Thursday, March 19, 2009

This farce about the Third Front is really too much to swallow

The absurd drama that unfolded in the past week, beginning with the Biju Janata Dal turning secular, the rally at Tumkur in Karnataka where the Left parties, the Janata Dal (S), the TDP, the TRS, the AIADMK and the BSP announced the birth of the Third Front and the gathering on Sunday night for a dinner at Mayawati’s residence in Delhi to take the project one step forward were instances that only established that our this bunch of political leaders can stoop lower than in the past without any problem.

And one was reminded of a wonderful sentence from one of Karl Marx’s brilliant texts, Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. The opening sentence of that text reads as follows: ``Hegel remarks somewhere, that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Caussidiere for Danton, Louis Blanc for Robespierre, the Montagne of 1848 to 1851 for the Montagne of 1793 to 1795, the nephew for the uncle. And the same caricature occurs in the circumstances of the second edition of the Eighteenth Brumaire’’.

Recall the events in May 1996. The elections had thrown a hung Lok Sabha and the Congress had conceded defeat. The BJP staked its claim to form the Government even though the party along with its pre-poll allies did not have the majority. Its leaders knew they were taking a gamble and they did feel that support would come from such parties as the Telegu Desam, the Tamil Maanila Congress, the DMK, the AGP and the Janata Dal. These parties, meanwhile, were trying to gather around together and making it known that they did not want to support the BJP; and since the Congress was not inclined to ask for their support, they were left with no other option than to claim the job of running the Union Government to themselves.

The underlying story was that the choice before these parties was limited to either supporting the BJP or forming themselves into a coalition and seeking help from the Congress. The third possibility of a Congress running the Government with these parties did not exist because the then Congress president, P.V.Narasimha Rao did not think that way. And they ended up spending more than a week without being able to ``elect’’ a leader from among them. At one stage of that absurd drama, Jyoti Basu’s name was brought up for the Prime Minister’s job. It remained in circulation for a night and the following day until the CPI(M)’s central committee told Basu and the party general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet that such fantasy was not in tune with the party’s line and the programme.

President Shankar Dayal Sharma lost patience when he found the leaders of that noble Third Front unable to elect their leaders even after days since they set out on that job and invited Atal Behari Vajpayee to take the job of the Prime Minister. Vajpayee did not hesitate even for a moment and had himself sworn in along with 12 others the following day. And it was only then that the Third Front finally managed to ``elect’’ its leader. H.D.Deve Gowda, of all people, was named as the next Prime Minister. Gowda agreed to do the job and went about it with all seriousness.
The front was born out of a common craving for secularism. But Gowda did not bother about it much. He flew out of Delhi, late in the night one day, to Mumbai and had a meeting with Bal Thackeray. Gowda’s aide, C.M.Ibrahim, organised the programme and the game was to have the Sena on his side! Well. Gowda did not last long as Prime Minister to have the Sena into the United Front as the platform was called at that time.

Fast Forward to 1998. The United Front Government fell after the Congress withdrew support to I.K.Gujral because Gujral refused to dismiss the DMK ministers from his cabinet. The Congress case was that the DMK was suspected of involvement in Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. The Government fell. Elections were held again. The BJP, this time won more seats than it had and it had some new allies. The Biju Janata Dal and the AIADMK along with the PMK and the MDMK were now part of the NDA. And a small deficit in the number of seats was made up by the Telegu Desam Party and the BJP formed the government. In 1999, the alliance expanded with R.K.Hegde joining the NDA. The AIADMK moved out and the DMK stepped in.

In the meanwhile, the BSP teamed up with the BJP in Uttar Pradesh since 1996 and such arrangements were repeated twice thereafter. Deve Gowda blessed his son H.D.Kumarasamy to cobble up a front, first with the Congress and then with the BJP to run the Government and make tones of money in Karnataka. The Left parties, certainly did not do any such thing. But between 1996 and 2009, they have been busy with the idea of a non-Congress-non-BJP front as well as a Congress-inclusive-anti-BJP front.

The point behind recalling all this is to simply remind ourselves that the track record of the parties. And given the fact that these parties together do not have the strength to garner as many as 272 seats in the next Lok Sabha, all the talk of their Government is simply baseless.

Well. It is not the case here to merely ridicule the antics of the Left leaders and the others in this drama that is being enacted day after day in the context of the snsuing elections.

As Marx goes on to say in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, ``Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language…”

In other words, the Left had the experience of having worked on the grand idea of a third front and how it collapsed even before it got on with the work of governance. The most important lesson that had to be learnt from the experience of the United Front (1996-1998) was that it set the grounds for the BJP to emerge with more strength in the Lok Sabha in 1998 and for the Government. The United Front, in that sense, was a terrible disaster and ended in a tragedy; the BJP gained out of that. And subsequently, in May 2004, the only option, so to say, was to prop up a Congress-led coalition in the name of secularism.

It is sad that the Left, despite its leaders claiming to have read Marx and Engels, has not been able to internalize this aspect and is engaged in pursuing the same idea of a third front with almost all the old faces in it. In other words, they are simply enacting the farce.

Well. It will be appropriate to return to Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte once again before concluding this. ``The awakening of the dead served the purpose of glorifying the new struggles, not of parodying the old; of magnifying the given task in the imagination, not recoiling from its solution in reality; of finding once more the spirit of revolution, not making its ghost walk again’’.

The third front project, as it is unfurling with Prakash Karat and A.B.Bardhan playing the role of its directors, and with such actors like Deve Gowda, Jayalalitha and Mayawati, is nothing but a parody of the Third Front as it unfolded in 1996 and folded up in 1998. None seem to have bothered to learn from history.


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