In Search of A Third Front

[Editorial in Liberation, July 1995.]

Countdown for 1996 parliamentary elections has begun. In the fast-moving political developments, men and events seem to be repeating themselves. The dialectic of the situation, however, makes them look farcical and even comical.

In line with the currently fashionable plank of social justice we have already had several backward chief ministers and deputy chief ministers, and a dalit vice-president too. Finally the miracle has happened and we are gifted with a dalit, and that too a woman, chief minister in the most populous of the Indian states — Uttar Pradesh. Ms.Mayawati is equally blessed by Vajpayee, Rao and Tiwari — the trio of the Brahmin lobby – and, this in itself is no less than a miracle. Mr.Kanshi Ram has got all his mathematics wrong. Enemy No.1 + Enemy No.2 + Enemy No.3 + Enemy No.4 is less dangerous than Friend No.1.

Mr.VP Singh, the Mandal messiah, is caught on the horns of a dilemma. If, on the other day, leaving ideological and political considerations apart, KR Narayanan’s ascendance to vice-presidentship was hailed as the victory of his social justice plank, and if Mr.VP Singh was thrilled at the prospect of having a dalit president in 1996, i.e., the year of Mr.Narayanan’s elevation to presidentship, there is no way he can denounce Mayawati’s accession to power. More so, he had been flirting with Kanshi Ram all these months.

The entire liberal framework, which visualised the unilinear development of dalit-backward alliance and was elated at developing a natural and effective antidote to communalism, has fallen apart.

And this precisely has given to the BJP a leverage in the coming battle. Its successive victories in Maharashtra and Gujarat and a generally improved performance in other states had already provided it the necessary morale-booster, and now, with the UP development it has clearly wrested the initiative.

It has already concealed its overtly communal, single-point agenda behind the facade of ‘Swadeshi’ and whereas the Left Front government is busy wooing multinationals and America, its government in Maharashtra is being credited with reviewing the Enron deal. Overcoming initial setbacks after the Babri Masjid demolition, the BJP has resumed its course exactly from where it had left off in 1990. Congress(I) too cannot be written off off-hand. Arjun-Tiwari group doesn’t seem to have taken off. Rao Congress is slowly but steadily bolstering its organisation and getting prepared to face the electorate on the plank of new economic and industrial policies — on which Narsimha Rao claims a national consensus (and indeed the edge of opposition to NEP has been considerably blunted due to the mad scramble among opposition-ruled states to implement them) — and a host of welfare measures on account of being in the government. Moreover, the threat of BJP assuming power is in itself a gain for Congress(I), for a large range of liberal opinion, including those from considerable sections of the Left, get horrified at the thought of Congress(I)’s disintegration — particularly in the absence of a viable alternative — and line up behind Congress in their bid of what they call "thwarting of the communal takeover".

It is in this dominant scenario of the threat of communal takeover versus retention of the old horse that talks of a third front have again occupied a prime place in the contemporary political agenda.

Going by historical references, one finds that in 1977 a grand anti-Congress unity had emerged in the course of opposition to Emergency and it did replace the Congress. Whereas the present-day BJP was an integral part of this alliance, major left parties were either hostile to it or maintained a friendly distance. In 1989 again a broad unity was forged in the course of movement against Bofors. The Left, this time, was much closer to NF whereas BJP emerged as an independent entity. Both the experiments collapsed under their own weight.

This time there is no movement worth the name, no point of convergence either. We have already discussed the double-edged nature of the ‘social justice’ or Mandal plank. The search for a third front in this context has begun with all sorts of confusing and opportunistic notes. If the CPI(M) Congress initiated the discussion from a ‘more dangerous-less dangerous’ premise, implying a sort of understanding with Congress against the BJP, Ramkrishna Hegde from within the Janata Dal has gone too far, suggesting that a coalition government of secular forces under Narsimha Rao’s leadership be forged to take on the danger of communal takeover. Knowing well that his proposal had no chance of winning acceptance either from Congress(I) or Janata Dal at this juncture, Mr.Hegde might have mooted the agenda, keeping in mind the post-election scenario. The JD president Mr.Bommai, by according "due respect to democratic dissent" within the party, has only kept the option open.

Here it must be kept in mind that the renowned socialist ideologue Mr.Madhu Limaye, prior to his death, did express his concern over Congress’ demise and advocated a changed approach towards Congress(I). One doesn’t know what a section of socialists under the spell of Madhu Limaye’s advice are contemplating.

Then Biju Patnaik lashed out at VP Singh branding him a stooge of Indira Gandhi, who was later kicked out by her son Rajiv Gandhi. Biju lamented that VP Singh’s casteist politics had destroyed JD and it was wrong on the part of JD to prop up VP Singh. Chandra Shekhar would have been a better choice, he opined. Though he had to retract from his statement under stiff pressure from VP cohorts, he has conveyed across his opinion hinting at the re-entry of Chandra Shekhar and Mulayam Singh at the cost of cutting down VP Singh’s image to size. The same reasoning advocates bringing DMK, MDMK and AIADMK, to the National Front and forging a winning electoral combination.

The economic policy resolution at the Bangalore camp of JD virtually endorsed the NEP and ridiculed the demand of "right to employment". Various other resolutions are merely ritualistic. Too many claimants of prime ministership busy invoking the plank of social justice to buttress their claims, reminds one of the proverb "too many cooks".

Thus no specific issue is clinched, no call for movement is given, no radical programme is advanced. Empty rhetoric, contradictory perceptions, opportunistic alliances and factional infighting are all that the only centrist party with a national standing has to offer!

The revolutionary Left, obviously, cannot be a party to these exercises. Left and democratic ranks everywhere are disillusioned and it is our foremost duty to first organise a national campaign against the threat to national sovereignty in the guise of globalisation, and against the danger of communal takeover. We shall specifically concentrate on the issues of increasing atrocities on dalits and other sections of the rural poor, increasing plight of workers and the right to employment.


Search of a third front at this juncture demands setting up an agenda for broader discussion. The Left in general, and the revolutionary Left in particular, keeping themselves away from the game of numbers and electoral combinations, should intervene with their programme of action and play a major role in setting up the agenda. Political alignments will only follow later.