Enter the Hyderabad Front

Australia may have won the World Cup, but in four years time, the Cup will be at stake again. It is two years to the next general election and there are prizes to be won. The analogy of a game is often useful to make sense of politics. The differences notwithstanding, there are similarities. In a game, the outcome of the quest for the prize is undecided and is not in the hands of the competitors. But the prize won at the end of a round, is always brought back at the beginning of the next round. The 'third front' formation indicates that the great Indian political game is well and truly on.

The periodic emergence and disappearance of the third front in Indian political history is paradoxically illustrative of both the vigour and limits of party competition. Party systems are not static but are dynamic and alert to the changes in the environment in which they operate. Parties respond to challenges by redefining their objectives and positions.

India has seen coalitions rule continually at the Centre for a decade now. The craft of coalition evolved from third front politics. The third front started as an anti-Congress anti-Communist alternative and became a non-Congress non-BJP grouping. From the Praja Socialist Party and Janata Party through the National Front and United Front to the People's Front and now the Hyderabad Front, third front politics has travelled a distance.

Despite its redeeming role of presenting an alternative, it is also true that a third front has not sustained. The fall of the third front has often led to the resurrection of the actors whom they had conquered. The Congress benefited from the fall of the early avatars just as the BJP has taken advantage of the collapse of later groupings.

How do we make sense of third front formations? Popular accounts have revolved around the personal predilections of leaders and ended up as moral discourses. Yet to come to terms with a competitive multi-party system, these explanations stuck in a time warp of single-party governments believe an opposition has to wait its turn. Like a game, in a competitive multi-party situation, politics is about creating spaces, evolving strategies and making use of opportunities. Just as the BJP moved from isolation to association and the Congress moved from Panchmarhi to Simla, the CPM moved from equi-distance from the bourgeois parties in the 15th congress to issue-based tactical support to the Congress party in the 16th congress. Parties evolve.

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