Coalition Government & Politics: Is a Threat to Democracy?
Let’s introduce the concept of Coalition before talking more about the Coalition Government. The term coalition originates from the Latin word coalescer, which means “Fellowship”. While the etymology of word Coalition comes from the French Coalition (1540). And it stands for “ the growing together of parts”.
In politics, “coalition” is a phenomenon of a multi-party government where a varying number of minority parties with different ideology and principles, join hands to run the government which is otherwise not possible.
In a parliamentary form of government, where a multi-party system operates, political parties are forced to form a coalition when no single party able to gain an absolute majority in the Lower House of Parliament. While in the prudential form of government like in the United States, such a situation usually does not appear.
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Forms of Coalition Government:
Depending upon the constitutional framework and electoral system of a country, there is three nature of coalition government; Parliamentary, electoral and governmental.
Parliamentary Coalition arises when no single party gain a majority. The party which is asked to rule the minority government is dependent on other parties for its survival.
Janta Dal Government led by V.P. Singh (1989) and Congress Government led by Narasimha Rao (1991) are some examples of Paraliamenatry coalition government.
While the Electoral Coalition comes into place when two or more than two political parties agree for a mutual withdrawal of candidates in an election to avoid the split of votes. Such Coalition is a common feature of Indian politics. United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and National Democratic Alliance (NDA) represents such form of a coalition government.
Lastly, Coalition governments are party governments where membership of coalition government is conventionally defined as those parties that are represented in Cabinet. United Front and BJP led governments in the 90s, and Shiv-Sena led coalition government in Maharasthra are the examples of these form of governments.
Features of Coalition Politics:
The first feature of the coalition government is pragmatism. When I use pragmatism, I mean with the hallmark of the coalition government, not the ideology.
Further, coalition governance principally revolves around two things. The first is, “Common Governance” which is a collective decision-making process and the second is “Joint Governance” which is based on the distribution of power.
Advantages of the Coalition Government:
i) Due to the joint mandate, representation gets broader as two parties have to compromise on their opposing ideology in order to create policies that result in legislation.
ii) Policy scrutiny is far more significant in a coalition government in comparison to single-party government. It also benefits a more substantial proportion of people since two opposing parties reflect a broader spectrum of the vote.
iii) Cabinet based on a coalition with a majority in Parliament is more stable, dynamic and long-lived.
iv) It is a type of political system where distinct ethnic, religious, regional and linguistic identities are more accommodating, preserved and promoted within the broader political union.
v) Further Coalition runs on “consensus’ which primarily rules out the possibility of majoritarianism.
Disadvantages of Coalition Politics:
i) One of the foremost obstacles of a coalition government is conflict within the governance due to conflicting ideologies or principles which ultimately ake the government fractious and weak.
ii) On many occasions, parties are at a standstill on specific issues and can not come to quick conclusions which lead to a slowdown in governance.
iii) The Coalition is fundamentally based on compromise and considerations. And in many cases, individual parties have to abandon their argument entirely, which could severely damage their reputation. It causes fractures within the party and can ruin their chance of re-election.
iv) Due to the contrasting ideologies of two parties, the government may not be able to take bold decisions because of a lack of a majority.
v) Decision-making process gets shifted from clear procedure to informed conversions separation of power is circumvented in a coalition government.
vi) Sometimes national interest is kept aside for accomplishing regional interest. As PM Manmohan Singh pulls out of commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka due to pressure from Tamil Nadu’s local parties where a foreign ministry and Indian High Commission in Colombo are actively pitching for his travel to cement India’s status as a regional power.
India and Coalition Politics:
Contemporary India has undergone an elaborate and tortuous political transition. The demise of the one-party system has given birth to an era of a coalition with the decline of Congress and in the absence of national alternative having a country widespread. It was logical for people to repose faith in different parties and groups some confined to the region.
Legacy of coalition formation can be traced to pre-independence. After the operation of Government of India Act(1935); Jinnah asked for a coalition consisting of Congress and Muslim League in UP in 1937. But demand was rejected by Congress. At that time, Jinnah had the view that the Coalition was the only respectable device to give Muslims a fair representation in governance in other states like Punjab and NWFP.
Evolution of Coalition Government in India:
After independence largest democracy has been primarily ruled by the single largest party Indian National Congress till 1977 when the first no-congress government was formed at the centre.
The evolution of the Coalition in India can be summarised as follows:
The broad first phase of broad-based anti-Congressism in the 1960s and 70s was characterized by intra-state coalitions. The component parties of these coalitions were; The Jan Sangh, BKD/BLD socialist, and Swatantra Patry had their state units strongholds and interests while having no pragmatic glue.
The second phase again of broad-front anti-congressism, was that of Janta Party, which unified ideologically disparate non-Congress parties. To have one-to-one context aggregating votes at constituency level to win. It was reflected the imperative of aggression to win regardless of ideology. It also consisted of an intra-state alliance of different parties within the overall umbrella of unification of those parties at the national level.
The country has so experienced a series of the Coalition at the centre. These are the Janta-government led by Morarji Desai (1977-1979), the National Front (N.F.) government of V.P. Singh (1989-91). The two slots of the united front under the leadership of H.D. Dev Gowda and I.K. Gujral (1996-1997), the BJP led National Democratic Alliance under A.B. Vajpai (1999-2004) and Congress-led United Progressive Alliance(UPA) government headed by Manmohan Singh in 2004-2009) and (2009-2014).
Is Coalition Government or Politics still relevant in India:
Before 2014 India witnessed seven successive elections (1989-2009) in which no single party won majority seats in Lok Sabha. But since BJP is winning the majority in the 2014 Lok Sabha election and continuing the same trend in 2019 elections as well.
Does the question arise whether coalition politics is still necessary?
The answer is YES.
Despite the one-sided victory of BJP in 2014 and 2019 general election, the party system in India remains a multi-party system, It is highly unlikely, the party style that prevailed in the era of Congress hegemony from 1952-1984.
Thus in India’s case, it is premature to conclude that coalition politics is over or a new one-party hegemonic system dominated by BJP is now in place. Coalition politics in the government at the centre ad in many states will remain central to Indian politics.
Is Coalition Government Good or Bad for India:
The Coalition has its advantages as well as disadvantages. In the ultimate analysis, it is the competency of government and not whether it is a coalition or single party, that plays an essential role in impacting the welfare of the people. Whether the right decisions come from a coalition or a single ruling party, they will always be appreciated and rewarded by the public.