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The Third Front's midsummer daydream
May 07, 2004
It has been several decades since Jyoti Basu proclaimed that he was 'a Communist, not a gentleman.' He changed his song fairly quickly once he realised the importance of sporting a bhadralok image among the voters of West Bengal.
Be that as it may, the veteran Communist seems to be the only one among the motley crew of the erstwhile Third Front to realise the importance of nominating someone as prime minister.
At 90, Jyoti Basu has been in politics far longer than some politicians have been alive. He knows how much the National Democratic Alliance has benefited from having Atal Bihari Vajpayee as its flagbearer. And so it is significant that he has made it clear that the Left Front's choice of prime minister is none but Sonia Gandhi. The old option of a non-BJP, non-Congress government is simply not acceptable today.
It is no secret that the Marxists have been putting their eggs in the Gandhi-Nehru basket at least since 1999. That is when Harkishen Singh Surjeet lambasted Mulayam Singh Yadav for not being 'secular' when the Samajwadi Party chief refused to back her bid after pulling down the Atal Bihari Vajpayee ministry. But the Communists have never before been driven to the expedient of doing so in the midst of a campaign.
Actually, it is not just the politically expedient but also the decent thing to do. A prime minister should not be elected behind closed doors; he or she needs to get a mandate directly from the Indian people. Aberrations like Inder Kumar Gujral should remain just that, aberrations. (If anyone has forgotten, Gujral was so much of a dark horse that he was taking an afternoon siesta while the leaders of the Third Front met behind closed doors.) A prime minister who tries to lead a ministry without popular support simply lacks any moral authority. His colleagues simply will not respect him.
It is political illiteracy to say that India is a parliamentary democracy where it is the members of Parliament who elect their leader. Can anyone claim that the British did not know they were opting for a Blair ministry, or that the Germans did not make a considered choice for a Schroeder government when they went and voted? The various Third Front groups were simply making a virtue out of necessity when they came up with those silly excuses about legislators choosing. In any case, none of the men who counted at the time -- Chandrababu Naidu, M Karunanidhi, Jyoti Basu, and the rest -- were members of Parliament when they chose first Deve Gowda and then Gujral. (Only Mulayam Singh Yadav, if I remember correctly, had contested the Lok Sabha election.)
However, it is all really a moot point. So far, all the hopes and fancies of the Left Front are based on nothing more than exit polls and opinion polls. The same set of private pollsters conducted the same kind of polls last winter, and they predicted Congress victories in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Both states now have BJP chief ministers.
Second, even the most pessimistic -- from the National Democratic Alliance point of view -- set of pollsters say the BJP-led alliance is going to get at least 250 seats. And not a single opinion poll says the Congress and its pre-poll allies have a hope of crossing 200. In other words, Atal Bihari Vajpayee will still have more members of Parliament committed to him than Narasimha Rao enjoyed in 1991 -- and that government lasted five years. In other words, the CPI-M thinks that victory will have been achieved if the Vajpayee ministry returns to power as long as it does so with a reduced majority in the Lok Sabha.
I am not sure, by the way, whether the majority shall actually be smaller. How long will the likes of Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party, to name but one, go along with his unlikely bedmates in the erstwhile Third Front? And will the Mulayam Singh Yadav who was so reluctant in 1999 decide to reverse himself and usher Sonia Gandhi to the prime minister's chair in 2004? Neither of these regional barons will dare to do so because they are both benefiting from the decline of the Congress in their own states of Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.
In fact, there will be a price to be paid even for the support of the Left Front. Sonia Gandhi can rule Delhi, but the Marxists will want control of Kolkata and Thiruvananthapuram in exchange.
T V R Shenoy