Front and back
A new third force would have to confront old incoherences, new challenges.
Ahead of 2014, an older political animal is probably being put together again. It doesn't yet have a name, no clear constituent parts or a fixed address. But it doesn't take much reading between the lines of the political invites being sent out to parties to attend the "Convention against Communalism and For Unity of People", to be held in Delhi next week, to know that the possibility of another Third Front is in the air. There is the familiar talk of non-BJP and non-Congress forces. And while it must have been an especially galling job this time to choose the lesser evil between the Congress and the BJP — for all their talk of equidistance, erstwhile third forces have made that choice — in making anti-communalism its rallying cry, the force in-the-making has already signalled that should the Lok Sabha elections throw up no clear winner, Congress support would be more welcome than BJP's.
The fact is that one of the Big Two has always needed to be called in to prop up a Third Front's claim to power — the National Front government was supported from outside by the Left and the BJP, and the United Front governments were held up by the Congress. Its enduring numbers problem is only likely to be compounded this time by the absence of a party that could be its centrepiece, give it a centre of gravity to call its own. Then, there is the problem of finding a unifying idea for parties with disparate agendas. Here, earlier Third Fronts had it easier. In the late 1980s, anti-Congressism offered itself as a powerful unifying theme for parties that didn't share much else. After the BJP rode to prominence in the 1990s on the back of the Ayodhya movement, anti-BJPism edged out anti-Congressism and took its place. Now, in times when both anti-Congressism and anti-BJPism have arguably run their course, can the elevation of Narendra Modi to the head of the BJP provide enough reason, or pretext, to resurrect the secular-communal faultline?