India's coalition woes
Plight of Karnataka lays bare Congress-JD(S) coalition fault lines, as Kumaraswamy’s government falls prey to inherent instability
Why do the coalition governments, in general, do not succeed in India? It has been for various reasons both at the state and at the federal level. Historically, this has been proved not once or twice, but many times.
The latest in the series is the H.D. Kumaraswamy-led Karnataka government, which is crumbling but there is nothing surprising about that. The "Aya Ram, Gaya Ram" culture continues despite stringent anti-defection laws and the horse-trading is being done unabashedly. The legislators are taken to resorts to keep them in a camp.
Right from the beginning, the Congress-JD(S) coalition was shaky although the entire Opposition graced the occasion of the swearing-in ceremony of Kumaraswamy just a year ago. It was thought that it might make the beginning of the Opposition unity against Prime Minister Narendra Modi's juggernaut, but ultimately the Opposition remained divided.
One of the reasons for the failure of the Karnataka experiment was because the local Congress and the JD(S) leaders had been at loggerheads. Former Congress chief minister Siddaramaiah has been sulking for his bête noire Kumaraswamy getting the top post. Secondly, there were allegations of BJP poaching on Congress and JD(S) legislators. Thirdly, the unnatural character of the coalition where the major party Congress supported the minor party JD(S) was not conducive.
In the past one year, many times news emerged from Bangalore that the government was shaky. So the collapse was coming sooner or later for obvious reasons.
This brings us to the larger issue of why coalitions do not succeed in Indian politics. They collapse because of their inherent contradictions. Both the national parties — Congress and BJP—have not succeeded in the coalition experiment earlier also. While Congress played the game of supporting the coalition and pulling out at will, BJP had tried a few times some coalition experiments. The coalition governments were formed at the federal level in 1989, 1990, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2004-2009) by several political parties. The first coalition government, which completed its full-term, was the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA-1 that remained in power for six years because BJP provided the spine. The United Progressive Alliance remained in power for a decade for a different reason, as it allowed the coalition partners to make money from their ministries.
When the anti-Indira forces came together to throw out the Indira Gandhi government in 1977, they could co-exist despite a massive majority just for three years. The V. P. Singh government, which was supported in an unusual manner by the Left and the Right in 1989, collapsed within months. The two United Front governments propped up by the Congress from outside also collapsed within two years.
At the state level, the first coalition experiment was the Samyukthavidayak Dal in which the Jana Sangh was a partner in 1967. The BJP-BSP government in 1995 collapsed within four months due to inherent contradictions. The BJP-BSP governments in 1997 and 2002 also did not last long. Even in Karnataka, the BJP-JD(S) coalition was formed in 2006 but that too did not last long.
The BJP-PDP government coalition in Jammu and Kashmir lasted just three years—from 2015- 2018. It was BJP that pulled out of the government. There was a clear divide between the Valley where PDP was strong and the Jammu region where BJP won many seats. Ultimately, BJP felt there was no point in continuing the experiment and pulled out of the government in June 2018 after three years. The United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala holds primarily because it is a coalition led by two minority interests—Muslims and Christians.
Why do the coalition governments fail? Often they are not stable because of a lack of a common minimum programme as suggested by the Second Administrative Commission. Secondly, defections are often encouraged, where the role of the Governor is important and the Sarkaria Commission recommendations should be implemented. The office of the Governor must be made free from political hold. Thirdly, coalition has come to symbolise instability in India because the ruling party has to pander to the needs of the coalition partners. It depends on the competency of the chief minister or the Prime Minister to run the coalition. The political parties need to be very clear of each other's expectations and working platform.
A coalition government at the state or federal level would be stable only when the national parties lead it, which would be a glue to bind them. What is happening is that political parties come together for power and that is the only glue that binds them. There should be a common bond among the partners or else it will be shaky.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)