Coalition politics in the country has taken an interesting turn. Probably, it is time to revise the way we have perceived the idea of coalitions this far. Coalition politics is apparently getting more chaotic but it is headed towards being more democratic too. What we might see in future is a joint venture with equal partners rather than an arrangement where the largest party calls the shots.
‘You may be bigger than us but you are not superior to us. We are as much entitled to take decisions on coalition matters as you are. We have our own interests to promote and defend too. And please, stop behaving like you are the boss’. This is the clear message from the smaller parties to the Congress and the BJP, national parties heading the major political formations in the country.
The JD (U) and the Shiv Sena have been insisting that the NDA accept Pranab Mukherjee as the coalition’s presidential choice. The Trinamool Congress sought to pitch for APJ Abdul Kalam as the UPA’s candidate. Mamata Banerjee has been against all reform initiatives of the government she is part of. Most smaller parties are speaking up, threatening and are not shying away from throwing tantrums to make themselves heard. Assertive allies have made the lives of senior coalition partners difficult in recent times.
These developments have led to the construction of doomsday scenarios for democracy. But is it as negative a trend as we believe it to be? We are conditioned to accept that the big parties have to run the coalitions they head. But why does it have to be like that? Why must the Congress be the decision maker in the UPA and why must the BJP have its way in the NDA always? Why must the voice of the junior partners be subservient to that of the biggies?
When Narendra Modi manoeuvres his way up the BJP ranks with the intent of becoming the NDA’s prime ministerial prospect in 2014, there’s every reason for the JD(U) to get alarmed. When the Congress seeks to force through policies which are inimical to the political interests of its partners in the UPA, there’s reason for the latter to raise objections. Political parties are accountable to their constituents back home and are bound by the promise to protect their interests. Why would they allow the bigger parties to damage their political prospects?
We are not getting into the merits of the protests put up by parties on specific issues here; the purpose is to point out how the acute consciousness of their self-interest by smaller parties is changing the dynamics of the coalition game. It could turn out to be a positive force, making coalitions more democratic and decision-making more inclusive.
When Nitish Kumar, with 20 parliamentary seats under his belt, can aspire to be the prime minister, you know the rules of the coalition game are changing. If he can summon enough support from NDA allies, he can easily dictate terms to the BJP. He is aware that the BJP needs him more than he needs it. In fact, all smaller parties in both the formations are getting increasingly aware of their unique bargaining strength.
It has not helped the bigger parties that they are shrinking all over the country. The more they shrink the more they will be up against assertive allies and the more they will lose the power to overwhelm coalitions. Single party rule is already over in the country; single-party dominance in coalitions may soon be an idea of the past. The Congress and the BJP should mentally prepare themselves for a scenario where they are outnumbered and outvoted by allies.
It’s possible that coalition politics is maturing. But with no party in the anchoring role, coalitions as well as the polity promise to become unstable. But right now it seems there’s no escaping the reality.