India, having adopted a parliamentary political structure of government within a federal system, has constitutionally provided for parliamentary structures at both the Centre and in the States. The same principles and norms of parliamentary practice are applied at both levels substantially. Innovations experimented and successfully operated at the Centre or in anyone of the States may be accepted as models or precedents by the rest whenever found useful. It is mostly the Westminster model of parliamentary structures that the Indian Constitution has adopted for both the Central and State governments. However, the Indian political culture is different from that of the UK. The structures have had to be" functionally modified. India being a vast subcontinent with many culturally and ethnically diverse groups, political behaviour within the country, has proved to be different from region to region or State to State. Ethnic loyalties and cultural diversities have tended to produce political behaviours different from each other but within the same constitutional and legal framework. Therefore although the legal framework is uniform throughout the country, political behaviour and practices tend to bedifferent.
Keywords: state; politics; coalition politic; federal system; Indian experience; Analysis.
The constitutional system envisages a majoritarian form of parliamentary government in India at the Centre and the States; more or less like the British. However, the political reality has brought about multiple parties resulting in governments of party coalitions or alliances. The Congress party emerging from the national movement and seeking to represent a national consensus on political programmes and ideology wished to providegovernments for the Centre and all the States for all time to come. However, the majoritarian single-party governments became an impossibility with the breakdown of the Congress and with the inability of the other parties to provide a single-party alternative. Although the Congress party has shown an unwillingness to share power with other parties at the Central Government, it has permitted its State units to do so and thus participated in coalition governments early in the fifties. The year 1967 marked a watershed in Indian politics as about eight States had formed non-Congress coalitiongovernments. The Congress’ dominance in Indian politics broke in several States, and the party had to sit in the Opposition. Although Congress regain power in some of these States, its popularity throughout the country was further eroded. The Congress lost power at the Centre within a few years, and although it could come back in full glory, it was doomed to lose it again. It lost control of more States in succeeding years so much, so there were non-Congress coalitiongovernments in fourteen States in 1997. The number of states that opted for coalition governments was increasing from 1967, but all States were not steady in the path of coalitions in this period. States like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh went back to Congress rule, while new States embarked on coalition experiment. Some states like Orissa, Maharashtra, Punjab, Bihar and Goa went back and forth between single-party rule and coalition rule. The steady decline of the Congress and the absence of another big party to take its place either at the Centre or in the States, in general, has brought the coalition system to stay as a dominant mode at the end of the 1990. The coalitional experience within the framework of Westminster model parliamentary structures, based on the present study, may be summed up as follows :
(i) Coalition governments in a parliamentary system are not necessarily unstable. Stability depends on several factors.
(ii) Coalition politics compel deviations and innovations in the parliamentary model to suit the needs of the coalition system.
(iii)The areas wherein coalition politics have made a noticeable impact are broadly the Executive, the Legislature and the Party system.
Early writers used to presume that coalition politics undoubtedly led to short-Lived governments, and they preferred statistics to prove the same. Their treatises failed to analyse the multi~dimensiona| causes involved and tended to make the inferences biased. E. Sreedharan points out four sets of factors that affect the stability of coalition governments1
The above observations'based on Western theories are presumed to be universalistic in character and application. However, “the Indian society and politics do not fit into the Western framework. In the Indian situation, the present study leads to certain inferences which may be listed as follows :
The impact made on the Executive, the Legislature and the party System may be analysed separately concerning each area and the consequences assessed.
The three dimensions of the parliamentary executive that are influenced by coalition politics are Cabinet formation, Cabinet management and the nature of the Cabinet. The institutional and legal, the political and personal dimensions of the Cabinet system get interlinked with the two fundamental processes of the parliamentary executive, viz. Cabinet formation and Cabinet management. The majoritarian Cabinet and the coalition Cabinet, being different as regards the above three dimensions, tend to produce different impacts on the two processes and their results. The Constitution envisages, as already pointed out, a majoritarian government of the British model and provides for a parliamentary government. Article 74 and Article 163 of Indian Constitution states that there shall be a Council of Ministers headed by Prime Minister to aid and advise the President of India in the exercise of his functions. According to the parliamentary practice, the leader of the majority party in the Parliament becomes the Prime Minister and he, in turn, selects his colleagues in the Council of Ministers.
In coalition politics, the leader of the leading party is usually elected as the leader of the parliamentary party of the coalition, but he shall be acceptable to the allies as well. Sometimes the leader of a minority party may be chosen by the coalition to head the Cabinet. The general principle is that the head of the Cabinet, whatever the degree of standing he has in his own Party, shall be acceptable to all partners of the coalition whose Will may turn out decisive in the matter of electing the Prime Minister.The occasion for electing the Prime Minister as the whole election process is centred around the leader of the elected party or the leader ofthe alliance of parties. However, in a coalition set up the post-election situation can upset the earlier arrangements.
