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Coalition Politics in India

Coalition government is the feature of parliamentary form of government. It emerges in the situation of hung assembly or parliament. William Riker has explained the coalition as ‘power sharing arrangement’.

Is coalition government unique to India?

It is not unique to India. It is a regular feature of countries in continental Europe. In Europe, Italy’s coalition culture come near to India’s coalition culture. 

History of coalition in India.

Coalition is not new to India. Coalition governments were formed even in 1937. Congress itself was a ‘grand coalition’.  Even Janata Party was a coalition of many non-Congress parties. Coalition politics has become a regular feature of national level from 1989 onwards. But it has been a regular feature of the state level since 4th general elections.
Coalition politics at the state level has been more mature than the coalition politics at the union level. Kerala & W.B. give one of the best examples of mature coalition culture.

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Unique features of India’s coalition culture.

Bidyut Chakravarty.
1] According to Bidyut Chakravarty, coalition in western countries are ‘coalition by design’. Whereas, coalition in India are ‘coalition by political calculations’, still searching for design.
2] Coalitions are power sharing arrangements and hence in western countries, we see minimum winning coalition. However in India ‘oversized coalition’ have been formed.
3] In western countries, ideological convergence is taken into account. But in India Rainbow coalition have been formed. (Different ideology).
4] In case of India, negative coalitions have been the regular feature. Coalitions have been formed not to run the government but to stop someone else from coming to power. Once that objective is achieved, it becomes difficult to maintain the solidarity as there is little ideological coherence.
5] The core (main) party has not followed the practice of consultation with the partners of coalition.

Consequences of Coalition Politics in India.

Unfortunately, there have been more negative consequences of coalition politics. The problem does not lie in the coalition but problem lie in India’s coalition culture. Some of the negative consequences are:
1] Policy paralysis.
2] Decline of parliament.
3] Decline in post of speaker.
4] Decline in dignity of speaker.
5] Judicial activism.
6] Presidential activism.
7] Frequent elections.
8] Horse trading.
9] Defection.
10] Increasing role of money and muscle power.
11] Increasing use of ethnic mobilization.
12] Weakening of institution of PM. (In a coalition, there are more than one PMs. For a particular faction, their own leader is PM).
13] Increase in corruption.

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Is coalition is desirable in India?

The bigger question is, is coalition avoidable in a country like India.
Since coalition is not avoidable in a country like India with huge diversity, it is more important to think about how to make coalition work rather than thinking over its desirability.
Coalition itself is not bad. Coalition make democracy more representative, consociational. However coalition may impact national interest of country if it does not have healthy coalition culture. Hence we have to think how to bring healthy coalition culture.
We can learn from countries like Germany which shows sound coalition culture. We can incorporate some of the features found in Germany, rather than basing India’s parliamentary system entirely on Westministerial model. In Germany, Chancellor enjoys a stronger status in comparison to the PM of British model. Since the major problem of coalition politics is political instability. Hence we can constitute the system of ‘constructive vote of no-confidence’. We can also think of Japanese model where PM is elected by members of the lower house.
We should rather shift to Chancellors model because in coalition politics, the position of PM becomes weak. Coalition partners get huge bargaining power. Role of PM gets reduced to manager of coalition rather than leader. This is avoided in Chancellor system. The Chancellor determines the policies of different department. Ministries have to work as per the policy directed. Cabinet system comes into practice only when there is a conflict between two ministries.
Former PM Manmohan Singh used to suggest that India lacks Coalition Dharma.

India should institutionalize the practice of Steering Committees on the regular consultative mechanism with all the members of the coalition. If core party goes for greater transparency, there will be less scope for bargaining by smaller parties. There is a need for reforming anti-defection laws.
There is a need to strengthen such mechanisms which can check the corruption among the members of the parliament. There is a need to bring electoral reform which can reduce the influence of money and muscle power, the influence of caste and religion in Indian politics.
There is a need to introduce ethics in politics.

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