The idea of the Third Front as a pre-poll entity is still so novel that its birth pangs are intriguing for a variety of reasons. The third alternative in national politics has traditionally been constituted after elections or when circumstances reduce the space for the two national parties to gain adequate numbers in the Lok Sabha. This time,say the leaders who launched the Third Front at Tumkur,it will be different. This has already raised for the alliance questions of not just seat-sharing,but also the kind of common agenda they would need so that the front is not just a refuge for political parties at a temporary remove from the UPA and the NDA,but a cohesive grouping. And given the extraordinary initiative taken by the Left parties to get the front together,it also asks questions about the Lefts ambiguities on sharing power at the Centre.
Thirteen years ago,that dilemma was faced by the Left,and then again five years ago. In 1996,when the United Front was hurriedly cobbled together,the Left parties played a key role. And when came the time to decide whether theyd be part of the UF government,it was a dilemma the CPM debated in open view. (The CPI eventually joined the Central government.) Older leaders like Harkishan Singh Surjeet and Jyoti Basu,who had been offered the post of prime minister,were keen to join the coalition. But ideologues prevailed,and the CPM opted out.
After the UF collapsed within two years,Basu would regret the CPMs decision,calling it a historic blunder. Five years ago,again the CPM was pro-active in the formation of the UPA. But this time,with the Congress leading the government,the Left parties were more united on declining to be in government. In fact,the Left parties had a turbulent co-existence with the Congress even within the UPA-Left Coordination Committee.
This time round,CPM General Secretary Prakash Karat has been emphatic that the third alternative is viable because it has come together before the elections,not after. His next step must be to define how his party approaches the idea of post-election power-sharing.