Politics and governance in post-election India: Will a new coalition government deliver?

The panorama of the political landscape will change in as much that the BJP as a party may be more in focus than the persona of PM Modi. BJP, while keeping progressive policies and development on track, should use this opportunity to emerge from being a Modi-centric party.

Newly elected NDA leaders with Prime Minister Modi

India is the largest democracy in the world. The sheer magnitude of the electoral processes in this federal nation has been a cause of wonder to the world, with elections to some or the other legislature taking place almost throughout the year, so to speak, somewhere in the nation. Probably this is the reason why the nation is also known as a laggard democracy in the economic world. The reason is simple to see; the system of perpetual electoral processes precludes the ability of the governments to implement meaningful policies in time. The apathy is compounded, it may appear,  when the administration of a nation is managed by a coalition government.

In a democracy, coalition governments are usually formed when no party secures an absolute majority in the nation’s parliament or legislative body after an election. This is usually not necessary in countries with majoritarian electoral systems. Coalition governments are more common in countries with systems where citizens vote for political parties instead of individual candidates. Although the formation of a coalition government reduces the dominance of any single political party, power is one of the main motivations parties have for forming a coalition government. Despite having to compromise on policies, a political party would rather have some power than none at all. Furthermore, coalition-based systems encourage the diffusion of decision-making and influence in countries where power has been historically centralized by dynastic political parties. 

Regardless of their electoral system, coalition governments may also be formed in countries experiencing a time of national difficulty or crises such as war or economic depression. Minority governments were normally formed with one or more opposition parties agreeing to vote in favor of legislation deemed necessary for the government to function normally.

It is probably the first time in the last five or so decades in India, that a party that had a majority in the legislature for a decade is forced to form a coalition government, although with an overwhelming share of seats in the mix.  In a time of great change, accelerating globalization, and increasing uncertainty, India is forced to adopt a new form of coalition governance that has to better adapt to the times to perpetuate the advantage in economic competitiveness and create substantial and sustainable social growth.

The progress and development of a nation is not in its political ventilations but in a measure of its economy. The development of a nation is not dependent on texts or idols but on ideals, ideas and innovations. The wellness of people is not based just on sentiments but more importantly on the standard of living. There is no wealth to be shared unless it has first been created. But all too often the issue of wealth creation and wealth creators are misunderstood, neglected, or even rejected, often subsumed by political rhetoric and compulsions. A coalition brings a balance to these aspirations while perpetuating confidence in a democratic system.

New coalition government

India will have a coalition government for the next five years. Most Indians are apprehensive that progress and development will slow down with coalition compulsions. In numbers, the BJP with absolute majority in the past two governments, has only 244 seats now but has more than the combined opposition I.N.D.I alliance. The incumbent NDA alliance with a total of 293 seats has the majority to form a coalition government. Here, the governance theory should become predominant in discourses and texts consistent with the theory of government in mainstream politics. To this extent, there will not be any major changes in the major policies.

The panorama of the political landscape will change in as much that the BJP as a party may be more in focus than the persona of PM Narendra Modi. BJP, while keeping progressive policies and development on track, should use this opportunity to emerge from being a Modi-centric party. To be successful in remaining at the helm, the government must be beneficial to all of their constituent parties—there must be something in it for everyone, especially TDP and JD(U). There must be mutual respect and understanding.  Each party must demonstrate an ability to understand the others’ point of view, even when there is disagreement. All parties must be open to compromise. Finally, there must be a sense of partnership, even if member parties are different in size. 

The partnership in the new NDA government does not mean that all responsibilities and positions are divided evenly within the constituents, but that each party is respected for the unique attributes it brings to the coalition and is given a fair and equitable say in how decisions are made and benefits and resources are shared. The policies of the TDP align well with the BJP, the major constituent of the coalition, in areas of foreign policy, defense, finance and home – except that the Uniform Civil Code, delimitation and one nation one election etc. may not take off during this tenure. The Agnipath scheme is already under possible tweaking of sorts. The JD(U), with Nitish as its leader, will probably confine its requirements to Bihar for the time being. In as much, it should be smooth sailing for this coalition, despite some hard bargaining by TDP and JD(U).

It is logical to assume that Naidu will be more intent on building Andhra Pradesh and is expected to continue what he had started in his previous term as the CM of that undivided state. All the results of that effort, in effect, have now gone to Telangana with Hyderabad. Nitish on the other hand will look to prop up Bihar which lost the mineral-rich portion to Jharkhand. Both these aspirations of the constituents will find no problems with the BJP, who will see these as part of nation-building and part of its aim of federal competition. AP and Bihar will have an advantage here.

Continuation of tested leadership

While all government coalitions tend to be temporary, we have seen that coalitions in India persist longer than others. The duration may be a function of power relationships. Theoretically, a coalition member or set of members, for instance, may be able to either dissolve the coalition or maintain ongoing adherence. In this case, if TDP and/or JD(U) were to move to I.N.D.I Alliance they will be number 5 and 6 in the hierarchy based on seats while they are 2 and 3 in NDA.  Long-term participation in a coalition may cause individual members to perceive a broader set of shared interests and beliefs among them, leading them to transform the coalition into a more integrated and enduring political community.

Reforms and development are assiduous activities requiring deep vision and often have an incubation period before results are seen. A stable coalition government also showcases the democratic credentials of a nation which is very important for a free world. Perceptions matter.  Overall, this new government with a continuation of a tested leadership, is expected to deliver with a stable government.

(The author is an Indian Army veteran and a contemporary affairs commentator. The views are personal. He can be reached at  kl.viswanathan@gmail.com )

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