Let Third Front be

Ideology or strategy, which comes first? This is not a trick question like the chicken and egg problem. More often than not, strategy has had the right of way over ideology in Indian politics. It is therefore not surprising that CPM general secretary Prakash Karat's third front thesis, though couched in terms of the road less travelled, actually treads the beaten path. His call at the 19th party Congress at Coimbatore that the third alternative should be based on an alternative platform of policies and could not be merely an electoral alliance, is a strategically loaded game plan rather than an ideological one.

The ideological substance of the plan revolves around three principles, which include consistent opposition to communalism, an agreement on a common minimum programme and a firm commitment to an independent foreign policy and 'pro-people' economic policies. It is calculatingly vague and open, leaving enough room to carry more passengers as they line up for 2009.

The third front option, as framed by the CPM, is an unambiguous indication that the party is preparing the ground for its way out of its current relationship with the Congress. Its current cohabitation with the UPA has again more to do with strategy than ideology. Statements issued after the 2004 elections indicate that the threat of the BJP and communal forces needed to be thwarted and hence the support for a 'secular' government. Secondly, when the Left supported the UPA in May 2004 they had made it certain in no unclear terms that while broadly endorsing the common minimum programme, they would not necessarily endorse its economic policies and would advocate alternative policies while continuing to support the government.

Given this background, today the UPA government cannot claim Left unpredictability and obstinacy for their problems. There was enough space to estimate actions and reactions in advance, be it on foreign policy or on economic issues. At the same time, the Left cannot claim the moral high ground that theirs was an ideological standpoint. The UPA-Left relationship was strategically moulded and if there is a logjam today, it represents the failure on the part of both sides to have developed a working relationship despite having begun well.

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