Narendra Modi says coalitions are 'unstable', but does a majority government ensure better governance?

With the Lok Sabha polls upon the Narendra Modi government and the anxiety of a Mahagathbandhan on the horizon, the prime minister on Wednesday said coalition governments are "unstable" and extolled the merits of a majority government, like the one he runs. But is a majority government indeed more stable than coalition one?

In the "coalition versus majority government" section of his Surat speech, Modi said, while the former was like an "illness capable of stagnating a country", the latter was accountable and answerable to its people.

"Today, anyone can come to me and ask, Modiji what have you done in the past four-and-half years? If there was no full majority government, then Modiji would have said it is a coalition government, some decisions have to be taken…" Modi was quoted by The Indian Express as having said.

Narendra Modi says coalitions are unstable, but does a majority government ensure better governance?

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Reuters

Modi's public addresses, usually steeped in rousing rhetoric, found support this time in former Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan who told India Today that there is a possibility the Indian economy may slow down if a coalition government comes to power after the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

Modi's words also ring true considering the recent situation in Karnataka, where the Congress-JD(S) coalition has been besieged by claims and counter claims of MLA poaching by the BJP and Congress. Just when it appeared that the "Operation Lotus" undertaken by the BJP to dislodge the coalition government had finally died down without triggering another assembly election in Karnataka, the state's chief minister and JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy threatened to quit, voicing anger over remarks by a Congress MLA who had said "Siddaramaiah is our CM".

Siddaramaiah, once a JD(S) leader and now head of the Congress legislature party, had been the previous chief minister of Karnataka and had led a majority government. Majority, it might have been, but his party failed to return in power come the 2018 polls, requiring a hasty and dramatic coalition with the JD(S). Kumaraswamy, the regional party's scion, instead became chief minister of a dispensation where he feels that the party with whom he forms a coalition government "are crossing the line."

From Ramakrishna Hegde in 1983 to Kumaraswamy in 2006, no coalition government in Karnataka has completed its full term, reported The Quint.

However, not all coalition governments are always shaky. In fact, when it comes to central governments, India's past shows distinctly otherwise.

The Narasimha Rao government, says The Wire, was a minority government that not just survived for five years but also ushered in seminal economic reforms. Atal Bihari Vajpayee ran a coalition and both the UPA governments were non-majority governments which saw Manmohan Singh emerge the country's longest serving coalition prime minister.

Congress chief Rahul Gandhi with JDS's HD Kumaraswamy. The two parties have formed a coalition government in Karnataka. ANI

Congress chief Rahul Gandhi with JDS's HD Kumaraswamy. The two parties have formed a coalition government in Karnataka. ANI

Manmohan Singh's long rule as a coalition head also stands as an example to counter BJP chief Amit Shah's Wednesday claim that if an alliance succeeded in forming the government, "there will be a different prime minister on each day of the week with the country going on leave on Sunday."

The anarchy that Shah foresees if the "four Bs" of "bua, babua, bhai and behen" (ostensibly meaning Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Tejashwi Yadav, Akhilesh Yadav and others who attended the 19 January Kolkata show of Opposition strength) form a government is something that his own party should have gone through in a state like Maharashtra, but does not. The Wire points out that the BJP still has four alliance partners – the Shiv Sena, the Shetkari Sanghatana, Republican Party of India (A) and Rashtriya Samaj Paksha in Maharashtra and in Bihar, it ties up with longtime critique Nitish Kumar and his JD(U) party. In both states, its governments are quite stable, squabbles with the Shiv Sena notwithstanding.

The difference of opinion which may give rise to a lack of answerability and efficiency in a coalition government is countered with the argument that in a majority government like Modi's which has a clear mandate from voters, functions under a rigid party whip and has a strong prime minister, there are few checks to stop the government from becoming a constitutional dictatorship. In the fortunate situation that this does not happen, writes Vivek Dehejia in LiveMint, a person in Modi's position ends up squandering a majority mandate with risky policies like demonetisation.

The 2019 Lok Sabha election looks likely to be a battle between the BJP and what could well be a multi-party coalition. Parties looking to form governments would do well to remember that a clear majority does not always guarantee a functioning government. Neither does a coalition ensure diversity of opinion in governance.

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Updated Date: Jan 31, 2019 23:39:24 IST

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