As KCR’s BRS ‘Unites Parties’ Before 2024, Lessons to Learn from the Third Fronts of Yesterday


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The ruling Bharat Rashtra Samiti‘s first public meeting in Telangana was held on Wednesday in Khammam town and a host of leaders, including Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal took part in it.

Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann, his Kerala counterpart Pinarayi Vijayan, CPI General Secretary D Raja and Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav attended the BRS meet.

The meeting assumes political significance as it is the first public meeting after the TRS decided to go national by renaming itself as BRS and also because leaders of different opposition parties — BRS, Aam Admi Party (AAP), Samajwadi Party and the Left — would be seen together. The meeting has raised speculations of a third front ahead of the 2024 elections.

What is the Third Front?

In Indian politics, the Third Front refers to various alliances formed by smaller parties at various times since 1989 to provide a third option to Indian voters, challenging the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The third front poll route has again gained significance since 2018 (with the Federal Front), and has taken on a renewed breath with KCR’s actions.

National Front (1989–1991)

The government of India from 1989 to 1990 was made up of a group of political parties called the National Front (NF).

The Janata Dal was in charge of this group. The president of the National Front was N. T. Rama Rao, and its leader was Vishwanath Pratap Singh.

V. P. Singh was the first prime minister of the coalition, and Chandra Shekhar took over after him. Janata Dal and Indian Congress (Socialist) were in charge of the party at the national level.

National Front leaders Jyoti Basu, V.P. Singh, N.T. Rama Rao, M. Karunanidhi, Devi Lal and Ramakrishna Hegde(August 26, 1989) {Image: Twitter via @catale7a)

It was represented in Andhra Pradesh by the Telugu Desam Party, in Tamil Nadu by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, and in Assam by the Asom Gana Parishad. Left Front, which was not a member party, also supported them.

This was the second time India was ever ruled by a coalition, and Singh was prime minister for less than a year, from December 2, 1989, to November 10, 1990.

His short time as prime minister was full of controversies and hard times, such as implementing the recommendations of the Mandal Commission (which said that a fixed quota of all jobs in the public sector should be reserved for OBCs) and dealing with the Ram Janmabhoomi issue and the rise of militancy in Kashmir.

The Rise and Fall

According to a report by Britannica, he faced fierce protests across northern India after he announced in August 1990 that the Mandal recommendations would be implemented.

V.P. Singh’s critics accused him of pandering to underprivileged ‘lower’ castes for votes, and many members of his own party deserted him over it, most notably Chandra Shekhar, who led a splinter group of JD dissidents out of Singh’s coalition.

File photo of VP Singh. (Via News18 Hindi)

V.P. Singh resigned on November 7, 1990, after being defeated in a vote of no confidence by a stunning margin of 356 to 151.

The majority of those voting against Singh were members of Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress (I) Party, as Gandhi retained the largest single block of party faithful in the Lok Sabha; however, Advani’s BJP supporters also lined up against Singh, the report says.

Shekhar’s Janata Dal (S)—the S stood for Socialist—became the smallest new party bloc in the Lok Sabha, and he was invited to serve as Prime Minister by President Ramaswamy Venkataraman before the end of 1990.

Devi Lal, who had been deposed by Singh in August, was reinstated as deputy prime minister. With fewer than 60 Janata (S) members in the Lok Sabha, the new prime minister’s hold on power was tenuous and not expected to last any longer than Gandhi and the Congress (I) bloc deemed necessary. When the Congress (I) walked out of the Lok Sabha in March 1991, Shekhar was forced to resign and request that President Venkataraman call new general elections.

United Front

After the 1996 elections, Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Telugu Desam Party, Asom Gana Parishad, All India Indira Congress (Tiwari), Left Front (4 parties), Tamil Maanila Congress, National Conference, and Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party formed a 13 party United Front (UF).

Between 1996 and 1998, the coalition formed two governments in India. H. D. Deve Gowda was the first Janata Dal Prime Minister, and he was succeeded by I. K. Gujral after Jyoti Basu declined to become Prime Minister. The Indian National Congress, led by Sitaram Kesri, provided outside support to both governments. The United Front was convened by N. Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party.

Rajya Sabha member HD Deve Gowda (Image: PTI File)

How this happened:

The Indian general election in 1996 produced a splintered result. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was invited first to form a government after emerging as the largest party with 161 of 543 seats. The offer was accepted, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee was sworn in as Prime Minister.

However, he was unable to secure a majority on the House floor, and the government was overthrown 13 days later. At a meeting of all the other parties, the Indian National Congress, with a substantial 140 seats, declined to head the government and along with the Communist Party of India (Marxist), agreed to extend outside support to a coalition with the Janata Dal at its head, named the “United Front“.

The Samajwadi Party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Asom Gana Parishad, Tamil Maanila Congress, Communist Party of India, and Telugu Desam Party were also members of the front.

H. D. Deve Gowda, the sitting Chief Minister of Karnataka, was asked to lead the coalition as Prime Minister after V. P. Singh, Jyoti Basu, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, G. K. Moopanar, and M. Karunanidhi declined.

His term ran from June 1, 1996 to April 21, 1997. The Congress withdrew its support for Deva Gowda due to disagreements between the coalition and the Congress.

It agreed to support a new government led by I. K. Gujral, who served as Prime Minister from April 21, 1997 to March 19, 1998. After his government fell apart, new elections were held, and the United Front lost power.

Lesson to Learn?

The Third Front’s frailty became a powerful campaign platform for the BJP. Its 1998 government lasted only 13 months, but it returned to power in 1999 and formed the first stable National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, which lasted five years, opined political editor Saubhadra Chatterji in a Hindustan Times report.

The BJP gained the trust of allies. The episode also established a more stable ‘coalition dharma’; both the NDA and the two Congress-led United Progressive Alliance governments were stable because regional parties did not want frequent elections, the report said.

The UF experiment also demonstrated the importance of a larger, national party serving as the coalition’s anchor. It also marked the consolidation, followed by the fragmentation, of regional parties, Chatterji argued.

In Indian politics, the Janata Dal, which promised to be an alternative to the national parties, remained an illusion, and its various constituents drifted apart. Following the experiment, the Congress, too, returned to the Nehru-Gandhi family’s leadership, with Sonia Gandhi in charge.

A report in the Deccan Herald, speculating on the same reason of why the third fronts failed, said both the United and National Fronts relied heavily on outside assistance to form governments. Governments formed with external support are very fragile and vulnerable because the party providing the external support can leave if they are dissatisfied with how the government is run, the report argued.

Both fronts were a ragtag collection of regional political parties. Because of the large number of regional parties, it is extremely difficult to control the regional parties. This was evident when the National Front attempted to form an absolute majority by enlisting opposition parties such as the DMK and AIADM.

On the federal level, there was a clear lack of leadership seen. H.D Devegowda was elected Prime Minister of the United Front after Jyoti Basu, Chandrababu Naidu, and V.P Singh declined the position. The lack of a single leader in these coalitions impacted on the front that hoped to form the government.

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