What Third Front? They may not last even till elections: Gujral

By Rashmi Saksena, IANS,

New Delhi : Former prime minister Inder Kumar Gujral, the surprise pick of the United Front in 1997 to head the multi-party coalition government, says the present Third Front has a “commitment to ambition, not ideology” and “may not last even till the elections.”

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And if political alliances do keep through the elections, Gujral says, “the issue of personalities will be the most difficult to resolve and will be the biggest challenge” for them if and when called to decide on the next prime minister.

“What we have at present is a commitment to ambition not ideology,” Gujral said days after the Third Front – a grouping of non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), non-Congress parties – was launched ahead of the April-May general elections.

“All the elements that are undecided on which of the two major parties to side with are in the Third Front. This may not last even till the elections, leave aside post poll,” Gujral told IANS in an interview at his residence.

Gujral’s scepticism about the alliances being sewed up by big and small political parties as well as the emergence of a Third Front stems from his opinion that such arrangements, to be lasting, must have the participation of either the Congress or the BJP.

When the two major parties make up their mind and decide on the type of coalition, ideology and personalities, only then can there emerge a lasting tie-up, he feels.

He knows by first-hand experience who can bag the top post in a coalition. “It is a process of filtration and ultimately in the final stage the highest common factor wins,” said Gujral.

Gujral’s words may well serve as a guide for regional satraps positioning themselves today for the country’s top job.

Recalling how he was chosen to replace H.D. Deve Gowda as prime minister, Gujral said: “I never lobbied for it. It came as a surprise to me.” Gujral was at home when the coalition partners were closeted in a meeting at the Andhra Pradesh Bhavan to arrive at a consensus candidate after Gowda had been forced to quit.

He had stayed away “not because I was indifferent but because I had no role to play”. At about 9 p.m., “United Front convenor N. Chandrababu Naidu rang me up and asked me to come to the meeting. I listened to the likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad and others trying to resolve their contradictions at the meeting and felt very tired. I asked for a room where I could rest”.

Five hours later Naidu knocked on the door and “told me that everyone had decided on me to head the United Front government”. Gujral was prime minister from April 21 to March 19, 1998.

Gujral is writing all this and more in his memoirs, “I Live To Say It All”, expected to be complete by the year-end. “I spend five hours a day on the book, referring to 100 of my diaries which I began maintaining in 1976 when ambassador to Moscow.”

But this does not keep him from closely following the political developments in the run-up to the polls.

Can a Gujral be repeated after the 2009 general elections? “It is too early to say. It is all still nebulous,” says Gujral, adding rhetorically “first there has to be a pregnancy, then a birth and then comes the stage to decide who will be the groom”.

(Rashmi Saksena can be contacted at [email protected])