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‘Front’ for House, not poll

New Delhi, Feb. 5: Leaders of 11 parties including the Left today met to forge an alternative to the BJP and the Congress but indicated that a “third front” had a long way to go.

The leaders wrapped up their session with declarations of forming a “bloc” in Parliament to raise issues related to secularism and federalism — a pet plank of Mamata Banerjee, Left’s main rival in former bastion Bengal.

“This is the first meeting after the (Left-organised) October 30 convention against communalism. We have decided to form a bloc in Parliament and fight on common issues,” said Sharad Yadav of Bihar’s ruling JD(U).

CPM leader Sitaram Yechury said that for now, the effort was limited to Parliament. “What we will do outside Parliament will be discussed in the coming days,” said Yechury, flanked by other leaders. Apart from the four Left parties and the JD(U), the others that participated in the meeting were the Samajwadis, Odisha’s Biju Janata Dal, AIADMK, Janata Dal (Secular), Asom Gana Parishad and Jharkhand Vikas Manch.

But the declaration about unity in Parliament looked meaningless with the current session being the last of the 15th Lok Sabha ahead of the summer elections.

Probably, the fear of which way many of the parties in the bloc would drift after the polls kept the leaders from announcing any third front-like formation.

Some Left leaders said there was little hope of a third front taking shape before the polls. “A front can only take shape after the polls. The formation of a political front depends on numbers,” said a CPM leader.

The marginalised Left, however, hopes to enter into state-level seat adjustments with some of the parties in the group, as it has with the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. The CPM and the CPI are deals with the ruling BJD in Odisha and the JD(U) in Bihar.

The Left hopes to ride the support of the regional parties to raise its Lok Sabha tally amid fears of losses in Trinamul-governed Bengal.

Leaders of the bloc are hoping for a repeat of a 1996-like scenario when the combined tally of their Lok Sabha seats would be more than the Congress’s and it would be forced to support such a coalition to form the government.

Asked about the failure of the much-hyped third front in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and the “opportunistic” track-record of many of the regional parties Yechury said that “was the past”. “The world survives on confidence and we are optimists. Leave what happened in the past.”

CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta, who has announced retirement and declared he would not contest the Lok Sabha elections, said “history always does not repeat itself”.

Not everyone seemed to agree. BSP chief Mayawati, the prime ministerial face of the third front in 2009, described the bloc as an axis of “defeated parties”. The Congress downplayed the efforts. “Politics is an expression of possibilities…the possibilities change with time. Let’s wait,” spokesperson Randip Surjewala said. The BJP dubbed the bid a “ritual carried out before every election”.