India needs a genuine Third Front, not an opportunist alliance

CPI (ML) Liberation activists. Photo by Satya.

By the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation

[CPI (ML) Liberation representative Kavita Krishnan will be a featured guest at the World at a Crossroads conference, to be held in Sydney, Australia, on April 10-12, 2009, organised by the Democratic Socialist Perspective, Resistance and Green Left Weekly. Visit for full agenda and to book your tickets.]

March 17, 2009 -- On the eve of the Lok Sabha (national lower house of parliament) polls, which will be held in five phases between April 16 and May 13, the launch of a ``Third Front'' spearheaded by the efforts of the Communist Party of India (CPI) and CPI (M) (the Communist Party of India-Marxist) has been announced. The front, it is claimed, is a non-Congress party, non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) front committed to ``alternate policies''.

Most of the non-Left Front* partners -- regional and small parties such as All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Telengana Rashtra Samity (TRS), Janata Dal (Secular) -- have at one point or the other been partners of either the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) or the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) or both. Some parties -- such as Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) -- have maintained a cautious pre-poll distance from the Third Front but are being touted as post-poll partners.

[*The Left Front is the CPI (M)-led alliance that rules the state governments of West Bengal and Tripura. A similar alliance also operates in Kerala.]

The establishment of coalition governments as the norm in India for over a decade reflects the eroded credibility of the main ruling-class formations –- the Congress and BJP -– and the rise of a range of third forces. There is unmistakeable frustration and anger at successive NDA and UPA governments and their anti-poor, pro-imperialist policy orientation. Clearly, there is an objective need for a credible Third Front. The question is: can a rag-tag coalition ever constitute a meaningful Third Front? Isn't a vibrant left movement and a powerful democratic consolidation around a powerful left course a necessary foundation for any viable, serious and durable Third Front?

The ``Third Front'' as it stands today is a highly amorphous formation riddled with paradoxes. It is neither a full-fledged pre-poll alliance nor a well-defined programmatic coalition. Partners like the TDP have been enthusiastic proponents of disastrous neoliberal policies; as for the track record of partners like TDP, AIADMK or Janata Dal (Secular) on secularism and democracy, the less said the better. Potential post-poll partners like the BJD and BSP have an equally dubious and tainted record on both neoliberal policies and secularism (the BJD was the party in power in the state of Orissa, that, leading the state govt in alliance with BJP, has presided over the massacre of Christians at Kandhamal and over the repression and killing of tribal protesters against massive corporate land grab at Kalinganagar, and many other places; while the BSP has the distinction of being the only party without a declared economic policy).

More importantly, the current arrangement ignores the fact that there is a distinct and crucial difference between ``Third Front government'' (or non-NDA, non-UPA government) and a ``Third Front''.

A Third Front in its true sense can be nothing but a left and democratic front that is a powerful voice of a third alternative -– in policies, in vision, in people’s movements -– but which may not necessarily be in a position to form government. Only such a Third Front can be in any way durable, sustainable and credible. What is being called a ``Third Front'' at this juncture is very different: it is merely a potential power-sharing that might emerge in view of the possibility that neither the UPA nor NDA achieve a majority in the impending parliamentary polls -– an eventuality that is difficult to predict with any degree of certainty. Surely a genuine Third Front cannot be a mere exercise in government formation?

The role of the left parties, the CPI and CPI (M), in such a coalition is yet another paradox. On the one hand these parties face major setbacks in their strongholds of Kerala and West Bengal. On the other, CPI (M) leaders have spoken of the possibility of joining a Third Front government at the centre! Answering questions from the press at the release of the party manifesto, CPI (M) general secretary Prakash Karat indicated that the question of joining a Third Front government at the centre is very much open. The CPI (M), since its ``historic blunder'' of 1996, has systematically removed all the programmatic roadblocks to being part of a government at the centre -– it is now free to join any central government which it claims to be in a position to ``influence''.

The CPI (ML) Liberation has made it clear that a role in government formation is not on its agenda or priorities. The party is contesting this election with the agenda of asserting a fighting left opposition within parliament. The seat adjustment [agreement] forged by the CPI (ML) Liberation in Bihar with the CPI and the CPI (M) is quite distinct from any ongoing ``Third Front'' efforts of those parties. This adjustment is based on the CPI (ML)'s consistent efforts in the direction of joint activities and electoral adjustments with left formations. While there has been no let-up in our firm and sustained struggle against the CPI-CPI (M)'s opportunist tactics on the whole and anti-people policies and measures in Left Front-ruled states, the latter have, in the objective conditions of Bihar at this particular juncture (the closing of doors on an alliance with the UPA partners and the impact among left ranks in the state of CPI (ML)'s practice of independent left assertion) responded positively to our appeal for an adjustment in the Lok Sabha polls in Bihar.

We hold that a meaningful Third Front can only be forged on a left basis. The ongoing adjustment achieved by the CPI (ML), CPI and CPI (M) in Bihar is certainly linked in a strategic sense to the efforts and experiments in the direction of such a genuine Third Front -– efforts and experiments marked by a consistent and principled element of struggle as well as of unity of purpose.

The ruling-class design to subject the polity to a duopoly of the UPA and NDA must be frustrated. But a rag-tag ``Third Front'' that offers no policy alternative and is crowded by forces with dubious track records cannot face this challenge. Only a powerful left and democratic camp drawing its strength from the struggles and aspirations of the Indian people for a better tomorrow can be the most effective bulwark against the ruling class's attempt to regiment the polity, and can be the basis for a principled and consistent third alternative and Third Front.

[This article first appeared in the CPI (ML) Update, vol. 12, no. 12, March 17-23, 2009.]