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Win 150 Seats, Run Riot: WANTED A COALITION DHARMA, By Poonam I Kaushish; New Delhi, 13 October 2007 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 13 October 2007

Win 150 Seats, Run Riot


By Poonam I Kaushish

“The worst thing in this world after anarchy is government.” Henry Ward Beecher, who made the quip, was, indeed, a futurologist. He seems to have had India of 2007 in mind when he uttered these brilliant words. Which so aptly describe the high voltage drama that is being enacted on India’s political chessboard, especially during the last three months. Will the Left divorce the Congress and withdraw support to the UPA Government? Or will Sonia-Manmohan continue to serenade Comrade Karat with hum saath saath hain? Will allies RJD’s Laloo and NCP’s Sharad Pawar prevail and ensure there is no snap poll?


Think. Isn’t it ridiculous that a country as vast as India and boasting off a billion-and-growing population is swinging like a yo-yo between hope and despair, thanks to the fracas between partners. Why? Because the Congress which heads the Government has only 145 MPs in a 545 member Lok Sabha. To survive it needs the support of 272 Lok Sabha MPs. Together with its allies of “like-minded” regional secular parties like the RJD and NCP they total 219 MPs. Thus, the UPA Government desperately depends for its survival on the Left parties and its 62 MPs.


What makes the present situation at once bizarre and tragic is that it takes around only 150 seats for any one party to capture the power gaddi called India Raj and rule the roost! Raising a moot point once again: Can a coalition Government work in a country as diverse, multi-cultural and individualistic as we are? Is our polity mature enough to handle taciturn partners and provide good, clean governance? Is there a dharma which binds UPA’s comrades-in-arms together? Or is it a case of brazen opportunitism and shameless self-interest?


Take the first. Coalitions have worked at the Centre and some states. The BJP-led NDA Government completed its five-year term at the Centre, after two-aborted attempts. The Left Front Governments in West Bengal have been most stable Governments all along since 1977. Similarly, Kerala has experienced successive coalition Governments belonging alternately to the LDF and the UDF. These have lasted longer, even full term, than coalition Governments in other states. The BJP-Shiv Sena government completed its five-year term in Maharashtra.


However, we also have instances wherein between 1967 and July 1968, as many as 10 Governments were formed in the four states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and West Bengal. The BJP and BSP came together in holy matrimony thrice to form Governments in UP. But each attempt ended disastrously in 1995, 1997 and 2000. What to say of Karnataka’s squabbling partners which has led to President’s rule in the State for the sixth time.


Two, in a coalition milieu which entails reasonable give-and-take and unavoidable compromises our polity is still to mature. Bogged down as it is with tantrums, one-upmanship and clash of egos. Especially in a scenario where polarization now is based on vote-bank politics and unbridled lust for power and money --- not on values, ethics or common agenda. Forget good, clean governance and national interest.


Look at the inexplicable configurations of the UPA. The enemies and friends are all rolled into one. The Congress and the Left parties, which account for 64 seats in the Lok Sabha are arch rivals in three states: West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. Both have been fighting each other tooth and nail in every election since Independence. Yet they came together and became partners at the Centre. Simply to keep the “communal BJP” out. Both have worked on the dictum that my enemy’s enemy is my friend. The Congress and RJD are arch rivals in Bihar and Jharkhand and the NCP cannot see eye-to-eye with the Congress in Maharashtra. Ditto the case down South with the DMK & Co.


Three, when it comes to coalition dharma, the less said the better. Suffice is to say that even thieves are agreed on a code of conduct. Most of the deals by India Inc are done on the basis of zuban (word). This should hold equally true in the case of coalition Governments. There should be a dharma between coalition partners and this should be scrupulously followed by all. A lakshman rekha which the allies adhere to honestly. Alas, this is more a dictum than the rule. No matter, Sonia Gandhi’s talk of “dharma of coalition” which, she said, was “to work together, try and understand and accommodate each others views.”


