As good as it gets3 min read . Updated: 20 Mar 2012, 09:07 PM IST
As good as it gets
As good as it gets
If you are sitting in traffic reading this, cursing the rotten state of infrastructure in this country and your long commute, then take a moment to contemplate this. A couple of years from now, you will fondly recall today’s commute. It’s only going to get worse from here.
Now, take a look at our Congress-led UPA government. Today, most of us bemoan policy paralysis. Manmohan Singh, as above reproach as he is, is widely regarded as one of the weakest prime ministers of independent India. Yet, in a couple of years we may fondly look back at 2012 as a year in which we had a Prime Minister who had some power and when some policies, no matter how limited, did move forward.
India’s experience with non-Congress and non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governments in the last four decades has been less than impressive. The Janata Party government collapsed in two years in the 1970s, riven by internal disagreements. The next such exercise, the National Front government, lasted two difficult years in the late 1980s. The last non-Congress and non-BJP government, in the mid-1990s, was the United Front, of which the less said the better.
But each of those governments actually would dwarf in experience a new Third Front government that could come to power in 2014. Morarji Desai, V.P. Singh and I.K. Gujral, three of the most prominent prime ministers in the aforementioned governments, all had significant experience in governance before assuming the post. Morarji Desai served as the finance minister for a total of nearly five years under Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. V.P. Singh served as the finance minister and famously, defence minister, before dethroning the man who appointed him to those posts. I.K. Gujral served as the minister for external affairs and in several other posts. Desai and Singh had also been chief ministers of Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, respectively.
Now contrast the experience of these Third Front leaders with today’s prospective candidates. The man whom many would like to see as the prime minister of a Third Front government, Nitish Kumar, is firmly ensconced in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition. The BJP has nearly half the MLAs in Bihar and Kumar is not departing from the NDA. That brings us back to the leaders of today’s leading Third Front parties—Akhilesh Yadav, Mamata Banerjee and J. Jayalalithaa.
They have a combined experience of two years at the Centre—the two years that Banerjee served as railway minister (she also had a short stint as sports minister in the early 1990s). Jayalalithaa does have extensive experience, having served more than a total of a decade as chief minister of Tamil Nadu, but she has spent no time in Delhi.
The old Third Front governments, for the most part, all had ex-Congressmen at the helm. Desai, Gujral, and Singh all cut their teeth in the Congress party. For the first 40 years of independence, there was little choice for aspiring politicians but Congress. Today’s leaders, except Banerjee, are homegrown third-party leaders who have been nurtured in the rough and tumble world of local politics. Akhilesh was literally born in local politics. Jayalalithaa has spent a career fighting grassroots politics in Tamil Nadu.
Other prospective leaders of the Third Front bring even less experience. Last week, Chandrababu Naidu, of the Telugu Desam Party, was one of the first to revive talk of a Third Front. Before there was Nitish Kumar, there was Chandrababu Naidu, who captured the imagination of many by leading the transformation of Andhra Pradesh. Unfortunately, Naidu’s national image didn’t match his local image and he has been out of power for almost a decade.
Of course there is no guarantee that a Third Front government will emerge in 2014. Indian voters have proven smarter than their Greek or Italian counterparts and voted for stability at the Centre. Despite the losses by Congress and the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, local election results do not mean that those two parties are out of the hunt for 2014 in India’s biggest state.
There, however, is a danger that voters have forgotten the disastrous times during the last Third Front governments. The only good news about a Third Front government at the Centre is that it nearly always brings a strong government the next time round. Sometimes voters just need to be reminded how bad it can be.
Prashant Agrawal, a principal at a management consultancy, writes on public policy issues in India and internationally.
Your comments are welcome firstname.lastname@example.org