Karnataka Verdict and the emergence of Third Front

Published : May 30, 2018 01:59 pm | By: M D Sridharan

The recent upsurge over the formation of a”Third Front” assumes greater significance after the Karnataka assembly elections. If the Karnataka elections results are any indication, it is sure to work in the BJP’s favour in 2019.

The BJP, though missed out the opportunity to rule the state of Karnataka by a whisker, has registered remarkable show by increasing their seats from a mere 40 to 104.  As many as 16 ministers including the incumbent Chief Minister and Speaker have lost the elections. Siddaramaiah having contested in two places lost one and managed to scrape through with a slender margin of less than 2000 votes. While BJP and congress contested in all the 224 seats and won 104 and 78 respectively, the JD(S) contested in 218 seats and won in only 38 seats. Out of 180 it lost, JD(S) lost deposits in147 seats which clearly state that the people of Karnataka have summarily rejected the party.  The mandate of the people indicates a clear rejection of both Congress and JD(S).  But, Congress went all out and extended an unholy warmth to JD(S) and entered in to an opportunistic post-poll alliance, only to thwart the attempts of BJP, which has emerged as the single largest party, to come back to power.

Karnataka election result is a defeat for the divisive politics which Congress surreptitiously employed without success. Though, Congress has been unseated from power by the people’s mandate in a most decisive manner, unethically Congress decided to cling on to power by entering in to a post-poll alliance with JD(S). A close look at the outcome of the lection reveal that despite the entire might of the Congress with its all powerful and “promising” president  the Rahul Gandhi and the incumbent Chief Minister Siddaramaiah who exhibited his arrogance at every stage of the campaign and sounded victorious,  could not save the party from the humiliating defeat. In the end it turned out to be a political defeat for the incumbent Congress regime and moral win for the BJP.

Also on the other hand, the results of the Karnataka elections clearly expose Congress and the capabilities of its new president. The Karnataka election is the first for Rahul Gandhi as Congress president. Now, though Congress claims victory after the unethical post-poll alliance, the fact remains the elections were fought not as a battle between Rahul Gandhi and Modi but Siddarmaiah Vs Yeddyurappa.

The fact that Congress has been relegated to the distant second calls for an absolute introspection on the party leadership. Also on the other hand, the results of the Karnataka elections clearly expose Congress and the capabilities of its new president. Remember, the Karnataka election is the first for the Rahul Gandhi as Congress president. Though Congress claims victory after the unethical and tactical post-poll alliance, the fact remains the elections were not fought not as a battle between Rahul Gandhi and Modi but Siddarmaiah Vs Yeddyurappa. Unlike Captain Amrinder Singh of Punjab, people have rejected Siddramaiah.

The result clearly states that Rahul Gandhi is simply unable to evolve into a credible leader and who fail to win elections for the party. Since, 2015 Rahul Gandhi has lost 19 elections for Congress. Indeed, an enviable record indeed for a “mass” leader. The results have further dented the overall image of the Congress and the party is now weaker than before to lay claim to lead the opposition to take on the BJP in the next Lok Sabha election. While Rahul Gandhi positions himself as a Prime Ministerial candidate in 2019, he lacks the conviction and the strong vision to take on Modi. It raises the pitch from many leaders of the regional parties who demand that Rahul Gandhi play a second fiddle to other regional satraps in the 2019 general elections to take on Modi.

For the BJP, it will proceed with greater vigour. Hailing BJP’s stupendous show, Modi  said, “They say BJP is a party of Hindi-speaking states. Are Goa, Gujarat, Maharashtra and states in the Northeast Hindi-speaking states? No, BJP represents India,” said an ecstatic Modi, while celebrating the Karnataka win and sharing the honours with party chief Amit Shah.   

Surely, the verdict enabled BJP to   create an imprint in the South.  The BJP’s show in Karnataka is an ominous sign for the Congress ahead of the Assembly polls in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh later this year. At a time when the grand old party is shrinking and the “Lotus” is blooming across the nation, can the coalition of the regional forces in the formation of a “Third Front’ be a formidable force to take on the BJP? With Congress virtually collapsing, the BJP will more forcefully distance the Congress from its scheme of things and move ahead to reinstate its position.

Third Front: an Uneasy alliance in the Making

Many prominent anti BJP leaders see the Congress-JD(S) combine as a perfect prelude to the unity of the opposition  to take on the BJP in 2019 general elections. Leading the battle aggressively is Trinamool chief Mamata Bannerjee, pulling all her weight for the formation of third front by roping in several regional satraps. The TRS’ K Chandrasekar Rao is going all out by meeting and speaking with various regional leaders including DMK’s M K Stalin. With TDP’s Chandrbabu Naidu, erstwhile trusted partner of BJP parting ways and the likes of BSP’s Mayawati and SP’s Akilesh Yadav voicing their dissent against BJP, and others like BJD’s Biju Patnaik and JD(U)’s Nitish still on a dilemma whether to support or not the third front,   the heat is already on though there is a still a year to go to for the NDA government under Modi.

Though the idea of forming a third front is on the cards for a while, it remains to be seen as how formidable it will turn out to be to pose a real challenge to BJP.  On the whole forming a front of mainly comprising of regional parties will have some inherent issues as it will dilute the focus at the national level as each one will tend to prioritise more on their region. The conflict of interests will bound to emerge and the dissenting voices will snowball in to massive issue over a period of time.

Moreover, the fact remains that most of these regional parties have been part of the alliance either with the BJP or with the Congress and have enjoyed power and positions.  Always the question arise that to what extent they will oppose them and also how will they take the issue to the people and convince them of their stand to oppose them. Will not the people question their loyalty and consistency?

