Building a non-Congress Third Front: KCR’s plan is ambitious but will it work?

KCR, the Chief Minister of India’s youngest state Telangana is working overtime to stitch together a non-Congress alternative to the BJP but can he deliver?
Building a non-Congress Third Front: KCR’s plan is ambitious but will it work?
Building a non-Congress Third Front: KCR’s plan is ambitious but will it work?
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With the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) winning four out of five Indian states in the recently held assembly elections, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao's (KCR) ambitious plan for a Third Front has been rendered uncertain. In the backdrop of BJP victories, observers believe that political parties would be cautious of forging or joining any anti-BJP front meant for defeating it in the 2024 general elections.

At a time when stakes of all the major opposition parties have been affected, it has to be seen whether KCR's plans to build a national platform against BJP will be successful or not.Though KCR talked about a Third Front or Federal Front even ahead of the 2019 general elections, this time his approach towards the Congress was warm. He also went all out against the BJP.

KCR had called on national leaders earlier this month and in February to discuss the possibility. He shared his concerns about the "federal system", the "hate-centric" politics in the country and the need to defeat BJP in general elections with the chief ministers of Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Maharashtra. He had also met Sharad Pawar, the President of NCP.

However, his recent visit to New Delhi, where he planned to meet Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Chief and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal to discuss the formation of “Third Front", didn't materialise as hoped. Kejriwal's party recently stood out as a strong contender to the BJP by winning Punjab, unseating the Indian National Congress (INC).

While BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi see the party's win in four states as a prelude to the 2024 general elections, some political observers still see scope in defeating them with a "new consolidation" of parties opposed to them.

Telangana BJP ecstatic

Telangana BJP leaders while celebrating their party's win in four states have said that their next target is to seize power in the state. Though the party has only three MLA's and four MPs, BJP wants to position itself as an alternative to the KCR. The party’s Telangana Chief Bandi Sanjay is set to start the second phase of his "Praja Sangrama Yatra'' from April 14 onwards.

Telangana BJP leaders said KCRs Third Front is going to remain a pipe dream as no other regional party is ready to believe in him. NV Subhash, spokesperson of the party, said BJP's win in four states has landed regional parties in self defence mode and they themselves are struggling to survive. “At this point no party or leader, be it MK Stalin, Uddhav Thackeray or Mamata Banerjee would take the risk of believing in KCR,” he said.

Subhash said KCR’s idea of a non-Congress alliance is not palatable for parties like the DMK, RJD and Shiv Sena. “Moreover, it is also a question whether other parties with higher number of MP seats are ready to work under KCR leadership,” he said.

Can TRS cobble up an anti-BJP front?

However, TRS top brass believes that the idea of stitching together a Third Front ahead of 2024 elections is alive and their leader has not given up on it. K Keshava Rao (KK), TRS Secretary General and Rajya Sabha MP, said the Chief Minister would revive the initiative after a week’s gap. "The CM is presently taking rest, as per the advice of doctors and after that he would work towards formation of a Third Front," he said.

However, political analysts feel that with the Congress almost decimated, there is a scope for the rise of a non-Congress alternative to lead the coalition. Palwai Raghavendra Reddy, political analyst based in Hyderabad said the poor performance of the Congress will give more space for the regional parties. “It is now up to these parties to formulate a common minimum program, and find a workable ground to challenge BJP. Not just KCR, every regional satrap with a considerable base in their respective states/regions will now seek their share, and unless they all work together they will not create a strong force against the incumbent BJP," he said.

According to him, the regional leaders from states with more seats in the Parliament would like to have prominence in a possible coalition. “Considering this, KCR, using his age and experience, must think of playing the role of a convenor and ensure leaders of all ages and all regions come together," Reddy said.

However, it is not yet clear who would lead the Front as leaders of parties with more MP seats would be seeking a leadership role. It also remains to be seen whether the TMC Chief and West Bengal CM Mamta Benerjee with 22 MPs, who has prime ministerial ambitions wants to be part of a platform led by KCR.  DMK's MK Stalin with 24 MPs would also find it difficult to be part of a non-Congress “Third Front.” 

On the other hand, Andhra Pradesh CM YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP with 22 MPs has never shown interest in having a rivalry with the BJP. Another tall leader, Chandrababu Naidu, TDP Chief and former CM, whose party faced massive debacle (they won 3 MP seats and 23 MLA seats) too had a bitter fight with Narendra Modi once but it is unlikely that KCR will approach him since their relationship had soured. 

Professor Inukonda Thirumali, a historian who has worked extensively on Indian democracy and the Constitution, feels that consolidation of the Third Front under the leadership of the regional leaders is not possible. “The interests of regional leaders are different and this makes it impossible for them to work together. There are conflicts of interest and rivalry regarding leadership roles even among those who are talking about forging a larger alliance,” he said.

Thirumali feels that regional players like KCR and Mamata Benerjee are failing to articulate their “principle of federalism” for the country even as they espouse the cause of a "Federal Front" While the BJP and the Congress have their respective national agendas, regional party leaders lack a pan-Indian agenda which appeals to the people.

While some political observers feel that KCR can still play a crucial role in engineering the Third Front as he claimed, some feel it’s not going to happen, some others have not lost hope. Popular political consultant, founder of I-PAC (Indian Political Action Committee) Prashant Kishor, to whom KCR has entrusted the responsibility of enhancing his national stature while building a narrative around BJP's anti-incumbency, had stated that the "battle for India will be fought and decided in 2024 & not in any state elections".

While urging people not to fall or be part of the "false narrative" which BJP is creating, Kishor had tweeted: "Saheb knows this! Hence this clever attempt to create frenzy around state results to establish a decisive psychological advantage over opposition."

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