Balance Mr. Modi's Phobia of Coalition Governments with Facts
APRIL 22, 2019
By Naresh Minocha, Consulting Editor
"EVEN in coalition governments if proper leadership is there and we can achieve good governance and take strong steps against forces that work for destabilizing the nation. Accountability as we all agree is one of the key components of good governance" stated Narendra Modi while delivering a speech on good governance on 5th June 2010.
Mr. Modi's wisdom was independently articulated by Commission on Centre-State Relations (CCSR). When Mr. Modi was Gujarat Chief Minister he often hailed 7-volumes report of CCSR and pitched for its implementation.
Mr Modi, however, sustained UPA's policy paralysis on CCSR recommendations submitted in April 2010. This is a separate story in itself.
CCSR, often referred to as Punchhi Commission, concluded: "Coalition government can be looked at as a sign of genuine accountability of the uniquely Indian polity and its system of governance".
CCSR observed: "Coalition politics need not be inherently problematic as long as the parties follow the rules of the game and respect the authority of the law and the Constitution. It may slow-down the pace of development occasionally; but the practice of evolving the 'Dharma' of common minimum programme did help to overcome difficulties while controlling the excesses of the dominant coalition partners".
We need to recall such observations of reputed panels & BJP's own forgotten statements, etc. This might help voters balance Modiji's sudden phobia of coalition politics. The phobia should also be countered by mulling over failures of regimes led by parties that won absolute majority.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has toiled hard to create phobia in the mind of voters about coalition Governments. At one political rally, he warned that mahagatbandhan (grand alliance) of Opposition parties would send the country to intensive care unit (ICU).
At another rally, he alleged: "Mahamilavat (grand adulteration) has become Pakistan's Poster Boy". The other day, he predicted mahamilavat will face a "mahagiravat" (a grand fall).
Mr. Modi has been straining his vocal cords by repeatedly warning public that Opposition's move to form a "majboor" (weak) government will not yield result as the country was witnessing the work of a "mazboot" (strong) one.
He has been going hammer and tongs against coalition politics ever since he coined mahamilavat in last session of Parliament. The other day Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav countered Mr. Modi.
Mr. Yadav posed: "If an alliance of three parties is mahamilawat then we want to ask them, what do we call your (BJP's) alliance which has 38 parties from across the country"?
All this calls for serious discourse. Unsustainable size of population, perennial conflict of rights of different stakeholders, prolonged denial of justice & many other problems have sharpened the socio-political divide.
Those who don't benefit from fruits of power and growth believe that salvation lies in creating their own identify on caste, religious, regional lines. Thus, this fragmentation of Indian society for political and allied gains is unstoppable.
As put by 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC), "Fragmentation of the political party system based on the proliferation of narrow and local identities can continue endlessly. Each segment further encourages its sub-segments to search for their political space. This type of fragmented 'pluralism' has surfaced in several parts of the country".
In its seventh report captioned 'Capacity Building for Conflict Resolution', ARC observed: "Identity politics has induced fundamental changes in how political parties woo the electorate …. Today, the survival of many political parties depends on the maintenance of linkages with one and more segmented group".
The decline of one-party dominance (Congress) started in late sixties with the emergence of coalition governments in certain States. Public anger over Internal Emergency paved the way for formation of first coalition - Janata Government in 1977. It was an unstable one. So were two subsequent alliances. The image of coalition Government underwent a sea-change as the one led by Congress with P.V. Narasimha Rao undertook big-bang reforms. Mr. Rao went an extra mile to strive for consensus on reforms. His Government completed full 5 year term ending May 1996.
Leaving aside successor Vajpayee Government that failed confidence vote, the ensuing United Front (UF) coalition Government performed well under 2 different PMs. It lasted for less than three years. It was minority Government with Congress supporting it from outside. UF has had its own quota of economic reforms.
The next two coalitions - Vajpayee-led NDA Governments proved that alliances can perform well on all fronts - economic, national security and social justice. NDA-I governments completed two full terms (1998-2004).
As put by Mr. Vajpayee "New experience of successful coalition governments in India has been ideal for democratic governance, balancing divergent views and accommodating regional and sectoral interests more effectively".
Delivering a lecture at Columbia University in September 2013, he added: "India is a rare multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual democracy in the world. We have an open and vibrant press, free and fair elections and an independent judiciary. This imparts stability and consistency to economic policy-making".
At its National Executive meeting during April 2013, BJP articulated the same perception. It stated: "the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has disproved the self-serving myth propagated by the Congress Party that coalition rule at the Centre is a prescription for instability and that it alone can provide stable governance".
Ironically, Mr. Modi is using the same Congress' logic to create mass phobia of coalition government.
The contention that multi-party governments herald instability is not backed by macro-economic indicators such as growth in gross domestic product and capital formation.
