Explainer: what’s brewing on the Third Front?

By Prarthana Mitra

M.K. Stalin, the current working president of Tamil Nadu’s principal opposition party and Congress party ally Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), on Wednesday, expressed his support for West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s efforts to mobilise a federal front against the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

“DMK has always stood for the unity of regional parties and stronger federal co-operation,” Stalin said in a tweet. “I endorse the efforts of @MamataOfficial to bring together various political parties to oppose the autocratic and antidemocratic rule of the BJP.”

Banerjee thanked him on Twitter in return, extending her full support.

Here’s what happened

Banerjee, at the helm of one of the few remaining states where the BJP has failed to consolidate its power, maintains that all regional parties must work together on the basis of a common minimum agenda in the country’s interest. As part of her crusade, she has already met with Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, Shiv Sena leaders, as well as BJP friends-turned-foes Shatrughan Sinha, Yashwant Sinha, and Arun Shourie, and representatives from the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS).

She also has plans to saddle up with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which recently defected from the NDA alliance, Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in Bihar, and several other regional parties, including DMK.

On the question of Congress’s role in her Third Front, Banerjee issued an ultimatum to Congress on Tuesday, demanding that the party decide whether it wants to join her party-led federal front. In an interview with a Bengali news channel, she also said that “the answer lies in the future”, the Congress must agree to a “one-on-one fight” in all the states.

Congress party’s state head Adhir Chowdhury has, however, maintained that a country-wide anti-BJP front “can succeed only under party president Rahul Gandhi’s leadership“.

DMK spokesperson S. Manu also told The Hindu“Mamata Banerjee has come up with a novel political strategy to forge a pan-national non-BJP alliance. We endorse this endeavour to oust the BJP.”

Following Stalin’s announcement, a visit to Chennai to meet DMK chief M. Karunanidhi may also be on the cards for Banerjee.

Why you should care

Banerjee has been mulling over the idea of an alternate regional front for quite a while, in an effort to weaken the BJP’s hold across the country in the upcoming general elections, as well as to keep the Congress out. She has been working towards constituting a formidable oppositional front, in what looks like a race to secure allies before Congress. Stalin’s endorsement comes at a time when the Congress has assumed an inert stance, while Banerjee continues to aggressively call shotgun to lead the front.

Her latest announcement proposes a co-opt based on a 1:1 formula, which will delegate the leadership in each state to the best challenger of the BJP party, leaving very little ground for the Congress to cover. In fact, Banerjee has urged the Congress to accept its limitations, to avoid another historic defeat in the hands of the BJP.

But Banerjee must also recognise that the grand old party may not be completely dispensable. For the Third Front to work, all parties must rise above their differences, and ambitions—just as her own party helped get Congress candidate Abhishek Manu Singhvi elected to the Rajya Sabha from West Bengal last month. If there is any hope for the opposition, it lies in a consolidated Third Front, and the DMK’s support may be the stepping stone in forging the common front to take on BJP.

BJPCongressIndiaMamata BanerjeeSouth Indian Politics