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Can AAP replace the Left as the fulcrum of a 3rd Front?

December 16, 2013 16:27 IST

Arvind Kejriwal's party will need around 50 Lok Sabha seats to make a pitch for the Left's space in national politics, points out Saroj Nagi.

The Aam Aadmi PartyThere is no doubt that the Aam Aadmi Party's stunning debut in Delhi has shaken the Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress to the core.

Both parties have been forced to redraw their strategies for the coming Lok Sabha polls, three or four months down the line.

The Bahujan Samaj Party too has taken note of the AAP's emergence that nibbled away at whatever influence Mayawati had hoped to work up in the assembly polls in Delhi where the BSP fielded 70 candidates.

The Left does not have a presence in the capital, but the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India-Marxist put up as many as 15 candidates; the ultra-Left party, the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist, had four nominees in the electoral fray.

It is the unstated threat that the AAP could pose to the Left that may be of concern to the Communists, which until now had basked in the halo of bringing a semblance of principled politics into the national mainstream by refusing to compromise on the causes it stands for or the ideology it espouses as evidenced by its decision to withdraw support to United Progressive Alliance-I when the Manmohan Singh government went ahead with the India-US civil nuclear deal.

The question of the Left's role and the AAP's impact becomes relevant because of the possibility of a hung Parliament in the 2014 Lok Sabha election where the Congress faces the kind of decimation akin to what it suffered in the recent assembly polls; the BJP may not touch the halfway mark.

The BJP's projection of Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial nominee has galvanised party cadres, but whether it will win it allies in the post-election scenario of a hung verdict remains an open question.

Much would depend on how many seats the Gujarat chief minister brings to the table.

A hung Parliament is a scenario that most non-Congress and non-BJP parties fervently hope for; it provides these entities with an opportunity to once again explore the possibility of yet another non-Congress, non-BJP experiment despite the failures that marked such earlier forays to power at the Centre under Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, V P Singh, Chandra Shekhar, H D Deve Gowda and I K Gujral.

The list of leaders who have been talking about the possibility of a non-Congress non-BJP government in 2014 includes the Samajwadi Party's Mulayam Singh Yadav, Trinamool Congress President and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her counterpart in Odisha, the Biju Janata Dal's Naveen Patnaik.

All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam supremo and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa has been flip-flopping on the issue.

The Left parties too hold the view that 2014 will throw up a hung Parliament. Indeed, CPI-M General Secretary Prakash Karat has been quoted saying that in the CPI-M's assessment, neither the BJP nor the Congress would be anywhere in a position to secure the numbers needed to form a government after the 2014 parliamentary poll and that the major chunk of seats would go to non-Congress, non-BJP, parties which might set up a post-poll arrangement.

Such an experiment requires a stable core or a stable partner propping it up from outside. The Left has been playing this role and often acted as a cementing force for disparate outfits.

It has been the fulcrum around which some of these non-Congress, non-BJP, coalitional experiments have revolved, notably the V P Singh government which was backed both by the Communists and the BJP from outside and the United Front regimes which had the backing of the Congress and the Left.

Besides principles, the Left had set up certain working mechanisms like the emphasis on a common minimum programme to steer the government or a regular consultative machinery for the supporting partners to discuss issues.

To fulfil such a role again, the Left will have to perform well in the general election -- a tough job given the anti-Left mood that continues to prevail in West Bengal which remained its bastion for three decades until Banerjee demolished its fort.

Tripura and Kerala are the other states where it has a strong hold, but the two states have just 22 parliamentary seats between them.

West Bengal, in contrast, has 42 Lok Sabha seats and the Left's national role has been based on its high strike rate in this state and Kerala, with additional seats coming from an arrangement it reaches with dominant regional parties in other states.

Its performance had peaked when it won 60 seats in the 2004 general election. With the anti-Left mood in West Bengal, the Communists are not confident of coming up with a respectable tally in 2014.

Even though the Left will continue to exercise moral and political authority given the party's equations with major regional leaders -- barring, of course, Banerjee -- there is little doubt that this vacuum may need filling up.

The big question is whether the AAP can do it, if the Left slips up electorally.

Though it lacks the ideological orientation of the Left, the AAP has brought a whiff of change in politics, judiciously blending its cyber campaign with ground level agitations, making itself available, accessible and reachable and infusing an element of cleanliness, morality and principles into politics.

The AAP realises that if it has to make a national impact it will have to contest as many seats as it can out of the 543 Lok Sabha seats at stake and ride on the goodwill it has earned so far.

The party is expected to field candidates in states like Haryana where it has made an issue of Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law Robert Vadra's land deals and Rajasthan.

It is also expected to tap the space that may be available for a third party in bipolar states like Gujarat.

Attempts will be made to identify select constituencies in other states, including metros and major cities, where it can field young, clean, and possibly winning candidates.

The AAP will need around 50 seats to make a pitch for the Left's space in national politics.

And to work towards that, it will have to contest more than one third of the Lok Sabha seats and ensure it can continue the impression that it brings a fresh outlook to politics.

Saroj Nagi is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.

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