The leitmotif of all speeches that day was the same: the Central government's attempt to raise the Ayodhya pitch was utterly communal and needed to be countered. And then the ruckus in Parliament happened. Suddenly, key allies seem to be uncomfortable with Vajpayee's fall from his earlier liberal position on the Ram mandir issue.
Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee is already hinting at a 'mahajot'—this time against the bjp. TElugu Desam boss Chandrababu Naidu is upset that Vajpayee is going against the nda ageNDA, and dmk chiEF M. Karunanidhi is upset with Vajpayee for toeing a hardcore saffron line. Union minister Sharad Yadav is meeting Mamata while another Cabinet colleague, Ram Vilas Paswan, is not too excited about the scale of disinvestment in his telecom ministry.
Just what is cooking? Says cPI-(M)'s Harkishen Singh Surjeet: "Things are beginning to happen. Talks are going on for a Third Front between political parties that do not see eye to eye either with the bjp oR The Congress." Will Jyoti Basu head such an alliance? "He is the tallest of all the leaders," says Surjeet, adding that "many people have no objection to him leading such an alliance, though it is too early to say anything." He also says that nda allies ARe not welcome in such a front—at least not for the moment. "I can empathise with them. It is all right to support the bjp and geT Into the government, but what happens when you have to face the electorate? The bjp governMENt is not only communal, it is also selling off the nation's institutions for a song in the name of disinvestment," he asserts.
On the other hand, Yerran Naidu of the TDP, a key NDA constituent, says that "any deviation from the NDA agenda can be fatal." Will TDP be part of any such Third Front? "It's a hypothetical question because there's no such thing," he says candidly. But TDP MPs say that a Mamata-Naidu-Karunanidhi axis is pretty much a reality.
But then, does a potential Third Front have the necessary numbers? Even more important: what is the position of the Congress on the issue? "THE question of supporting anyone, includING the Communists, does not arise at THIS point," says Congress MP Kapil Sibal, who says they are not looking just at the current composition of the Lok Sabha but future general eLECtions as well. Says another Congress MP: "Why should we support Basu? Are we saying that a man not fit to lead a state is fit to lead the country? Moreover, we have differences on economic policies. They are ideologically opposed to reforms. We are not. We have always supported a Third Front. Now it's time for them to support us if secularism is what is at stake."
Basu knows it is not an easy task either. In fact, the hurdles may far outstrip the points of convergence. Can Mamata join a front that has cpm as one of its constituents? Can the dmk get into an arrangement with the aiadmk? Will Naidu join forces with the Congress in his backyard? Says analyst Vikram Diesh: It is precisely this formulation which keeps the bjp in power.
But some other analysts prefer to look at the flip side. Last fortnight, all members of Sharad Yadav’s faction in the Janata Dal voted against the Bank Denationalisation bill in the Lok Sabha. Meanwhile, arch-rival Y.S. Rajashekhara Reddy, Congress strongman in Andhra, has withdrawn all his cases against Chandrababu Naidu on some unspecified grounds. Clearly, the question here is whether these are merely straws in the wind or are they pointers to a situation that may develop in the aftermath of assembly elections to four or five crucial states next year?