Preface : diversity in unity Introduction : India in a time of coalitions 1. Bharatiya Janata Party : in search of the 'right' strategy 2. Indian National Congress : a return to family values 3. Caste in stone : politics of the Hindi heartland 4. Small is beautiful : rooted in region 5. Left parties : caged birds?
Friends in need : are coalitions inherently unstable?
Friends in deed : can coalitions govern effectively? Illusion of consensus more Illusion of consensus 9. Gazing at a crystal ball. Online Table of contents Broken link?
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Loose pages : court cases that could have shaken India : recalling the Birla-Sahara papers and Kalikho P A major one is to consider whether the recent instances of coalitions, especially at the Centre, are early pathological indications of the failure of democracy in the country or clear signs of the maturing of democracy. The authors take the latter position and argue it convincingly. The basis of their position is that India is a vast and vastly diverse country and that it is unnatural to expect a single political party to accommodate such diversity of language, caste and social customs, economic conditions and much more.
The evidence is two-fold. The first is that at the level of the States there has always been a diversity of political parties, and while coalition governments emerged at the Centre only some three decades after Independence, coalitions started functioning in the States from day one. And, of course, after the elections many States came to have coalition governments. The second part of the evidence is related. The Congress could also rightly contend that it was unique among political parties in that it afforded an opportunity to all sections to put forward their claims and points of view….
With regional parties coming to power and gaining experience in governance, they have been succeeding in getting the Congress to fold its umbrella.
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The clearest example of this process has been in Tamil Nadu, where the Congress has not been in power since and where it is today only a patronised junior to the two regional parties that have been holding power more or less alternatively since then. The climax of this regionalisation of political processes in the country came in when neither of the two national parties was in a position to form the government at the Centre.
The leaders of the powerful regional parties — none of them had even 50 members in the Lok Sabha with a strength of — seized the opportunity. They prevented the larger of the two national parties BJP from coming to power, anointed one among themselves then a Chief Minister in one of the States as the Prime Minister to head a coalition called the United Front, and forced the Congress to extend support from outside.
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That was a step forward in this country, which is a federation of States, but it was a learning process too. For, the regional leaders soon realised that a federation of States as such cannot function at the Centre. Hence when the United Front collapsed in and the BJP emerged as the largest single party, but without a majority of its own, in subsequent elections the same year, some regional leaders were more than willing to align themselves with that party, which they had shunned two years earlier, and become partners in a post-election coalition.
This was their way of retaining some clout at the Centre. And when that post-election coalition appeared shaky, a year later in , a pre-election coalition of the BJP and some regional parties won a majority, formed the government and stayed on for a full term — the first coalition at the Centre to do so. By , the Congress and some regional leaders formed their own pre-election coalition and succeeded in forming the government. It has been a churning process but has certainly strengthened the federal character of the polity and the country.
Way back in , I had seen this coming. What will take its place is not yet clear. Coalition government at the Centre is a possibility. A single party being voted to power at the Centre on the basis of understandings with regional parties at the State level is a further possibility…. The learning process must continue. Regionalisation can be considered a positive aspect only if it enables the governments and, in fact, politics too, to respond to the true aspirations of the people at large.
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The authors point out that regionalism in India is based on a wide range of considerations reflected in the nature and character of the regional political parties. Linguistic fervour has been the basis of some regional parties as in Tamil Nadu. The Akali Dal in Punjab has been based on religious and cultural considerations.
Such diversity is nothing unnatural given the diversity and variety of the country. The crucial question is whether regional parties, while being committed to their special concerns, are using politics to satisfy the basic needs and promote the basic rights of the people of the region. A major transformation of the polity of the country is necessary for this process, which must involve all political parties, national and regional.
The question is whether parties will become inclusive in terms of fulfilling the basic needs of all people, responding to the human rights of all people. This is indeed a tall order. Coalition governments, more than single-party governments, can be instrumental in moving towards this objective because the coming together of parties based on different principles and objectives raises the question of what they have in common, can have in common, and what they will strive to achieve together.
The drafting of common minimum programmes assumes great significance in this context because it makes it necessary for political parties to search for the rationale of their identities and to spell out their commitments. Pressure from the people — particularly those who are currently disadvantaged on social and economic grounds — on parties to articulate their policies and audit their performance must become a reality. This is already happening to some extent.
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The overthrow of the over-confident National Democratic Alliance in the elections was a clear example. To make the empowerment of the people possible and to ensure that people, and not rulers, are the masters form the essential political agenda for the years ahead. The authors rightly recognise it.
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