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Uneasy Throne: COALITION GOVT’s “YES” PM, By Dr.S.Saraswathi, 27 Oct, 2017 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 27 October 2017

Uneasy Throne


By Dr.S.Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)


Former President Pranab Mukherjee told a national newspaper that in coalition Governments’ the Prime Minister’s writ often does not run fully.  This is true even vis-a-vis choosing Ministers and allotting portfolios, notwithstanding this being the prerogatives of a Prime Minister in a Parliamentary democracy.


Adding, that the problem of managing regional interests faced by the UPA still persist in the NDA Government despite the BJP enjoying a clear majority in the Lok Sabha. Mukherjee underscored the need for a national debate on regional Parties agenda affecting national interests. 


As a national consensus on major national issues is necessary in view of the country’s multi-faceted diversity which is itself a coalition. More so, as the stronghold of regional Parties in some States with their own agenda, a salient feature of our federalism, results in them pushing their Party stand in foreign relations.


Undeniably, many of these Parties are so well established in their regions that national Parties are dependent on their support for winning elections and forming Governments. Consequently, leading to an era of coalition Governments at the Centre with new laws, conventions and inter-Party understanding. 


Debut coalition dharma, a term quintessential in India’s political vocabulary and a   concept contributed by democratic politics. This dharma puts certain constraints on the leader of multi-Party coalition Government in forming and running the Administration.


Notably, for the leader the political and moral responsibility of fulfilling his Party’s ideology without damaging the interests of his partners and allowing  them space to honour their commitments is a fine art of balancing different interests in common  policy and action programme.


Indeed, it is internal politics within coalition Governments that mostly ends peacetime alliance Governments.  Pertinently, no coalition Government at the Centre except Vajpayee’s in 1999 served its full term. Leadership struggle and internal contradictions weakened the Janata, National Front and United Front.  The phenomenon of undependable and irresponsible outside support brought  down the  NF and UF Governments.   


Remember, the difficulty of keeping together birds of different feathers saw the fall of Vajpayee Government in 1999 when the AIADMK withdrew support and reduced Manmohan Singh’s UPA II to a minority Government when the TMC quit the alliance in 2012. 


More. Junior partners even with  a single MP in Parliament  are encouraged  to harass the Prime Minister with constant demands  thanks to the coalition’s   numerical  weakness in the Lok Sabha.  In  such situations, governance becomes  secondary to political power and status and politics of Parties  gets  reduced to a game of enthroning and dethroning Governments.  


The TMC’s withdrawal from the UPA Government over economic reforms illustrates the futility of forming a coalition Government without an agreement on basic and crucial policy issues.  Politics of friction and blackmail instead of broad-based national consensus emerges when the poll verdict is hopelessly divided.  


The struggle of the coalition Prime Minister to carry out a national agenda faces severe blockages whenever partners push their regional demands overlooking national interests. Wherein the national Government gets reduced to a collection of regional Governments.


Further, when matters reach a climax, some  partners at times do not even hesitate to call one another “anti-people”, “corrupt” etc. Clearly, artificially created majorities cannot for long conceal the vacuum of political power prevailing in a country.


True, coalition Governments are common in west European countries. Many of them were “over-sized” especially in Belgium and Netherlands which helped to safeguard Governments against indiscipline and revolt by partners.


Recall, UK’s first coalition Government after Churchill’s war time Cabinet was formed in 2010 by the Conservative and Liberal Democratic Parties. The former was 20 seats short of majority in the House of Commons leading to the two Parties agreeing that each Cabinet Committee in the Government would have a Chairperson from one Party and a Deputy from the other.   


Additionally, there was a Cabinet Committee specifically to oversee the operation of the Cabinet. Ministers of both Parties shared responsibility for Government decisions. The arrangement provided for internal political review which was helpful to the Government.


Importantly, every Party in the coalition had its own whip. The two even contested each other in by-elections yet maintained  their separate identities.


Coalition Governments are common in Australia and are even preferred to  single party rule. Ministers are chosen at the sole discretion of the Prime Minister --- a right missing in coalition Governments in India.


Detailed agreements among partners framed post elections form the basis of coalition management  in New Zealand where a majority Government is an exception and coalitions the rule, ever since the adoption of proportional system of representation in the 1990s.


Significantly, New Zealand presents a paradox of Parties simultaneously joining the Government and sitting with the Opposition. The spectacle was witnessed in the outgoing two-Party coalition Government in the behaviour of both Parties --- the New Zealand First and United Future. The present coalition Government of  NZF and the Labour Party have signed an agreement pledging to ensure that all New Zealanders share the country’s economic  wealth.


Finland stands as a model for most stable coalition Governments of multi-Parties.   In Germany and Sweden detailed discussions among coalition partners take place before a matter is taken to the Cabinet.  In Ireland, a team of “programme managers” is attached to the Prime Minister’s office.


Furthermore, the term Rainbow Government is adopted from Rainbow Coalition of two organizations in the USA formed in 1971 to promote social justice, civil rights and political activism.


This term has been commonly used to denote coalition of contrasting Parties in many countries. Ireland, Finland, Belgium, Netherlands, Kenya and India are some countries where Rainbow Coalitions were in power. When ideologically unrelated Parties opposed to one or more dominant Parties come together, a Rainbow Coalition is formed.


Certainly, India is not the lone instance of unprincipled alliance, disunited  or makeshift  unity. Handling a Rainbow Coalition is a challenging task for any leader who puts a priority on governance but faces severe handicap in choosing his Ministerial colleagues. 


Undoubtedly, several advantages  might accrue  from  coalition Governments like amalgamation of varied views and interests, churning of a national agenda with regional  inputs, prospects of achieving inclusiveness in a plural society and opportunities for regional leaders to come out of their shell  and learn to enlarge their vision. These sights must not be allowed to vanish in the naked fight for Ministerial berths and portfolios.   


In sum, India’s experience in running coalition Governments at the Centre in recent decades is not without its contributions to strengthening democracy in a multi-Party system. It also presents lessons in survival tactics. Very often, the leader  has to try hard to get the support of his partners as much as he has to convince his opponents.


In this situation, it will be politically wise for national Parties with a national agenda to cultivate understanding and rapport with regional forces to enlarge their support base. Pre-election alliances might add strength to the ruling as well as opposition coalition more  than  a post-election get together  for sharing loaves and  fishes of offices! ------ INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

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