Indian General Elections

The Federal Front: What Is It And Can It Succeed In Being An Alternative To The NDA Or UPA Once The 2019 Lok Sabha Results Are Announced?

Written By Suchitra Karthikeyan | Mumbai | Published:

As the majority of India has now voted in the Lok Sabha elections, the focus has now shifted towards the alliances which would come together to form the Central government post May 23. While the two major extant alliances are the NDA  and the UPA, there is also always talk of a 'Third Front' which in the lead up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls has also been referred to as a 'Federal Front' and while a number of regional satraps have attempted to lead this front, the one who has made the first, as well as the latest moves, has been Telangana CM K Chandrashekhara Rao.

The NDA comprising the BJP, Shiv Sena, AIADMK, JD(U), Akali Dal and other parties - over 20 in all - currently holds 336 Lok Sabha seats while the UPA comprising the Congress, NCP, RJD, DMK, and others currently holds 66 seats in the 16th Lok Sabha. Notably, the BJP had by itself won 282 seats in 2014 but in the event that no single party manages a majority mandate on its own this time around, a scramble for alliances could very well be on the cards. So can this 'Federal Front' eke out a strong bargaining position for itself (if not better) or emerge as a rival to the NDA and the UPA?

What is the Federal Front?

The 'Federal Front', as such, was coined by KCR who was among the first non-NDA leaders to speak openly about the need for a national-level alternative to the BJP and Congress in the aftermath of the early-2018 North East elections where the Saffron party emerged as the predominant force in the region and the Congress capitulated, even managing to be outmanoeuvred in Meghalaya despite emerging as the single-largest party. Following this, Mamata Banerjee concurred with KCR and the two held a meeting in Kolkata. Subsequent months, however, saw the TDP breaking apart from the NDA over the issue of special category status for Andhra Pradesh following which Chandrababu Naidu also positioned himself as an anti-Modi face. Notably, KCR was absent as the Opposition made its first major pre-2019 show of strength at Kumaraswamy's swearing-in as Karnataka CM as Mamata Banerjee and Naidu stood shoulder-to-shoulder, waxed eloquent about regional powers and said 'Jo Bhi Humse Takraayege, woh Choor Choor ho jayega.'

While KCR hasn't been among the most vocal leaders in subsequent musterings of regional leaders, he did notably manage to win the Telangana assembly elections by a landslide after dissolving the assembly early and in the midst of the Lok Sabha polls, has approached regional leaders like Left Democratic Front (Kerala) chief CM Pinarayi Vijayan and YSR Congress Party chief Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy to gain support for the formation of a third front. While the YSRCP has openly declared its support for the Federal Front, KCR has also approached Congress ally DMK's chief M K Stalin as well as H D Kumaraswamy (JD(S)). Apart from these parties Odisha's Naveen Patnaik-led BJD is one other major power which can make a difference to the Third Front's tally. 

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History of the Third Front (1996-1998)

Non-BJP, non-Congress alliances have witnessed limited success in the past few decades, achieving their zenith in 1996 through the formation of the United Front government with the JD(S) president H D Deve Gowda chosen as Prime Minister initially and then succeeded by Janata Dal president I K Gujral. This United Front comprised of 13 parties namely Janata Dal, SP, DMK, TDP, AGP, four Left Front parties, AIIC(T), NC and MGP and was supported from outside by the Congress.

After initially supporting the coalition government, the Congress revoked its support to both the Deve Gowda government and the I.K Gujral government which ultimately fell and lost to the BJP when fresh elections were called.

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Current status of the Federal Front

The biggest obstacle to the 'Federal Front' is KCR's Andhra Pradesh rival TDP president and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu who has met with AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal, Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, BSP supremo Mayawati, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, LJD leader Sharad Yadav, NC chief Farooq Abdullah and NCP chief Sharad Pawar in hopes of reviving the 'Mahagathbandhan'. 

To add to the complications, recent reports have emerged that UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has personally written to a number of parties - both UPA allies and other non-NDA parties - including the BJD, YSRCP, TDP, and TRS inviting them for a meeting on result day (May 23) to rally together post the verdict.

The one factor which might work in favour of the Federal Front is the perennially rocky ground beneath the feet of the Karnataka coalition government of JD(S) and Congress, with a senior JD(S) leader coming out as recently as May 18 to suggest the dissolution of the Karnataka Assembly. This constant bickering may serve as a deterrent to the Congress' hopes of 'serving as a platform' to fight the BJP as the Rahul Gandhi-led party has positioned itself. Similar failures to stitch together a meaningful alliance in Uttar Pradesh buttresses this.  

Taking the Kumaraswamy route, KCR has recently suggested that he would be open to allying with the Congress provided he gets to be in the driver seat of forming the government if such a scenario arises.

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