The desert state of Rajasthan, where two major political parties have been locked in the contest for power for a long time, is witnessing the emergence of a Third Front just before the 2018 Assembly election. The smaller parties are forming new alliances to pose a challenge to the state's two principal political parties -- the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Though the attempts to evolve a strong third force in the state's politics were being made for more than a decade, these efforts have gained strength after Ms. Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) announced its decision recently not to enter into an alliance with Congress for the upcoming Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and elsewhere.
The BSP's decision may make an impact in over 50 seats with a significant Dalit population in Rajasthan and disturb electoral prospects of both the ruling BJP and Congress. The BSP had received 7.6 per cent votes in the 2008 Assembly polls in the state and won six seats. In 2013, its vote share dropped to 3.37 per cent and the number of seats were reduced to three. At present, there are only two BSP MLAs in the state following the disqualification of one member.
On the other hand, seven leftist and socialist parties, which have a limited presence in the state, have formed a "Loktantrik Morcha" to test the political waters. Launched by the former Prime Minister, Mr. H.D. Deve Gowda, in Jaipur last month, the Loktantrik Morcha comprises CPI, CPI(M), CPI (ML), MCPI (United), Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Lok Dal and Janata Dal (Secular). The Morcha will shortly announce the seats where its candidates will contest the polls.
In 2013, BJP had won 163 seats with 45.5 per cent votes, while the Congress secured 33.3 per cent votes and won 21 seats. The remaining 21.2 per cent votes were shared by the smaller parties and independents. The BSP had secured 3.48 per cent, CPI(M) obtained 4.46 per cent and National People's Party (NPP) got 6.41 per cent votes. NPP state president and a popular leader of eastern Rajasthan, Mr. Kirori Lal Meena, initially attempted to bring various parties together for forming the third front, but later joined the BJP and is at present the party's Rajya Sabha MP.
The BSP, which registered good performance in the unreserved constituencies, has announced that it will contest all the 200 Assembly seats in the state. In 2013, it had failed to secure event the second spot at 33 reserved seats. The local BSP leaders were already opposed to any pact with Congress because of the experience in 2008, when the Congress, which scored 96 seats, formed the government with the support of the six BSP MLAs. The Congress got a clear majority when the BSP MLAs defected to it and three of them were made Ministers.
It remains to be seen whether the BSP will be willing to join the Loktantrik Morcha, even though the latter is open to such possibility. According to the CPI(M) Secretary, Mr. Amra Ram, the Morcha has identified some seats where the parties in the front are in a strong position. For the remaining constituencies, the Morcha is in talks with other like-minded parties, though it knows that the BSP and Congress share a common vote bank in Rajasthan.
The political leaders desiring to evolve and strengthen the third force in the state have criticized the policies of both BJP and Congress and claimed that both of them have failed to provide succour to the poor, farmers and the marginalized sections of society.
A new alliance likely to be formed between Independent MLA from Khinwsar in Nagaur district, Mr. Hanuman Beniwal, and BJP's rebel leader and former Minister, Mr. Ghanshyam Tiwari, is set to make the third force stronger in the state. Mr. Beniwal, who has emerged as a prominent Jat leader in central and northern Rajasthan, was earlier in BJP and had won the 2008 Assembly polls as a BJP candidate.
After his suspension from the BJP in 2012 because of differences with the party leader, Ms. Vasundhara Raje, Mr. Beniwal contested the 2013 election as an independent candidate and won. Since then, he has organized big rallies, attracting thousands of Jats and farmers as the participants, in Nagaur, Barmer, Bikaner and Sikar districts.
Mr. Beniwal has announced that he will float a new political party at a big rally in Jaipur in October-end and form an alliance with Mr. Tiwari's Bharat Vahini Party. The association of six-time MLA Mr. Tiwari, who enjoys a big support in the Brahmin community, and Mr. Beniwal, who is popular among Jats, may create a formidable challenge for both the BJP and Congress. Mr. Tiwari had also parted ways with the BJP earlier this year after differences with Ms. Raje over her style of functioning.
If all the smaller parties and independent MLAs come together on a common platform for a grand alliance, it will not only tilt the electoral scales in Rajasthan, but will also send across a message to those leaders of BJP and Congress who are dissatisfied and are feeling sidelined within their own party structures.