The emergence of a “third front” in Gujarat has come as a shocker to the proposed opposition unity against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the national level.

The Congress is unhappy with Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal United and Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which have announced a parallel front with Hardik Patel. Patel has formed the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) for the upcoming Assembly elections in Gujarat. However, the principal opposition party Congress, with 28 MLAs, is missing from the “front”.

Interestingly, while the Congress shares power with JDU in Bihar, both NCP and JDU are key members of the opposition front against BJP at the national level. The Congress has been out of power for about 27 years, while the BJP has continuously been in power since 1990.

Though, traditionally, there is no space for a “third front” in Gujarat, even small division of votes by the NCP-JDU combine may affect the outcome. In the last Assembly elections, the NCP had contested 12 seats and won two, while the JDU contested 65 seats and won one. The difference between BJP and Congress votes was 9%.

However, according to JDU sources, the situation has changed a lot in Gujarat, especially with the emergence of Hardik Patel, who spearheaded the Patidar movement. These JDU sources feel that there is enough scope for non-BJP parties in Gujarat, but the Congress is not sincere about tapping the space. Thus, according to them, there is ample opportunity for the NCP-JDU-PAAS alliance.

The NCP, JDU and PAAS have floated a parallel front to take on the BJP. However, since Congress is not a part of it, there is speculation that anti-BJP votes may get divided, much to the advantage of the latter. Assembly elections in Gujarat are scheduled to be held in December this year. Development in Gujarat is coming at a time when the Congress is trying to unite the opposition parties at the national level for the Presidential elections and also for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Senior JDU leader K.C. Tyagi said: “Can Congress win Gujarat independently? This is something which Congress leaders should introspect. We want to help Congress. If they are sincere about defeating the BJP, they should join hands with us and not stick to their guns. The problem with Congress is that they go for alliance where they are in a beggar-like situation (like Bihar and UP), but avoid alliance in states where they are relatively strong.”

According to another JDU leader Bashistha Narayan Singh, Sharad Pawar has considerable influence in many pockets in Gujarat. On the other hand, Hardik Patel’s movement witnessed massive participation of youths and farmers. Therefore, it is going to be quite a meaningful front.”

The Congress, on the other hand, pooh-poohed emergence of any “third front” in Gujarat. Speaking to this correspondent, Gujarat Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said: “Have they really formed a front? We have no information. If some parties are willing to go for suicide, we cannot help. Two-party politics is the ‘taasir’ (spirit) of Gujarat. There cannot be a triangular fight.

“On our part, we are strengthening our organisation here. But at the same time, we would like all secular forces to come together, as our goal is to defeat the BJP. We are open-minded,” he said, adding: “How can parties, which have together three MLAs, defeat the BJP?”

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