It is apt to quote a CCSR-mandated study titled 'Working of Coalition Governments in Comparative Perspective' undertaken by Mahendra Prasad Singh, a former Professor of Political Science at Delhi University.
As put by the Study, "The case against coalition government premised on instability and its dilatory and ineffective nature cannot also be accepted at its face value. It must be subjected to discursive scrutiny and empirical investigation. A decisive and effective government that leads to over-centralization or systematic exclusion of some regions or communities or their under-representation in the power structure may in the long run lead to political instability of much more disastrous consequences than mere governmental instability that can be more easily managed or compensated by structural or functional substitutes, e.g. bureaucracy, independent regulatory authorities, judicialization of politics, etc".
The study, which looked at performance of coalition governments abroad and at home, concluded: "Evidence from India is also differential and complex".
It added: "Traditionally considered unstable, recent studies of coalition governments in comparative settings have shown that this is not necessarily true of all types of coalition governments".
NDA was followed by Congress led-United Progressive Alliance (UPA). UPA coalition governments also completed two full terms (2004-2014). The second tenure was marred by scams and weakening of authority of Prime Minister & global commodities price bubble-induced inflation. Notwithstanding this, the 2 nd tenure has had its own share of reforms, many of which were capitalized by Modi Government.
A common, good feature of post-electoral alliances is formulation of common minimum programme (CMP) & commitment by all constituent parties to abide by it. Congress-led UPA erred by not having CMP for the 2 nd tenure.
BJP-led NDA under the leadership of Mr. Vajpayee had a defined pre-poll national agenda.
A hallmark of coalition government is transparency. UPA regime was many times more transparent than Modi Government, which is obsessed with keeping secret reports of expert panels and studies that are only of academic value. It has very poor record from standpoint of Right to Information Act. Mr. Vajpayee-led NDA was also far more transparent than Mr. Modi-led NDA.
Unfortunately, neither Vajpayee Government nor subsequent regimes have acted on coalition-centric electoral reforms mooted by National Commission to Review the Working the Constitution (NCRWC).
In its report submitted to Vajpayee Government in April 2002, NCRWC mooted enactment of Political Parties (Registration and Regulation) Act. The proposed law should "provide for compulsory registration for every political party or pre-poll alliance. It should lay down conditions for the constitution of a political party or alliance and for registration, recognition and de-registration and de-recognition".
Prior to this, Sarkaria Commission on Centre-State Relations (1988) ranked political situations for inviting potential Chief Minister to form Government after the polls.
If no single party gets absolute majority, then the pre-poll alliance should be invited to form the Government.
If no such alliance exists, then the largest single party staking a claim to form the government with the support of others, including 'independents' should get the invitation. The next option should be to invite a post-electoral coalition of parties, with all the partners in the coalition joining government. The last entity to get invitation should be a post-electoral alliance of parties, with some of the parties in the alliance forming a Government and the remaining parties, including 'independents', supporting the government from outside.
In era of coalition politics, there is no reason why such statutory norms to govern alliances should not exist.
A Task Force constituted by CCSR observed: "Given the access to political power and the vast resources at the command of the Central Government, the regional parties have had to temper their strong regional bias and act with greater restraint and seemingly greater responsibility on national-level issues. The experience of the coalition governments at the centre, over the past decade, could stand testimony to this view".
A party having absolute majority under strong leader like Mr. Modi, no doubt, imparts political stability to the Government. Such stability is of limited value, if it can't fulfill many promises contained in its Manifesto. Modi Government lacked courage to issue itemized report card on its manifesto. This was not the case with NDA-I or UPA.
Modi Government could not clear policy paralysis it inherited. A case in point being National Employment Policy whose draft was made public by UPA in 2008. It failed to reconstitute National Population Commission. Ditto for National Integration Council. It failed to enact anti-corruption-linked laws that were piloted by UPA. The list of inactions and delays is long.
(See - Mr. Modi Creates Policy Paralysis that he once Detested)
Did robust mandate, best one in 30 years, empower Modi to reduce legislative backlog? Did the mandate enable Modi Govt to pursue consensus politics? Did it result in resolution of centre-state and inter-state disputes?
(See - Reversing Parliament's Soiled Image Must Figure in 2019 Manifestos)
Rajiv Gandhi got landslide victory in 1984 polls. Did he manage to translate the best people's mandate into matching governance outcome? No.
Thus, a lot can be said against single party-led Government or absolute majority-led alliance. Majority itself does not guarantee bold decisions and clearance of cobwebs in Indian system. The leadership must have the will to take right decisions at the right time.
Instead of creating phobia of coalition led by the Opposition parties, Mr. Modi should disclose why he failed to fulfill tall promises he made during the campaign for 2014 polls. Let him disclose how he would turn failures into successes if voted to power again. Would he again spend his energy in blaming Mr. Nehru, his family & the Congress if he returns to power?