Moving up front

Print edition : April 14, 2001

The People's Front, with an ambitious political agenda ahead of it, constitutes a five-member committee to evolve a common minimum programme for the formation.

THE People's Front (P.F.), which takes in the spirit of the erstwhile United Front, has got around to doing business in right earnest. With the power equations changing in national politics, the Front has formed a five-member committee to have its battle gear ready. At a meeting held at the New Delhi residence of Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet on April 3, the Front constituted the committee which comprises, besides Surjeet, former Prime Ministers V.P. Singh and H.D. Deve Gowda, Communist Party of India (CPI) general secretary A.B. Bardhan and Samajwadi Party president and P.F. convener Mulayam Singh Yadav. The committee will formulate the P.F.'s strategy for the days ahead as also a common minimum programme. The programme will be released at a rally in Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh on April 17.

People's Front leaders in Delhi after their meeting on April 3, (from left) CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan, CPI(M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet, former Prime Minister V.P. Singh, Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and former West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu.-

Surjeet said the committee's brief was to "formulate a common minimum agenda that will ensure that the parties included in the Front have a degree of uniformity in their policies and approach so that the Front does not end up as yet another short-term political arrangement". Since the Front, like the Congress(I), has decided to take the fight over corruption in high places to the streets, the committee will chalk out an agitational programme to force the Vajpayee government's ouster over the issue of corruption as exposed in the Tehelka tapes. There will be rallies, dharnas and public meetings all over the country.

Although some scepticism prevails in certain political circles about the Front's viability, given the level of sustained cohesion that has been seen in the past, and also because its reach is rather limited at the moment, the Front leaders are taking their job with extreme seriousness. For the present, the major constituents of the Front are the four Left parties, the CPI, the CPI(M), the Forward Bloc and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), besides the Samajwadi Party and the Janata Dal (S). However, the Front hopes to expand its base in the days to come: to be precise, when disappointed National Democratic Alliance (NDA) allies part ways with the BJP.

The Front leaders described Laloo Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal too as one of their allies, although neither Laloo nor any of his nominees were present at the Front meetings.

"No matter how sceptical people are of the Front, call it the Third Front, or the United Front or the People's Front, the fact remains that this formation of parties that are aligned neither to the Congress(I) nor to the BJP, is all the more relevant in today's context," says V.P. Singh, the Front's ideologue. According to him, the constituency of those "not satisfied with either the Congress(I) or the BJP" is still very large and it is this constituency that the Front will seek to capture when the time comes.

Discounting scepticism with regard to a loose conglomeration of non-Congress(I), non-BJP parties, V.P. Singh says these very parties are now at the centre of power today. "Who is running the government today? Is it not the Telugu Desam Party, or the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) of Karunanidhi, which are the balancing factors of the power equation today, though their alignments might be slightly different," he says. According to V.P. Singh, even if the previous Third Front experiment lasted only for a relatively short period of time, it made the bigger parties such as the Congress(I) and the BJP realise the importance of regional parties, facilitating the dawn of "coalition politics" at the national level.

"Since coalition politics is here to stay, the Third Front, call it by any name, has become more important than ever before," says V.P. Singh. And the factors that would now help the P.F. steer closer to capturing power, he says, are two: the people's chemistry and the inherent contradictions of the National Democratic Alliance. The P.F. will assume due significance and unleash a people's process. Fed up with the present set of economic policies, people will force a change and elect a set of rulers who would promise them pro-people policies," the former Prime Minister says. According to him, this "chemistry of the people" will be the most significant factor determining its success or otherwise. In his assessment, the chances of success are considerable.

The second process, he says, will be that of the inherent contradictions of the NDA coming to the fore during the next general elections. "In order to have a government of its own," V.P. Singh argues, "the BJP needs to win at least 100 seats more. This can only be at the cost of its southern allies since its potential in north India has been exhausted. It remains to be seen how far these regional allies would permit the BJP to eat them up." In his assessment, this inherent contradiction within the NDA would start manifesting itself after the BJP's defeat in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections later this year, and then it would be time for the P.F. to step in.

Confident of the P.F. coming to power in New Delhi on its own, "with people's support", the consummate politician that he is, V.P. Singh steers clear of discussing the topic of an alliance with the Congress(I). "The Congress is not being considered at the moment," he says, leaving enough room for interpretation that it could be considered in a post-election scenario if the Front fell short of a majority. For the time being, though, he, along with the other four leaders, is busy seeking to rewrite the rules of the political game yet again.

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