Great rhetoric indeed. More so as in reality the obverse holds true. Take the UPA again. The Prime Minister has little control over his Cabinet colleagues, especially those belonging to his allies who have been allotted Ministries on the basis of their party’s respective strength in the Lok Sabha. Worse, there is no such thing as collective responsibility. Not to talk about accountability and transparency, which are a far cry. The Ministers can do what they want. Ride roughshod and even treat their ministries as their personnel fiefdoms. The PM can do nothing except lump it. Look how Union Health Minister Ramdoss, who belongs to the itsy-bitsy PMK, continues to play havoc with India’s premier health institute, AIIMS.


More. The recent shenanigans of the JD(S) father-son duo of Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy in Karnataka says it all. After lording over the State for 20-months, Kumaraswamy unabashedly reneged on his agreement to hand over power to the BJP’s Yediyurappa. Naturally, the BJP withdrew support and the Centre imposed President’s rule. Clearly, in being clever by half the Gowdas’ not only lost power but will have to live with the ignominy of being dubbed as “shameless betrayers.” A classic case of an ally biting off more than it could chew and cutting its nose to spite the face.


Characteristically, each party blames the others for not giving the people yearning for good governance a remedy for this state of anarchy. Some even put the onus on the aangootha chaap janata for the fractured verdicts. Sadly, none wants to pause and ponder over the long-term ramifications of this state of affairs. Consequently, our experiments with coalition Governments continue to get unstuck time and again, thanks to mindlessness.


Some may be tempted to argue that the common man has consciously opted for instability. With the aim of unleashing a churning process which might throw up new forces of change. Already, this social churning has manifested itself in the post-Mandalised era. The backward classes and the minorities have discovered the power of their vote and concluded that their sectional interests are best served when there is political uncertainty. In other words, they have outrightly rejected the national parties and opted for new outfits which are unencumbered by history and ideological baggage.


This has radically changed the structure of the polity and consequently the nature of viable and effective alternatives, as reflected in the multiplicity of over 26 odd regional, small or minor parties. With the national parties losing their clout to the regional satraps there is a very high premium on these parties which get traded and horsetraded many times over. The trading is made easier by the total collapse of the moral fabric of the political parties in their naked lust for the gaddi.


This Achilles heel of the national parties has provided a perfect handle to the regional parties to blackmail, bully and extort their demands from them, especially from those ruling at the Centre. Matters have been made worse by the fact that they could pull the rug off over any flimsy issue and expose the feet of clay of these parties. Consequently, the regional satraps are now beginning to flex their muscle for setting the agenda for India and even becoming the master of the house.


The BSP’s Mayawati makes no bones that her next target is New Delhi and it’s Prime Ministership. It is not an empty boast given our fractured polity. All she needs are 50 seats and the backing of a national party to come up trumps. Thus, regional formations like the TDP, JD, DMK, NCP and Trinamool have neither the time nor inclination for the BJP’s Hindutva or the Congress brand of politics. Besides, unlike the national parties, the regional outfits have a unified command structure and a share of power in the State.


Unfortunately, the national parties have been caught in a web of their own making. By pandering and giving in to the blackmail of these regional vote banks. They have created a Frankenstein over which they have no control. Aspirations can be trampled, but the thumb that affixes the vote can’t be amputated. Leading to the continuing aberration. Even in the dynamics of politics in the present fragmented state, there will be an inherent compulsion for the parties to remain together, so as to be a recognizable force. True, numbers will decide who sits on the Delhi gaddi. But it remains to be seen whether individual egos will get the better of collective wisdom.


In sum, one hopes this political game of kiss and tell based on convenience and opportunism does not reflect the emerging truth of today’s India. Our polity needs to face the harsh reality that national interest urgently requires a coalition dharma that ensures good and honest governance on the basis of public morality and principles. Our polity must not reduce itsef to a level of Gharib ki joru, sab ki Bhabhi! --- INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)                    

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