As regards the appointment of the council of Ministers, Article 75(1) and Article 164(1) of the Constitution say that there shall be a Prime minister appointed by the president and that the other Ministers shall be appointed by the Presidenton the advice of the Prime Minister. The traditional practice is that the Prime Minister will choose the Ministers by paying due weight to various factors to be considered. In coalition politics in India, the Ministers are chosen by the respective parties themselves, and the Prime Minister may not have a say in normal circumstances. This situation further weakens the position of the Prime Minister in relation to his party, mainly if it is ridden with factionalism. There are instances of Prime Ministers being dictated to by factions in their party about appointing some members as Ministers or even about avoiding the appointment of somebody whom they do not like to be with them in the Cabinet. This is possible in a single-party government also, but in a multi-party government, the Prime Ministeris comparatively weaker.The coalition is a bargaining process between the partners, and the process is on-going from start to finish. The representation of the partners in the Ministry, the allocation of proportionate seats and the distribution of portfolios among them often occasion serious bargaining. It is admissible if the major parties get a more significant share as they can be supposed to have a more significant stake in election campaigns and a greater responsibility in administration. However, it often happens in India that the smaller parties plead for a disproportionately larger pay off in terms of the number and importance of positions, and they often succeed in winning them. This is particularly so when the leading party is dependent on the minor parties for themaintenance of the coalition.The minor partners seem to presume that it becomes the responsibility of the leading party to preserve the coalition, and they behave in irresponsible ways very often. So tosay, the leading party becomes the loser in the bargaining game as it has to give up a part of its due share in order to satisfy the bullying partners. It must be surprising that in some coalitions, all MLAs of a partner party are made Ministers in order to prop up the Ministry. As regards the distribution of portfolios there is always fight for ‘plum posts’ like finance, External Affairs, Railways and Defence at the Centre and for similar prestigious portfolios.
Such distribution can be arranged to the satisfaction of all parties only by the process of negotiation and compromise. Compromise can be arrived at through inter-party discussions or discussions in the co-ordination committees. Issues like distribution of portfolios can be settled most effectively by co-ordination committees. Any discontentment left in this regard may crop up again and create new crises now and then which may even lead to the destruction of the coalition. Hence the distribution of portfolios is a very delicate task for the Prime Ministerin a coalition demanding intelligent handling. The demand for more significant representation and better portfolios is likely to'create funny situations as regards the size of the Cabinet. The number of Ministers may go on increasing as the ‘accommodating spirit’ waxes, and one may wonder if a developing country like India can afford to have so many Ministers to govern them.
Based on the recommendation of the Karan Singh Committee (1992), it was generally accepted that ministerial positions should not exceed one-tenth of the strength of the lower house concerned. However, this has been violated by Chief Ministers like Kalyan Singh of UP and Rabri Devi of Bihar who offered to make Ministers of all defectors in order to Win their support to prop up the Ministry.3 Members of the Lok Tantrik Congress party who formed the new party after crossing floor from the Congress(l) were allMinisters in Kalyan Singh’s illusory and later in R.P. Gupta’s Ministry. Some of them had Only minor portfolios or had no portfolios at all. Once the Council of Ministers is formed, there arises the Problem of coordinating them and pulling them together. As “fey belong to different political parties, the Ministers may have different or even contradictory opinions, interests and visions.The foremost characteristic of a coalition Ministry is the absence of political homogeneity. As such, the management of ministerial colleagues and monitoring of their activities call for extraordinary competence and patience on the part of the Prime ’Minister.