Further, the regional parties and even the smaller parties that have a significant pie in the vote share put together cannot account for even half of the seats in the Lok Sabha. History has shown the fate of such coalition rules in the past like the United Front.  Even during United Front regime, Congress extended the support from outside. Now, the story is different. There is an attempt to form a third front sans BJP and Congress.  So, with each regional party having their own priorities, it will not be an easy task to ignore the contradictions and bind them as a formidable force to take on the two national parties.

A closer look will reveal all these regional parties face acute regional issues with potent enough to galvanise and threaten to disrupt the national fabric. For examples, both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are at loggerheads for decades in sharing the Cauvery water. Karnataka also fights with Goa on the Mahadayi water dispute. For the left party which at present is in power only in Kerala, the Mullaiperiyar Dam has remained the point of contention with the neighbouring Tamil Nadu. Can the CPM which was in power for several decades join hands with Mamata’s TMC? The Biju Janata Dal that rules Odisha and the TDP disagree on the Polavaram project. After the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, both Chandrababu Naidu and Chandersekar Rao are fighting over the regional supremacy and are many simmering issues that confront the two Telugu states.

For example,  in the Cauvery water dispute, while DMK is aggressively protesting against the centre’s delaying tactics in forming the Cauvery Water management Board and severely criticising the Modi government and accusing the  ruling AIADMK as their “B” team. But, in the past couple of months DMK has not questioned the Congress, which is ruling Karnataka and continue to defy even Supreme Court’s order.  Even Congress president Rahul Gandhi openly asked people not vote for BJP because if BJP wins they will release Cauvery water for Tamil Nadu. But back in Tamil Nadu Congress is fully supporting DMK’s protest clearly exposing the double standard of both DMK and Congress. The DMK is still part of the Congress-led UPA. Still, both BSP and SP are not very critical of Congress as they do with BJP. 

With most issues remain as an eternal tinderbox, it acts as a fodder to the fringe groups to rake up the issues and accelerate the emotions of the people by indulging in all sort of protests. Can the regional parties bury their differences and inter-regional disputes and act as a potent force to take on the might of the BJP? It will be a herculean task for the regional parties to put aside all emotive issues and reconcile such interstate disputes and differences and fight a common enemy.  It will not only prove to be a marriage of convenience but also prove to be detrimental to their future as well to their party.

 While Congress claims that only they can topple BJP at the centre and all anti-BJP forces should unite under Congress to take on the common enemy under Rahul Gandhi. But, in reality not many leaders are amused by Congress’ claims and are reluctant to accept Rahul Gandhi’s leadership that too after Karnataka verdict. Despite no consensus among the leaders in the formation of a third front, the fact remains that many leaders nurture a desire to lead the pack and project themselves as a key player at the national level.  Also, on the other side BJP will also continue to woo their alliance partners and the political scenario looks blurred at the moment for the formation of Third front.

Indeed, there are too many prime ministerial aspirants within the proposed third front. With the likes of Mamata Bannerjee , Mulayam Singh Yadav, Deve Gowda, Chandrababu Naidu and Chanderasekar Rao, each one of them projects themselves as a competent and qualified leader for the top political post. 

Many regional parties have also not come out openly with their strategies as some of them are sceptic about the whole idea of third front and keep their fingers crossed. The latest to jump in to the bandwagon of anti-BJP is the veteran leader and former Union Finance Minister, Yashwant Sinha, who recently quit BJP. Yashwant Sinha visited DMK working president MK Stalin in Chennai along with BJP dissident and former Union Minister Shatrughan Sinha.

On the formation of third front KCR stated that it is not just stitching together a few political parties with a view to coming to power,  but an attempt to bring about a radical change in the lives of people through alternative policies and programmes. But, none of these regional parties displayed any radical shift in their policies when in power in their respective states. Yashwant Sinha also made it clear that they should form an alliance with everybody who is willing to join an alliance against the BJP that includes even Congress. It will be a futile attempt to bring in any radical change in the social and economic policies when multiple forces with divergent convictions join hands.

Look at what the leaders who are propagating the idea of third front have said:  KCR said that he did not rule out the possibility of joining hands with the grand old party and categorically stated that neither do we say we will associate with Congress, nor that we will desert it, Stalin said that the main aim was to remove BJP from power. Launching a scathing attack on BJP, Yashwant Sinha said theat he is ready to join hands with Congress to take on the BJP. There is absolutely no consensus even before the formation of third front.

Also it is interesting to note that some regional satraps are of the view that in order to defeat BJP, one has to join hands with Congress and collectively fight rather than forming a third front.  Some leaders strongly feel that formation of a third party sans Congress will only benefit BJP.   It is clear that the regional parties are more concerned about their benefit than the national interest.

Mamata Bannerjee has called for all the regional parties to come together to defeat the BJP in 2019 and geared up to stitch an uneasy alliance to take on Modi.

History has shown that by and large the regional parties have been formed for a specific purpose to fight against an issue or social evil prevalent in that particular region. Besides, every state has been witnessing the birth of newer political parties which will make the elections more fragmented. Most elections have been fought between these regional parties only.  In a state-specific political atmosphere, a contest between a national party and a regional party does not always raise. 

Under such political atmosphere prevailing in the country, encompassing a regional federation of political parties is of Himalayan proposition. A greater question that remains in everyone’s mind is that even if they succeed in forming a third front, how can people vote for a bundle of opportunistic alliances and how can they provide any credible alternative to the national parties? Under such scenario, it remains to be seen as how people will vote for a bundle of opportunistic alliance and how the group of self proclaimed custodians of secularism will stay united and provide any credible alternative to BJP.

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