The Big Story: Three to tango
The unthinkable has happened. West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee has defended the Communist Party of India (Marxist). After the Bharatiya Janata Party’s victory in Tripura led to the demolition of a Lenin statue, Banerjee said she would not tolerate attacks on the Left. She even tried to argue, rather unconvincingly, that for all her ideological battles with the Communist Party of India (Marxist), she had never targeted them. For those who lived through the glory days of the Trinamool in opposition in Bengal, or even remember the chief minister seeing a Marxist conspiracy everywhere in the early days of her government, this will sound quite fantastic. But Banerjee’s attentions have now turned to the BJP, emerging as the chief opposition in her state.
The rise of the BJP as the main force to reckon with has collapsed other regional oppositions as well. Only think of the unearthly alliance of the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party for the Lok Sabha by-polls in Uttar Pradesh. Once they were the two poles around which Uttar Pradesh’s politics were arranged but the BJP’s clean sweep in the last elections seems to have made that rivalry irrelevant. The Bihar elections of 2015 saw the Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) join hands with Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, the union of “nyay ke saath vikaas” (social justice with development) and Jungle Raj. The union was not to last but the BJP juggernaut did manage to reconcile two of the most legendary rivals in Indian politics over the last two decades.
These regional reconciliations have held up once more the intriguing possibility of a Third Front. Recently, Telangana Chief Minister KC Rao called for a Third Front before the general elections of 2019 and was met with an enthusiastic response from Banerjee and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen leader Asaduddin Owaisi. Leaders of Rao’s party, the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti, also claim regional parties such as the Jhakhand Mukti Morcha, the Samajwadi Party and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam had shown interest. If it succeeds, it would be a diverse group, bringing together a range of regional interests.
The Congress has finally been jolted to action, with former party president Sonia Gandhi reaching out to opposition leaders. In such a situation, the BJP would only be too happy to have the opposition vote divided. But could there be a Third Front that is more than a vote divider? In reality, it has never worked well. The Third Front governments formed in the 1990s were unstable and fractious, riven by internal dissensions and regional rivalries. Let alone form government, if the new Third Front is to be a credible political force, it cannot just be a conglomeration of parties held together by the negative attribute that they are not Congress and not BJP. It needs a political idea to bind it together. But with such diverse constituents, it will have hard work finding common ground.
The Big Scroll
Anita Katyal notes that a non-Congress Third Front can only bring cheer to the BJP.
Aarefa Johari reported on how disillusioned Patels were waiting for a Third Front in Gujarat, but in vain.
Back in 2016, Anita Katyal had found Mamata Banerjee saying that an anti-BJP front was a possibility but she was not going to lead it.
- In the Indian Express, Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes on Raag Darbaari, “one of the finest books on Indian democracy ever written”.
- In the Hindu, Suhasini Haider on why India should go back to making the neighbourhood first again.
- In the Telegraph, Sankarshan Thakur compares Kashmir to Shakespearean tragedy.
Nidhi Jamwal reports on how hail storms have brought more woes to Maharashtra’s farmers:
Patil’s loss isn’t limited to his winter crops alone. Last year, he had planted Bt cotton on 14 acres. But a pest attack of pink bollworm destroyed his crop. “The cotton plants kept growing till 6-7 ft height, but when very few buds developed, I realized there was some problem,” he said. “On checking with the agriculture department, I realised it was a pink bollworm attack. I had to burn and destroy my crop so that the pest does not affect my next crop cycle. My investment of Rs 150,000 in Bt cotton went down the drain.”