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Is the Politics of Coalitions over?

Unlike many other countries, India is a multiparty democracy. Elections are held once in 5 years at the centre and also in each state under normal circumstances. Party candidates and independents contest elections and whoever wields the support of more than half of the legislatures in the lower house gets to form the government. But then with the emergence of a number of parties, prospects of clear mandate have dimmed. This was when the era of coalition politics started. Coalition means a group of political parties come together to form the government. This happens usually in the case of a fractured mandate. Pranab Mukherjee in his presidential address to the nation on 2014 Republic day had said fractured mandate would be disastrous for India. Hence Coalition politics is the cause of concern in the backdrop of the above statement.

Coalition politics is not new to India. In fact in pre-independent India when elections were held, coalition politics was seen in few provinces. Many states like Seemandhra, Maharashtra,etc are ruled by coalitions. There are more than 3 dozen political parties in India which are recognized by the Election commission out of which more than half are serious players. BJP and the Congress are the 2 big national parties of recent times. The other strong ones are SP,BSP in Uttar Pradesh, JD(U),RJD,LJP in Bihar, NC,PDP in Jammu & Kashmir, TMC,CPI in West-bengal,AAP in Delhi, SAD in Punjab,TDP,YSRCP in Seemandhra,TRS in Telangana, JD(S) in Karnataka, NCP,MNS in Maharashtra, DMK,AIADMK,DMDK in TN and many more. The above mentioned ones are strong regional players which use regionalism and caste as their trump cards. No doubt they have emerged strong. They will obviously snatch few seats from the National parties and prevent them from coming to power on their own. Thus the National parties will be forced to form coalitions with these parties. BJP led coalition is called NDA and Congress led coalition is called UPA.

But to the surprise of many, strong anti-incumbency and a Modi wave helped BJP to get majority on its own with 282 seats (272 halfway mark) with NDA getting more than 330 seats. It was the clear and biggest mandate after 30 years. Even before elections, BJP had allied with many parties in many states.BJP got only 30% of the votes. This means 70% voted against BJP and even a small reduction in the BJP votes would have continued the coalition era. BJP knows that such a mandate is not possible every time. Hence it has kept the coalition intact and it is the NDA which is in power at the center and not BJP. This shows the significance of Coalitions in Indian politics.

Because of things which happened in the past 30 years of coalition governments, everyone seems to support what the President had said in his address. Decision making will slow down because consensus will have to be generated, PM will have less choice on his ministers, Government will have to satisfy the aspirations of the coalition partners, lack of stable government will affect the market, investors will shy away from investing in India, and it will be difficult to take bold decisions. Overall the government will be crippled as it has to act according to the whims and fancies of the partners and with its survival on the edge, it will be more worried about clinging onto power than serving the people.

Shifting to 2 party system, single party system, formation of government by the largest party, re-elections till clear mandate, no coalition partner can break away from a coalition till the end of the government tenure,etc are not feasible for a diverse nation like ours. Every political system has its own advantages and disadvantages. The intent of creating our political system was very good. People will have more options to choose from and there will be checks and balances.

In case of a clear mandate which happens once in a while, it is good for the nation as the government will have the freedom to take bold decisions and give good governance. But there can be misuse of mandate by taking unilateral decisions without consulting anyone which is not good for a democracy. Government policies should be such that even the opposition should be left with no option but to support the government.

In case of a fractured mandate which is more likely the case, parties should move away from using government to satisfy their greed's. Rather they should go in the direction of people oriented and development oriented politics. Coalition politics are here to stay for long time and it is the duty of the political class to make this bane of coalition politics into a boon by giving good governance.

-Rajesh Gangadhar