The Third Front conundrum

Poornima Joshi | Updated on June 23, 2021

The BJP Always battle ready   -  The Hindu

An Opposition coalition that wants to challenge the BJP at the Centre must have the Congress on its side

The waning of Covid second wave has coalesced with heightened political activity both in the BJP, which has set about addressing its internal problems, and regional players which are currently being gathered by Sharad Pawar and Yashwant Sinha.

Although Sinha’s grandly termed “Rashtra Morcha” was a bit of a non-starter with the Congress being conspicuously absent and even the the Left and the DMK staying away, it is clear that Mamata Banerjee’s victory in the West Bengal Assembly polls has led her lieutenants to push the idea of the federal front she had mooted in March 2018.

But the TMC should have no confusion about the fact that in a general election, any coalition that aspires to beat the BJP has to have the Congress heading it. The transient character of national politics in India has at least one uniformity — the overarching dominance of two national parties, the BJP and the Congress.

Between them, these two parties have consistently cornered 50 per cent of the vote share in the six general elections held since the collapse of the “third front” in 1998. In 1998, the Congress and BJP at 25.82 and 25.59 per cent had 51.41 per cent of the vote share; in 1999, it was a cumulative 52.05 per cent; 48.69 per cent in 2004; 47.45 per cent in 2009; 50.84 per cent in 2014 and 57.46 per cent in 2019.

At its peak in 2009, the Congress, with 28.55 per cent of the national vote, was 10 percentage points ahead of the BJP. At its lowest ebb in 2019, the Congress garnered 19 per cent of the national vote, 18 percentage points behind the BJP.

In current political landscape, the Congress’s structural decline and leadership vacuum can no longer eclipse the challenges the BJP is facing at almost every level. The ruling party has dispatched its general secretaries to Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Bihar to assess the political damage caused by Covid’s second wave as also to curb infighting, administrative collapse and cadre dissatisfaction with the leadership especially in States where elections are due next year.

Earlier this month in Gujarat, central General Secretary Bhupendra Yadav met Gordhan Zadaphia, Shankar Chaudhary, IK Jadeja, Bhargav Bhatt and others following widespread criticism of Chief Minister Vijay Rupani’s handling of the Covid crisis. While a 100-metre-long queue was seen outside the BJP’s office in Surat where the State party president CR Paatil was hoarding 5,000 Remdesivir injections amid an acute shortage of the drug, the High Court chided the State government for gross under-reporting of cases and deaths.

But all this has hardly dimmed the BJP’s prospects in the forthcoming polls because of the complete chaos in the Congress. The Congress’s local unit chief, Amit Chavda, and Legislature Party leader Paresh Dhanani resigned earlier this year after the party’s defeat in the civic polls where the BJP won 6,236 out of 8,470 seats. The Congress barely managed to get 1,805 seats. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which debuted with 27 seats in Surat, reduced the Congress to zilch in this large municipal corporation.

Another central BJP leader, Arun Singh started his tour of Karnataka last week with several rounds of meetings with the State leaders one of whom, H Vishwanath, maintained that “all ministers are unhappy with the Yeddyurappa government.” Another Minister, KS Eshwarappa, has written a five-page petition to the Governor against the CM’s working style.

The UP quagmire

The biggest challenge for the BJP is in UP where the State government was criticised by a majority of MLAs and MLCs during review meetings last month with BL Santosh and Radha Mohan Singh in Lucknow. But the central leadership has not been able to tame Yogi Adityanath, who has summarily dismissed all expectations of a centrally-deputed ex-bureaucrat AK Sharma to be included in the State Cabinet. Adityanath has made Sharma Vice-President of the State BJP, while dismissing State leaders’ complaints to the central leadership of being sidelined and his government taking fire for its handling of the Covid-19 second surge which has claimed 21,858 lives in the State.

Adityanath has also upset the caste calculus carefully constructed by Home Minister Amit Shah since 2014. Discontent is brewing among the backward communities as also Dalits after the horrific Hathras rape and murder case last year. The continuing farmers’ protests in Western UP, which accounts for 60 of the 403 Assembly seats, too, has queered the pitch for the BJP.

But the BJP has a better understanding of the transience of power and has started setting its house in order. This is one leaf the Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi could take out of the PM’s book.

Published on June 23, 2021

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