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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 15, March 28, 2009

Coalition Politics and Impending Poll

Thursday 2 April 2009, by Nikhil Chakravartty


The dragging-on of the Presidential talks with leaders of different political parties has no doubt exasperated the patience of the average citizen as much as the President himself. What has been found is that no political formation worth the name has been able to muster sufficient support to ensure a majority in the Lok Sabha.

What we have to thank our stars about is the fact that the entire game of elections is played within the four corners of the Constitution which was written as far back as 1950-51. That means the golden jubilee year of the Indian independence synchronised with the deadlock, not before. In other words, our Constitution has held good and needs no drastic revision even after five decades of wear and tear. Compare this with the situation in Pakistan, which secured its liberation about the same time as ours, and its Constitution did not last a decade, so fragile was it with the forces which were alien to the democratic way of life. Here lies the strength of the Indian situation, and here too lies its danger—as it would not last very long.

The disillusion that has set into the masses in the last two years is phenomenal. For one thing, they were not used to a perpetual state of coalition politics. There is a lurking interest today to return to one-party rule. For that purpose, there is a reluctance on the part of the Congress leadership to repudiate one-party rule, and that is why one notices that the Congress leaders still hold out hopes of a resumption of the Congress rule after the general elections. This is nothing but a fond hope—for the single reason that as things have unfolded in the Indian political scene today, there is not the ghost of a chance to go in for a one-party rule. Coalition politics has just become inescapable.

One variant of coalition politics was experi-mented by V.P. Singh in 1989 when he could depend on majority support provided to his minority Ministry by the Left on the one side and the BJP on the other. Ultimately it was the BJP which repudiated that arrangement and with-drew support from the V.P.Singh Ministry, which enabled the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi to defeat him and install his subservient Chandra Shekhar as the new Prime Minister in place of V.P. Singh. After some time, it was Rajiv who threw out the Chandra Shekhar Ministry to go in for a mid-term general election.

The other variant was provided by the present government which had an actual United Front, buttressed up by the Congress to ensure a majority in the Lok Sabha. Had this support system been withdrawn, the United Front could not last as could be seen at the onset of the recent crisis. Even in the selection of the United Front Prime Minister, the Congress President had a hand as could be seen in the replacement of H.D. Deve Gowda by Inder Kumar Gujral. Although the Congress was not organically connected with the new United Front Government, the fact that only with its support the government could be run, whether under Deve Gowda or under Gujral, can hardly be ignored.

This could be seen in the fact that every turmoil within the Congress party could be felt in the United Front. Recently, after the experience of UP in which the BJP could wrench power and get installed in the State, there has been hope that a similar act would be repeated at the Centre with the result that the BJP would be the ruler at the Centre. Such a possibility was spelt out by Kalyan Singh and later on, though indirectly, by A.B. Vajpayee, which would have been disastrous on the whole, as it would have shaken the very roots of the Indian political scene, for which the country was not prepared.

Even if the BJP had managed to secure a majority in the Lok Sabha by means of the strong-arm methods used in UP, it is doubtful whether that government would have lasted for long, as the BJP could display no sign of the realisation for the need of a coalition which was necessary in the present as it prevails today.

The Congress had raised the objection of the DMK Ministers staying on at the Centre after the Jain report had been released. When it found that it could not break the United Front on that score, it raised the pathetic issue that since the Congress itself had supported the United Front so long, should not the United Front support a Congress-led Ministry at the Centre? This did not cut any ice as it betrayed the utter bankruptcy of the Congress party leadership. The programmatic issue was involved and although the BJP was kept out of power, it did not automatically lead to secularism. A number of United Front constituents would have had to revolt and join the BJP coalition to enable it to get the majority in the Lok Sabha. Such a revolt on the part of any section of the Congress leadership was not possible without the cracking up of the party itself. The Congress leaders have so far kept away from such an eventuality. This does not mean that within the Congress there are no elements which are not inclined towards the BJP. The fact of the matter is that they themselves would not like to take the initiative for such a repudiation of the Congress stand against the BJP.

The other attempts at gaining a majority in the Lok Sabha have been as futile, because it was not expected of the Congress to get a chunk of the BJP. It hoped to get a slice of the United Front which it has not yet totally given up. The time has been running short for the President, and hence a ramshackle coalition would not be presented to him to comply the gap that he should call the party with the claim on the majority in the Lok Sabha. Should he call the party with the largest number in the Lok Sabha with the expectation that it should manage to club together a majority in the Lok Sabha within a specific time-frame? This was what Shankar Dayal Sharma did when he was the President when the BJP had just come out of the election. It does not necessarily follow that President Narayanan would imitate the procedure set by his predecessor. Even if he did, it does not follow that such a coalition would last.

The fact of the matter is that those who would go over, would be virtually guilty of defection, even if it were called by another name. And no defection would last long so that the defector is tested by the vote of the majority in a general election. In the murky atmosphere created by corruption and discredit, a member of the Lok Sabha would hardly hold on his own. This is the enabling of the Indian Constitution which can barely be required by long-winded interpretation. For this, the reference to the election would be necessary. That means the prospect of the Lok Sabha being dissolved and a fresh election taking place so that the identification of each and every MP could be ensured. This, of course, is a costly business, but the Indian Constitution could provide no other solution to the thorny question when an elected MP chose to shift his allegiance from one party to another.

(Mainstream, December 6, 1997)

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