Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar’s meeting with poll strategist Prashant Kishor Monday, and with opposition parties Tuesday have once again fuelled talks of an anti-BJP ‘third front’ alliance for the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
But any idea or vision of a potential third front is a non-starter, flawed in its very conceptualisation. The opposition in India needs a powerful leader to effectively take on and defeat Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party, not some outdated concept of a third or alternate front fuelled by an idea or ideology. A joint show of hands without a face isn’t going anywhere in a hurry.
The third front is a poor framework for several reasons. One, all it has is an ambiguous anti-Modi emotion at its core; two, it forgets the fact that keeping the Congress out — the only other truly pan-India party — is unpragmatic; and three, it takes away from the voter what she has now got used to — stability.
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Third front, a non-starter
The biggest flaw with the idea of a third front is that it is based on pure anti-Modi-ism, with no vision or consensus towards who can lead the front and can be projected as a pan-India face against the PM.
Look at the recent major examples of what can be perceived as Modi’s defeats — the 2020 Delhi assembly election and the 2021 West Bengal election. In both, it took formidable mass leaders and popular faces — Arvind Kejriwal and Mamata Banerjee — to beat the Modi-Amit Shah winning machine.
While Arvind Kejriwal, with his unique brand of politics, ensured Delhi remained with him, Mamata Banerjee made sure her ground-connect and carefully groomed mass base helped her halt the BJP’s unfiltered ambitions in West Bengal.
Contrast this with former Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s persistent efforts to counter Modi and engage with voters with his ‘idea of India‘ that has never yielded results, because the Gandhi scion lacks what it takes to be ahead in the race with Modi — a personality cult.
This is precisely why the third front, or any such formation, is a fallacy. Who will lead it? Will there be a PM candidate? Who will be the face of the opposition against Modi? Which parties will it include? Hypothetically speaking, will Mamata be okay if Kejriwal were to be the face, or will Jagan Reddy be okay if Uddhav Thackeray were to be the face? These are all very difficult questions with no easy, or immediate, answers.
Moreover, a third front immediately implies a non-BJP, non-Congress platform. To get 272 plus seats in the Lok Sabha, without either of the two pan-India parties, is unrealistic. The BJP garnered around 38 per cent of the vote share in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, and the Congress 20 per cent. The math is quite clear.
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The stability factor
What Narendra Modi has done is usher in a fresh era of ‘sthirta‘ (stability) with his teflon-coated image and ‘strong leader’ pitch. A clear majority, ability to take decisions easily, complete control over governance and no tussle with allies over everyday functioning have defined the Modi era.
The Covid mismanagement aside, what Modi’s seven years as PM has shown is how he is ‘decisive’, and needs to depend on nobody to take contentious calls — from demonetisation and abrogation of Article 370 to surgical strikes, Balakot air strikes and farm laws. He has sold the idea of decisiveness to his voters.
A third front, on the other hand, immediately brings back memories of the unstable, tottering mid to late 1990s when governments fell like a pack of cards at the whims of different political parties. India has never had the most stable experience with coalition governments. Remember how the Left Front pulled out of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) over the civil nuclear deal, causing days of uncertainty and suspense?.
Look no further than the current Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra to know how a motley group of parties can give the semblance of a difficult alliance, sending a message of a lack of steadiness. Imagine how much more inorganic and confused a larger national alliance of several parties with no clear leader would seem to the voter.
That too many cooks spoil the broth is now a boring cliche, but quite apt for any idea of an alternative front. Modi is no cook. He is the ‘chef de cuisine’, and a very skilled one at that. What you need to take him on is not the idea of a delicious dish, but another head chef who can tell the voters that s/he will deliver on that dish.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant Dixit)