India’s Tryst with Coalition govts

The summer of 2019 is quite heated up in the subcontinent, with the chest thumping rhetoric of a “strong” leader and his fierce advocacy of a “majboot” sarkar (full majority) as against the majboor sarkar (coalition). Calling the opposition as “mahamilavat”, Narendra Modi is trying his all possible means to reach the magical figure on his own.

However, the majboor sarkar has not been so majboor either historically or economically. Nor have the majboot sarkars been memorable one. In fact what I feel is that in a truly federal polity coalition govt are a must, they truly reflect the plurality of a country like India and give representation to all sections of the society. It ensures that democracy is not just limited to political right of voting in the elections but extends substantially to social and economic domains as well. The coalition also prevents the authoritarian rule and checks the ill conceived policy decisions.

Constitutionally, India is a quasi federal nation that is tilted in favour of the Union. This was probably the aftereffect of partition, in which it was necessary to keep the unity of the nation intact. But it dosen’t mean trampling over the domain of states or vesting all the powers in a single person. After all we are a democratic country, unlike one party state of China.
However, the initial four decades after independence saw rule by a single party at the centre as well as in most of the states. Much later in 2014, again their was a full majority govt. Looking closely at the brute majority govts of Mrs Gandhi , Rajeev Gandhi and Narendra ‘hee-man’ Modi , a lot of similar authoritarian and ill conceived decisions can be seen. All the three riding on their strong leader, strong govt wave trampled upon the state govt, reducing them just to a department of the centre. It was more so in case of Indira and Rajeev than Modi as most of the states had Congress govts. The Chief Ministers were changed on the whims and fancies of Mrs Gandhi and no grassroot level leadership was allowed to develop. This was primarily the reason for decline of Congress in the long run. Using of state emergencies or hijacking the other party MLAs have been a tradition under Indira and Modi.

All the three “strong” leaders tried to subvert the independence of institutions and gag the press to suit their political ends. Indira Gandhi’s conflict with the judiciary is too well known in this regard. Modi’s experiments with CBI, EC and RBI are also in line with Indira’s authoritarianism.

As there was no other power to check them they came out with the blunders of Emergency, LTTE adventurism, reversing Shah Bano judgement, demonitization, Rafale controversy etc.
On economic front too Mrs Gandhi had a dismal performance and was always in confusion, sometimes turning right while at other times turning left, result being Indian economy being left in shambles. Rajeev Gandhi did try some economic reforms but the momentous decision of opening up the economy were initiated by the “weak” govts of Chandrashekhar and Narshima Rao. Modi too saw steady economic growth of UPA declining and for face saving had to change the statistics.

Coalition govts on the other hand came up with big policy decisions which at times changed the course of our economy and polity which is much against the perceived idea of policy paralysis. Mandal commission was implemented by “weak” National front govt of VP Singh and so were the LPG reforms by minority Narsimha Rao govt. Tax rationalisation and the dream budget was presented by again weak govt of Deve Gowda in 1996. Further, Gujaral doctrine, nuclear tests, golden quadrilateral and Kargil war were the product of coalitions. Dr Manmohan Singh’s govt gave us RTI Act along with MNREGA which helped to bring out thousands of people out of poverty. However , the biggest achievement of Singh lies in Indo-US nuclear deal.
The best part of these govts lie in the fact that they represent the rainbow coalition which is not dominated by any UP or Gujarati lobby. And even if their is any lobby there are others to check them and restore the balance. The leaders and parties belonging to heterogeneous linguistic, religious and cultural groups helps in building a consensus and maintain the equilibrium in governance , which is the hallmark of a democracy.

The unstable United Front and National Front govts have been subjected to much criticism, claiming that they don’t have unity amongst them. Well to be precise thse govts were mostly pulled down by the Congress, which wanted to regain power by precipitating fresh elections. It was the time when Congress was hostile to coalitions and felt that it was their privilege to rule the country. However, after running UPA successfully for 10 years and being excessively weakened today, we can’t expect congress to pull down the govts. So, I feel even third front coalition can continue for 5 years.

Another important aspect which Modi has time and again stoked in his election rallies is of National security. Mr Modi needs to be reminded that India’s foreign policy , especially wars and aggression have been based on all part consensus. No leader has himself or herself ventured upon war. Even dictatorial Mrs Gandhi took opposition into confidence before stoking the 1971 war. Vajypee never used war and defence as a tool to win elections. Coalition leaders across history have fought and won wars successfully, best example being Winston Churchill, who led the war cabinet during the second world war , which comprised of Labour and Liberals as well. Contrast it with larger than life figures of Hitler and Mussolini, they failed inspite of being chrasmatic.

So, finally to conclude Indians need not worry about full majority. Coalitions are better and obviously they will pay more dividends. Major countries of Europe like England and Germany are coalition govts too.


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