IS FEDERAL FRONT A NON-STARTER
TRS President and Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao has tried to give a new ideological push to the idea of a third front or federal front, in its latest avatar, by saying that it would bring about qualitative change in governance. Blaming the BJP and Congress led coalitions for what he called cheating and looting the country and its people, he has held the two national parties responsible for what he called taking the country backwards. At his address to TRS partymen, he debunked what he called the Congress and BJP tall claims of progress and economic growth in the last seven decades after Independence. He pointed out that countries like China, which were lagging behind India five decades ago, have now raced ahead in terms of infrastructural development, GDP growth and per capita income.
Regional parties have come together in the past also to make a bid for power at the Centre and have sometimes succeeded also in occupying the positions of power at the Centre. But most of the times, they have tasted power not on their own but with the active or passive support of one of the two national parties, the Congress and the BJP.
Chandrasekhar Rao and Trinamool Congress Chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee are the prime movers of the project to set up a federal front this time. But there is a slight difference in the perceptions of the two leaders on the shape the federal front should take. While the TRS President, weighing in for local compulsions, wants to keep the Congress away from the front, Mamata Banerjee would not mind the Congress being a part of the federal front as a constituent. But she also says that the Congress cannot expect to get the leadership position in the front, it can only be one of the parties in the grouping.
If one looks at various states, there are mainly two groups. One are the states where the BJP and the Congress are the main rivals, with regional parties virtually not of any consequence. The other major group constitutes the states where a regional party is the dominant party or at least has a major stake in the power equations.
In the first group are states like Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat where the main fight in between the Congress and the BJP. Regional parties are not of much relevance in these states.
In the second group are states, where regional parties are either dominant or have a major share in the power stakes. These include Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamilnadu and Goa.
Jammu & Kashmir has two major regional parties, the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party. These parties have been in power in the state either on their own or in coalition with either the Congress or the BJP. At present, the People’s Democratic Party is in power in the state in coalition with the BJP. Depending upon how things pan out, either the PDP or the National Conference may try to ally with the federal front, but there would not be much scope of their coming to power without the support of either the BJP or the Congress.
Punjab has a strong Shiromani Akali Dal, which has been in power in the past with the support of the BJP. As the Akali Dal and BJP have their power base in difference areas, the rural areas and the cities respectively, the alliance is likely to continue. The Akali Dal may not in the prevailing circumstances ally with the federal front.
Uttar Pradesh has two influential regional parties, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. Both these parties have pockets of influence in other states also but the area of their dominance is Uttar Pradesh, where they have been in power for the last quarter century turn by turn before the BJP came to power last year. Both these parties may be prime candidates for membership of the federal front. As the Lok Sabha by-elections in Uttar Pradesh recently have shown, the two parties working together would be able to give a tough fight to the BJP, which is in power in the state at present. But as Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav has said, the party would like to keep up its alliance arrangement with the Congress in the near future.
Bihar has two major regional parties, Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar headed Janata Dal (United). The JDU is in power in the state in coalition with the BJP, though in the last assembly elections, the party had fought the polls in alliance with the RJD and the Congress.
Trinamool Congress is in power in West Bengal with a massive majority and is in no mood to share power with other parties. In any case, the Congress has presence only in selected pockets in the state. The BJP is trying to make its presence felt and pose a challenge to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress but it will be sometime before it makes any headway. Mamata Banerjee is the potential leader of the federal front, as and when it comes into being.
Maharashtra has two major parties which are a force to reckon with apart from the BJP and the Congress. The Shiv Sena is sharing power with the BJP in the state but has an uneasy relationship with its national ally. The Nationalist Congress party, which is an all India party, was ruling the state earlier in coalition with the Congress. The party has said that it wants to revive the ties with the Congress for the forthcoming elections to the Lok Sabha next year. Even if for name sake, the NCP becomes a part of the federal front, the party is likely to continue its arrangement with the Congress in Maharashtra.
Former Prime Minister H. D. Devegowda’s Janata Dal Secular is a sizeable force in Karnataka where it has been in power with the support of other parties in the past. In the assembly elections this month, it is fighting the polls in alliance with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party. But the Congress and the BJP continue to be the major rivals for power in the state.
Tamilnadu has two major regional parties, the All India Anna DMK and the DMK, apart from a number of smaller regional parties. All India Anna DMK and the DMK have been ruling the State alternately either on their own or in alliance with the Congress. The BJP has a minor presence in the state and can win a couple of seats on the courtesy of the support of either of the two major regional parties. The DMK has been, for a long time, in alliance with the Congress but has been opting for other opportunities, wherever convenient.
Andhra Pradesh has a strong regional party, the Telugu Desam which was till recently in alliance with the BJP. But the party broke away from the BJP on the issue of special category status for the residual state of Andhra Pradesh, after its separation from Telangana.
Odisha is ruled by the Biju Janata Dal which has kept itself aloof from both the Congress and the BJP. There is very little likelihood of the party supporting any of the two national parties. Biju Janata Dal may join the federal front but what impact it will have on the rest of country is uncertain.
Deep south, Kerala has had alternately Congress led and Left front led coalitions in power. The state is ruled by the CPI(M) led Left front at present. The two front politics in Kerala is likely to continue though the BJP and its parent organisation, the RSS have been trying to make their presence felt.
Even if the major regional outfits in different states come together to form the federal front, the chances of their making it to power at the Centre on their own look remote. Mamata Banerjee has said that her objective is to put up one candidate in each constituency against the BJP in the coming elections. This looks difficult unless the Congress, which is a major force still in several states, joins the front. But will the Congress give up its Prime Ministerial ambitions and agree to just be a constituent of the front and not its leader. While nothing can be ruled out in politics, the chances of its happening appear remote. But ultimately, politics is the game of uncertainties and anything can happen. The recent coming together of the Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party in the recently held Lok Sabha by-elections is a case in point.