Thursday, February 11, 2010

COALITION POLITICS IN INDIA-Special article, Prof.K.Nageshwar

Elections 2009 have once again revealed that India has firmly entered into the phase of coalition politics. A closer scrutiny of pattern of results indicate that the parties which understood the grammar of coalition politics effectively could benefit more than those parties which failed to do so. For over a decade of Indian politics have decisively established this trend. In 1996, for instance, the then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee faced the confidence vote in Loksabha, the entire Indian political spectrum opposed the BJP government. But, within two years, thanks to intelligent political maneuvering, the BJP could succeed in rallying a large number of parties behind it. On the contrary, the congress at its Panchmadi meet took a stand against coalition politics and maintained that it can come to power on its own. This helped the BJP led National Democratic Alliance to come to power in 1998 and 1999. But soon the congress learnt lessons from its debacle.

The party revised its stand at its Simla meet. The congress declared its readiness for coalitions. In fact, the congress high command took personal initiative to implement this changed stand. Sonia Gandhi flew to Chennai to participate in DMK chief Karunanidhi’s birth day celebrations. She went to Mayawati’s residence to greet her on her birthday. All this helped the congress to gain the confidence of non BJP parties on the seriousness of the congress to forge alliances. In 2004 elections, congress could got formidable alliances in many states after it has revised its stand on coalition politics. For instance, the congress could arrive at winning alliances with Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in Bihar, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Maharashtra, DMK led front in Tamilnadu, Jharkand Mukti Morcha in Jharkhand , Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) in Andhra Pradesh, PDP in Jammu Kashmir .The only exception perhaps is Uttarpradesh where despite earnest efforts by the it , congress could not reach an agreement with either Samajwadi party or Bahujan Samaj party.

On the contrary, the Bharatiya Janata Party which was earlier the most significant beneficiary of coalition politics was caught on the wrong foot this time. The costliest mistake was done in Tamil nadu. The rate of failure of BJP’S allies was more than that of its own failure. All this reveal the indispensable factor of coalition politics.

The 2009 elections also reaffirmed the trend of fractured verdict. The national parties could reap electoral dividends where ever they could forge ties with popular allies. The congress has benefited in West Bengal, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu. While the BJP could repeat its gains in Bihar.

Let us now look at some of the apprehensions and misconceptions surrounding the era of coalition politics.

Firstly, it is often being argued that coalitions are the hazard of Indian politics. This is not true. The coalition politics is neither unique to India nor new to India. Several advanced, industrialized democracies have coalition governments. These include Germany, France, United Kingdom, Japan etc. Infact, a country like Italy saw over fifty governments since Second World War. Japan has seen several governments falling not only due to coalitions but also after facing serious corruption allegations. In India too, we have seen several coalition governments in states after the congress supremacy on power was challenged for the first time in late 1960’s. The coalition government was formed at the centre too in 1977 comprising of by Janata Party with Akalidal.

Second, coalition governments cause political instability thereby resulting in uncertainty in governance. This argument is partly true. In the early phase of coalition politics, there were frequent changes in government.

But over the period of time, coalition governments have consolidated. For instance, Kerala has seen frequent change of governments. But off late, Kerala has governments remaining in office for a full term .Different political parties are clearly identified with one or other coalition. Even at the centre, coalition governments are running for full term. Therefore, it seems the political instability created by coalition politics is a transient phenomenon. The coalition politics have transformed over a period of time. In the initial stage political parties came together to form coalitions either to come to power or keep their common enemy out of power. The coalition partners may differ on many aspects but share power. In the second stage, political parties despite differences form coalition after arriving at a common minimum programme before or after elections. Such a common minimum programme will be a negotiated document striking a balance between the positions held by various coalition partners. Such arrangements can not be considered as opportunistic but a display of pragmatism in the era of coalitions. This is infact a strange characteristic of coalition phase. This is evident from the arrangement at the centre in 2004. The communist party of India (Marxist) won 41 out of the 44 seats it won by defeating the congress-I in 2004 elections. However, still it has to support the congress led united progressive alliance government at least from outside. Such a kind of peculiar arrangement is bound to create some strains and problems within a coalition. One should have political maturity to understand and appreciate the dynamics of coalition politics. The political parties do not wish to govern with coalitions. Fractured verdict of the people make coalitions compulsory. This explanation is to substantiate the argument that coalition arrangements are not politically opportunistic.

The coalition politics have to reach the third stage of its evolution to avoid instability and pulls and pressures leading to frequent irritants. At this stage political parties are coalition partners not only within the parliamentary sphere, but also outside too. Such coalitions are characterized by common worldview and ideological affinity. For instance the left front government in west Bengal and BJP- Shivasena coalition which ruled Maharashtra earlier.

Yet an another argument against coalition politics is that it impedes economic progress. But, there is no empirical basis to argue that it happens always. The period of 1990’s has witnessed further consolidation of coalition politics. In the era of liberalization there is a tendency towards delinking of economics from politics. There is greater political unanimity on crucial economic policies. On many a reform measures, even the opposition is also with the government.

Even the empirical evidence also does not suggest that coalition politics retard economic growth. At a time when India is passing through the phase of coalitions, the economy achieved 8 percent growth .India has achieved 5.7 percent growth rate during 1990’s. Even the international experience also indicates the same.


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