Home / Politics / Policy /  Nitish Kumar, others in federal front talks

New Delhi: With Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar threatening to exit the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the stage is set for a political realignment ahead of the next general election due by May 2014.

With both the national parties—the ruling Congress and the principal opposition BJP—struggling to overcome their own internal contradictions, the possibility of a third political front emerging as an alternative has revived once again.

This belief gained fresh ground following signals to the effect over this week from the various potential constituents of the Third Front. On Monday, Orissa chief minister and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leader Naveen Patnaik indicated that he was open to a third front of regional parties to form an alternative to the Congress and the BJP at the national level.

West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Mamata Banerjee also made out a case for a federal front this week on her Facebook page and then initiated a dialogue with Patnaik, Kumar and Jharkhand chief minister Babulal Marandi.

Political experts are, however, pessimistic. “The feasibility of a third front or a federal front is doubtful because its actual application in the concept of India is far from reality," Bidyut Chakraborty, professor, department of political science, Delhi University, said. “Although they are trying to join a platform against a common enemy (of either Congress or BJP), the basis of such a coalition will be fragile."

Kumar, who has been miffed with the BJP leadership for elevating Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as its political face for the 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign, has convened a meeting of his party colleagues in the Janata Dal (United), or JD-U, to discuss the future of their ties with the BJP.

JD-U leaders believe the announcement of Modi as the BJP’s election campaign committee head also means he will be made the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate. They have conveyed their displeasure to the BJP.

Two senior leaders of Bihar’s ruling party, which is in alliance with the BJP in the state, have publicly criticized the Gujarat chief minister.

Narendra Singh, Bihar’s agriculture minister and a close associate of Kumar, said his party cannot accept a “rioter".

Modi is accused by human rights groups of not doing enough to prevent religious riots in Gujarat in 2002 that killed at least 2,000 people, mainly Muslims. He denies any wrongdoing.

In Kolkata, another leader of the JD-U, K.C. Tyagi, met the TMC’s Banerjee. “We are looking at a third front. Let’s see what happens," Banerjee told reporters in Kolkata after the meeting.

Earlier this week, the Trinamool Congress chief said in a Facebook post: “Time has come for all the regional parties to come together and form a federal front in the coming Lok Sabha election. I appeal to all the non-Congress, non-BJP regional parties to launch a united fight to free the country from misrule and anti-people decisions."

Tyagi tried to downplay his meeting. “Nitish Kumar has not asked me to come here. I was here for some work and found it convenient to meet Banerjee. We are still part of NDA and whether to remain in the coalition will be decided in next two-three days," Tyagi said over the phone.

The JD-U had also expressed its concerns about the continuance of the NDA as a united force after senior BJP leader L.K. Advani sent his resignation from all party official posts on Monday. Advani, however, withdrew his resignation the next day following the intervention of the BJP’s ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Tewari said the JD-U’s concerns have never been about Advani. “It is about Narendra Modi and we have categorically cleared our stand about him."

On Wednesday, Advani reached out to Kumar to persuade the Bihar ally to continue in the NDA.

“We believe this alliance will last. JD-U has been the oldest partner of NDA and this partnership is not about two-three elections. Third front has been a dream and talks about it in an election year is a ritual. This will never materialize," BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said. “The three chief ministers are talking about third front because they share similar concerns. They have been neglected by the successive United Progressive Alliance (UPA) governments."

In different interviews to television channels and the print media, the BJD’s Patnaik also said he was open to the idea of an alternative front. Addressing a public rally in the national capital, demanding a special status for his state Orissa, Patnaik minced no words in lashing out against the Congress and the party-led UPA.

“The policy of political discrimination pursued by the UPA government is a dangerous trend, not conducive to a healthy federal structure. The UPA government is following different policies for different states," Patnaik said in his speech delivered in Oriya.

The Telugu Desam Party, which was a key constituent of the United Front, a coalition of regional parties and the Left that was in power during 1996-98, also has predicted that a third front will form the government in 2014.

However, the Communist Party of India-Marxist that played a crucial role in bringing the regional parties together then, has been doubtful about the possibility of a feasible political alternative.

The ruling Congress party dismissed the idea of a third front. “No third or fourth front is going to be feasible. These parties are state-specific parties and it is very difficult for them to have a national view on issues," Shakeel Ahamed, Congress spokesperson, said. “It’s almost impossible for them to address the national issues… it’s just a ploy to make them feel important at the national stage."

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