New Delhi: Traces of a Third Front could be seen when 14 parties shared the dais in the capital late last month and vowed to fight the "threat of communalism" at a gathering organised by the Left parties. But doubts over its long term viability persist.
Political observers agree there is space for a Third Front in Indian politics ahead of the 2014 general elections but say it is too early to talk about it as any such grouping would have to be based on common policies and programmes and, most importantly, a vision for the future of the nation.
"The meeting was significant, but it is too early to look upon it as a third front at this point of time," Zoya Hasan, who teaches political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University, told IANS.
Both Pradip Dutta of Delhi University and Badri Narayan of GB Pant Social Sciences Institute, Jhusi, Allahabad, felt "there is space for a Third Front" but said they were wary "over its longevity".
"Power sharing is what brings these parties together, but it also results in the constituents fighting each other," Badri Narayan, a research fellow in social sciences, told IANS.
Noting that "there is no ideology and common policy" guiding these parties, he felt "they lack long-term focus".
"Even if they are able to forge an alliance, it won't last long," said Narayan.
Although agreeing that the coming together of 14 parties against communalism could be a "first step" towards a third front, political science professor Pradip Dutta cautioned that "it should not be seen as an alliance."
"For any such grouping to be effective it needs clarity on principles and have an economic vision," he said.
And the Front would have to spell out clearly how it is different from the Congress and the BJP.
"But some of them have already played along with the BJP," Dutta warned.
Also sounding a cautionary note, Zoya Hasan of JNU said the Left parties, which are central to the formation of any third front, are still "wary" of such a grouping, keeping in mind the fate of a similar experiment ahead of the 2009 general elections.
"The Left is wary at this point. It still has not said anything on the front," said Hasan.
The Oct 30 gathering in Delhi brought together diverse parties like the Janata Dal-United represented by both Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and party chief Sharad Yadav, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav as well as representatives of the AIADMK, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and UPA ally Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
Janata Dal-Secular leader and former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda, the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha-Prajatantrik and the Asom Gana Parishad also marked their presence at the meeting.
Though the parties did not clearly spell out that the meeting was aimed at a poll alliance, hints came from Nitish Kumar and Mulayam Singh who favoured a Third Front.
Both Mulayam Singh and Nitish Kumar fancy they see a chance to be prime minister, contending that both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may not be able to get the numbers to form a government on their own after the Lok Sabha polls. The Third Front, with its possible 14 constituents, can then step in.
But four of the regional parties on the dais - JD-U, AIADMK, JVM and AGP - were part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance during 1998-2004. And the NCP is part of the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance while the SP supports it from outside.
Will the Third Front in the works be able to hold against such diverse forces?
(Amit Agnihotri can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)