Federal Front a few months ago was described as a ‘preposterous idea’. India is poised at a juncture where general election is staring at the nation’s face. Political alliances and parleying are on at a frenzied pace. The two big political parties are certain that it would be tough to get a majority in 2014 elections. Smaller regional parties with their kitty of 30 odd MPS used to be wooed by these biggies. In the last few months the scenario that emerged surprised many in the political arena on and off it.
The regional parties realized that they often provide the vital connecting link for the bigger parties to reach the magic figure to form the government at the centre. The alliance soon becomes redundant and regional parties often complain of being left out from any governmental decision. States like Bengal not only faced step-motherly treatment from the centre but also total non co-operation. Repeated interference on issues listed under the federal heading was also a common practice.
At such a juncture Bengal Chief Minister called for a Federal Front and asked regional parties to unite so the voice from the states are not ignored or sidelined. The response was immediate from a few ruling Chief Ministers who have found themselves in the same situation as Bengal CM. Some others looked at it with caution before committing to the idea of Federal Front.
The most obvious comparison would be to the concept of ‘Third Front’ that has been experimented with before. Just the very name is conceding to the fact that it is a third runner in the power race. In the past the Third Front had become a bucket for collection of break away members and opportunists. Lack of common goal apart from one that is to grab power made foundations of the Third Front weak.
The Federal “Progressive” Alliance
Just the name Federal Front has many advantages; it pitches as a major Front at par with the two leading political parties of India namely the BJP and the Congress. It also does away with the stigma attached to the previous Fronts of the past. Instead, it would convey the impression that it is the states with their federal inclinations which will guide the national agenda and that regional force are equal partners and participants in the nation’s development.
A third front, by its very nomenclature, recognises the existence of two other fronts which in the current scenario would refer to the United Progressive Alliance, spearheaded by the Congress, and the National Democratic Alliance which is led by the BJP. By talking about a Federal Front, its protagonists hope to accord a separate and distinct identity to the proposed conglomerate.
Marked by instability, problems of governance, policy paralysis and ego clashes of its myriad leaders, the third front governments of V P Singh (1989-90), Chandra Shekhar (1990-1991), H D Deve Gowda (1996-97) and I K Gujral (1997-98) collapsed within months of coming to power. The total time they spent in office did not even add up to five years that an elected government is supposed to enjoy.
The name would also convey the impression that it is the states with their federal inclinations which will guide the national agenda and that regional forces are equal partners and participants in the nation’s development.
Often the criticism for a Federal Front is that it is a gathering of state-based parties or regional forces do not have a national vision and cannot come out with a cohesive policy or program. Developing a National Charter is of prime importance and identifying issues of national interest and concern.
The criticism that often surface about leaders under a Federal Front is that they lack a national vision since most are either Chief Ministers of their respective states or leaders of their regional party. Also their outlook and concern is state-centric. This argument even though not widely accepted cannot be completely wished away.
The first few parties who showed keen interest about forming a Federal Front are Trinamool Congress (West Bengal), Janata Dal-United (Bihar), Biju Janata Dal (Odisha), Telegu Desam Party (Andhra Pradesh), Samajwadi Party (Uttar Pradesh). Other parties like AIADMK, DMK are also likely to join the Federal Front. The number would increase nearer to the election date as smaller parties realign their positions to hold onto their national presence.
A Ship without a Captain?
Quoting a question often asked: whether the experience of managing their state by these leaders adds up to the capacity and capability to manage a coalition at the Centre? A very pertinent question otherwise but in today’s scenario where the leaders trying to coagulate a Federal Front have all had experience at the Centre as prime minister, ministers, parliamentarians or office-bearers of an alliance. This definitely would silence the critics and work in the favor for the exponents of Federal Front.
The current group of leaders for the Federal front like H D Deve Gowda, Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan, J Jayalalithaa or Chandrababu Naidu has all been involved in working at the Centre in some level. Omar Abdullah Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, who also leads the National Conference-Congress government in the border state, has been a minister at the Centre. Akhilesh Yadav has been an MP before he became the chief minister of UP.
The road ahead
The positive trend emerging in the country as polls draw near is that leaders from the list above have become acceptable as leaders at the national level.
The recent surveys by several media houses have thrown up some very strong figures that would only strengthen the voice for Federal Front. It has been projected that Trinamool Congress is slated to win 27 plus seats increasing their previous tally of 19 by a big margin. For Bihar it is projected that Nitish Kumar would hold onto his seats won in the previous election.
There is no doubt that if the Congress-led UPA or the BJP-led NDA cannot form a government on their own post-2014, their second option would be a third front government even if it has a short life span. The proponents would also bank on this possibility, fully aware that the two major formations would rather have them in power than allow their rival to rule the country.
Mamata Banerjee has been taking the lead and is in conversation with various regional parties towards the formation of the Federal Front. The response has been more than encouraging. The bigger political parties understand the importance of the regional parties and are making an attempt to strike an alliance with as many possible.
Keeping in mind the air of disillusionment among the people of the country with the current government at the centre, the ground looks fertile and ready for Federal Front to take shape. Clearly, a churning is taking place; it’s a fluid situation in which the regional players could have the final say.