulayam Singh Yadav: Hallucinating for PM

With Mamata Banerjee first and now Mulayam Singh Yadav predicting a general elections in October 2013, months before the actual date in 2014, talks of a “Third Front” have been gathering pace.

With the United Political Alliance government, headed by the Congress party, gasping for breath after the DMK’s withdrawal of support, no one is sure when either of the two political rivals from Uttar Pradesh will pull the plug on the government.

Mulayam has, as always, been giving conflicting signals on his future moves. On the one hand he says that he is supporting the government from the outside to prevent “communal forces” from coming to power, but on the other hand, he praises Bharatiya Janata Party leader L K Advani, seen as a living symbol of the destruction of the disputed Babri Masjid.

In the same breath, Mulayam holds discussions with Sharad Pawar, the gentleman from Maharashtra who dislikes the Lady from Italy, but does not mind supporting her party.

But let’s see what shape the Third Front is likely to take shape.

What is the Third Front exactly? The Third Front — also once called the National Front and at another time the United Front — is supposed to be a rag-tag coalition of “non-Congress, non-BJP parties”, and have formed governments at the Centre headed by near non-entities like I K Gujral and that sleeping beauty from Karnataka, H D Deve Gowda.

Components of the Third Front have been mostly from the Janata Dal (Secular), the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Mulayam’s own Samajwadi Party, the DMK or the AIADMK and the Left Front.

Presently, a depleted Left Front is waiting and watching Mulayam’s moves, but CPM general secretary Prakash Karat says, “as far as the CPM is concerned, a political alternative can emerge only… around an alternative platform of policies.”

Now, let’s see how the so-called Third Front will fare, given the present situation. We start from the south.

In Tamil Nadu, both the Dravidian parties which have ruled at one time or the other, have been hand-in-glove with either the Congress or the BJP at some time or the other. These are opportunistic parties. The DMK is not yet sure whether it will go with the NDA or the UPA, but Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK at present is favourably disposed towards the NDA, even if Narendra Modi were to become the prime minister.

In Kerala, the NDA does not stand much chance since both the ruling Congress party and the opposition Left Front are antagonistic towards it.

In Karnataka, the coin has gone up for a toss, but it seems likely that it will be a heads-I-win situation for the Congress. For the Third Front, the likely party will be Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular), but the former prime minister party will be relegated to a poor third in the coming assembly elections in the state, according to psephologists. Former chief minister B S yeddyurappa’s Karnataka Janata Paksha could be a likely candidate. Yeddyurappa wants his party to become a strong regional power like the AIADMK and the DMK in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, but apart from causing some damage to the BJP, it is unlikely the KJP will make any political impact on its own. If reports are to be believed, Yeddy is also courting the Congress party out of sheer malice towards the BJP.

In Andhra Pradesh, the main probable candidate for the Third Front is N Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party. But TDP seems debilitated and Naidu seems to be veering towards the idea of returning to the NDA fold. Already, the TDP is testing the waters to this end.

Here, it might to be interesting to note that the TDP under its founder N T Rama Rao was the force behind the first Third Front formation. Naidu has realised that his attempts at joining hands with “secular forces” have not yielded him nay dividends. It may take a lot of coaxing and cajoling from Mulayam, but Naidu is keeping the cards close to his chest.

The separatist Telangana Rashtra Samithi and Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR Congress Party are lukewarm towards the Third Front. The Left Front does not have a mass base.

In Maharashtra, the only hope for the Third Front would be Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party and Mulayam is already working on the Maratha strongman. Pawar, however, is a rank opportunist, and for him only Power matters. So it is debatable if he will ever join a Third Front unless they get large number of seats collectively.

In Gujarat, it is zero for the Third Front. The same in Madhya Pradesh.

The Biju Janata Dal led by Naveen Patnaik in Odisha is a likely candidate for the Third Front. His late father Biju Patnaik was a Thrid Front. But Naveen is more practical and like Naidu will keep the cards close to his chest.

In bi-polar Punjab, again, the Third Front stands no chance since the Shiromani Akali Dal has made it clear time and again, that they stand like a rock behind the BJP-led NDA. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal went so far as to dimiss the so-called Third Front as just a “figment of imagination”.

In Haryana, Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal stand discredited and it seems unlikely it will recover from the blow it received from the leader’s conviction in the teachers’ scam.

Come Jammu and Kashmir, the National Conference has been to bed with both the NDA and the UPA. But body language now shows that it would continue with the UPA, for now.

Uttar Pradesh, the big state, has Mulayam’s bitter rival, ‘behen’ Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party as a strong player. With Mulayam as head of the Third Front, Mayawati would not touch the formation with a barge pole.

In Bihar, the Third Front will have some eager candidates. Laloo Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party. But with Nitish Kumar on a roll along with the BJP, these two parties seem to be down in the dumps and it would be difficult for them to contribute meaningfully with the number of MPs expected to be in single digits.

However, Nitish Kumar is the man who is being assiduously wooed by both the Congress party-led UPA and the Third Front. Reams of paper have gone to the raddiwallah with all sorts of predictions that his association with the NDA has reached its nadir. But Nitish is too smart a person whose views can be shaken by political pundits or that he could be bribed by “special status” sops.

The north-east does not have much to contribute to the Third Front at the moment.

I have kept West Bengal for the last. The Trinamool Congress led by the mercurial Mamata Banerjee is also not disclosing her cards. But one thing is sure: Mamata does not trust Mulayam Singh Yadav. As they say, one bitten, twice shy…

Now, this is the one singular defect Mulayam has. His image has taken a beating and he is considered untrustworthy. That’s once reason why the Left is not welcoming him with open arms.

A confused Mulayam’s contradictory signals evoke no sympathy, only curiosity. For everyone knows, his strings are being controlled by the Congress party with the CBI as an effective tool.

No one is as yet sure if Mulayam will grab the carpet from under the feet of the UPA, if at all.

Mulayam opensly harbous prime ministerial ambitions. For him, it is now or never. But he faces a strong opposition from another person with similar strong ambitions, Sharad Pawar, who could be a better candidate from among the two evils.

But in the current political scenario, Mulayam’s dreams will remain just that. Dreams. So will the Third Front take off? It seems highly unlikely. It would continue to remain a distant mirage.

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