Dark horse rising: Non-controversial Naveen Patnaik could be a consensus leader if a Third Front emerges Neerja Chowdhury The 2014 mother of all battles is increasingly becoming a fight between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. And yet, as things move, the post-poll scenario may well become a toss-up between a Modi-led BJP and a Congress â€” and Left â€” supported Third Front, or a variant. As of now, the prospects of a Congress-led UPA-III do not look promising. Clearly, the Third Front, or a banding together of six to eight prominent regional outfits which could become the centrepiece of a coalition, could emerge only after the elections and would hinge on the arithmetic of the 16th Lok Sabha. The parties that band together will have to notch up around 140 seats between them, with the Congress and Left parties bringing another 140 to the table. A Third Front government would need the support of the Congress, though weakened, and the country's grand old party may not be averse to it to keep Modi out of power. It is Modi's polarising personality which may facilitate the formation of such a front. Many regional parties, particularly those in the Ganga belt, are dependent on minorities as their vote base and would do everything possible to avoid having to support a Modi-led government, if they can help it. We have seen non-Congress and non-BJP-led national governments in the past â€” in 1977, 1989 and again in 1997 â€” but they proved to be highly unstable, given ego clashes of top leaders. Even today leadership would be a sticky issue, but many of the players may be more pragmatic this time because they realise that an ascendant BJP under Modi could devour their vote base. Far-fetched though it may seem today, many predict the coming together of Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar in the 2015 Bihar elections to stop the Modi juggernaut. Nor would it be so inconceivable for both Samajwadi Party and Mayawati to lend their support to the same formation, as they have done with UPA-II. There are many Third Front prime ministerial possibilities. Though Mulayam Singh Yadav and Nitish Kumar have been considered frontrunners, their graphs have been declining and they may tend to cancel each other out. Jayalalithaa could become a PM player if she wins a sizeable chunk of seats â€” surveys give her around 28 Lok Sabha seats â€” and decides to stand with the Third Front, instead of supporting Modi, with whom she enjoys a rapport. Sharad Pawar, though in UPA today, could have wide acceptability, having nurtured â€” and funded over the years â€” across-party leaders. But Congress brass may be wary of his clout within the party and his potential to split or capture it. In such a scenario, the man to watch is Naveen Patnaik, the most under-evaluated state satrap. The Odisha chief minister has stated time and again that he is not interested in moving to Delhi. A situation may come when he doesn't seek a natio-nal role but a national role seeks him. He has many things going for him. The son of the doyen of Indian politics, Biju Patnaik, who had a relationship with every political party since the days of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, Naveen entered politics only after his father's death but went on to win three consecutive state elections. A CM for 13 years, who can neither speak nor read Oriya, his connect with the people has been quite remarkable. Besides, he enjoys a clean, "pro-poor" and yet industry-friendly image. India's middle class may take to the English-speaking Naveen more than they did H D Deve Gowda. Naveen has demonstrated that he has political acumen as well as administrative skills. He effectively put down the rebellion in his party mounted by one-time aide Pyari Mohan Mahapatra, while he was abroad. The rescue of nine lakh people in three days once the Phailin cyclone blew over would not have been possible had the CM not led from the front, having put into place an effective infrastructure to meet the challenge of disasters over the years. Though a one time ally of the BJP, Naveen Patnaik's secular credentials are also not in question, having parted company with the NDA after the gruesome Kandhamal killings of Christians, even though minorities constitute a minuscule proportion of Odisha's population. What would however qualify Naveen Patnaik most for the top job is that he is non-controversial and poses the least threat to other state leaders. The Congress may find him "safer" than other state satraps. Odisha could then open out for the Congress once again, if he moves to Delhi. Indian politics is moving away from national leaders to state satraps. Many of them â€” in power for more than one consecutive term, be it Sheila Dikshit or Narendra Modi or Nitish Kumar or Shivraj Chouhan or Raman Singh, or Tarun Gogoi or Naveen Patnaik â€” may now try and claim a bigger national space, either as individuals, as Modi is doing, or as a collective, which a Third Front, given a chance, will attempt to do. It goes without saying that the possibility of a Third Front would depend on the extent to which Modi can sustain the momentum he has generated so far. Dark horse rising: Non-controversial Naveen Patnaik could be a consensus leader if a Third Front emerges - The Times of India ****************************** Neerju on TV Debates comes out as a Congress fan as does Kumar Ketkar. She is disappointed that Congress has really messed up the game. She feels that the Third Front has a jolly good chance and so it may indeed. If indeed it come to pass that the Third Front emerges as the top slotter, would the Third Front succeed in forming a Govt? Would Patnaike be the PM? Would Mulayam or Nitish abandon their dream to spite the national parties? Will Jayalalithaaaa allow anyone to dominate? Will the BJP or Congress be magnanimous to render 'outside support'? Which of the two will be ready to do so? Will they really do so or wait for an opportunity, as in the past, to pull the Third Front down at the first opportunity? What will the Fate of the country be?