The Cabinet system of UK has historically evolved the character of collective responsibility. The Indian Constitution has legalised this character in Article 75(3) and Article 164(2) which state that the Council of Ministers shall be collectively responsible to the Lower House. ‘Collective responsibility’ implies that all Ministers hold themselves responsible for all decisions of the Cabinet and that, once a decision istaken by the Cabinet, each Minister has the obligation to defend it publicly. Even if someone has a dissent with the collective decision, the dissenting view is expected to be suppressed or kept in reserve for the time. In recent timesthecountry has witnessed the PMK and MDMK ministers of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government openly dissenting with the Central Cabinet’s collective stand on Sri Lanka.4 Hence the concept of collective responsibility in its classical form needs to be made flexible in the coalitional structure of government. Political homogeneity being the first victim of coalition governments, an agreement to accommodate dissent becomes inevitable. ln majoritarian governments there is no institution other than the Cabinet to formulate policies and co-ordinate Ministries or departments of government. The party machinery exercises control over the Prime Minister and other Ministers directly. The idea of an all-party national government was suggested time and again, since 1989, in the context of a single-party failing to get the majority in the Lok Sabha.5 One of the suggestions envisaged was the election of the Prime Minister by the Lok Sabha usingthe single transferable vote from among candidates (not necessarily members of Parliament) who would secure the support of at least 100 Lok Sabha members. The Council of Ministers would consist of representatives of all parties in proportion to their strength in the House. A common minimum programme acceptable to all or most parties should be placed before both houses of Parliament and approved. A no-confidence motion passed against the government should be active only after the Election of an alternative Prime Minister. Other suggestions included:
(i) the Prime Minister be elected by the Lok Sabha and shall resign only when an alternative leader is chosen;
(ii) the Prime Minister be elected by 2/3rd majority of the Lok Sabha;
(iii) the Prime Minister be elected by a majority of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha;
(iv) the Prime Minister to electby a majority of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and be removed only by a 2/3rd majority in both houses; and
(v) the Prime Minister be elected by a simple majority of the Lok Sabha and a no-confidence motion passed by 2/3rd majority of the Lok Sabha.
The coalition is the skilful execution of a tight-rope balancing, involving a compromise between two or more distant or even contrary standpoints. The deciding factor may be the payoffs emerging out of the bargaining process. Since each partner wants to take more for itself and give less to the other partners in the coalition, the centrally located parties are at an ‘ advantage in local bargaining.6 It may theoretically be argued that larger parties possess better bargaining power because oftheir conspicuous presence and leadership status.7 However, this is not always proved in practice, and in the Indian situation, smaller parties are found to be enjoying a disproportionately larger share in the arrangements. The leading party in the ruling coalition is often forced to part with its favourite choice to satisfy the smaller parties.
The present system of arrangements at the Centre, the BJP is at a disadvantage when compared to the other partners of the coalition. Out of the eleven committee Chairmen of the Lok Sabha, the BJP has only one whereas the Congress(l), the leading party of the opposition, has two. Moreover, out of six Rajya Sabha Committees, the BJP has two Chairmen and the Congress (1) two. In parliamentary delegations, the minor partners get more than the proportionate number of representatives. It may also be noted that in the seating arrangements of the Lok Sabha, the BJP does not have a proportionate number of seats in the front row of the chamber. It is sometimes observed that two political parties representing the same social division or having the same ideological roots may find it more difficult to form an alliance or coalition than for two parties representing different social bases.8 Since the objective of the partners is to maximise their position and power within the government, it is presumed that they behave in a rational manner. But the bargaining game is not always as rational as it is presumed to be and as such, the durability of the coalition could be in jeopardy.
Structurally, coalition politics has not brought about any change in the Parliament or State legislatures. The parliamentary functionaries remain the same, and the rules of procedure and conduct of business also do not change. There are as many parliamentary parties and whips as there are political parties represented, and there will be a joint parliamentary party for the whole alliance, whether ruling or in opposition. Committees will be constituted and monitored under the same norms as they exist in parliamentary practices. Bills can be passed if the required majority is forthcoming as per rules. Constitutional amendments may be severely hampered or pushed back when it becomes challenging to muster two-third majority without the backing of the opposition. When the coalition gains a two-thirds majority on its own, it was still the burden of carrying all'the coalition partners with it. In a parliamentary system of government, it was the Parliament that originated as the centre of power, the Cabinet being dependent on and responsible to the Parliament. As time lapsed, the Cabinet appropriated political power and importance, and the governmental system came to be described “Cabinet dictatorship”. The growth of the importance of the Prime Minister, centralisation of power in his hands and the consequent subjugation of the party and the ministers to the Prime Minister justified the sobriquet of “Prime Ministerial” government for the same parliamentary system. However, the changes were indicative of the trends in the paradigm shift of legislatureexecutive relationship in the parliamentary system. The emergence of coalition politics and the consequent weakening of the Prime Ministerial position tended to effect a change in the role of the Parliament about the executive. The coalition partners, being participants in the government, are supposed to provide it solidity and be collectively responsible for its performance. However, being different in origin and character, they often make for dissent and mutual criticism. Thus a coalition government has also a built-in mechanism for mutual checks and balances. However, the actual performance of coalitions deviates from the idealistic vision of smooth collaboration and peaceful dissent. They sometimes break into Open fights on the floor of the house and outside. Any observer of the conduct of business in the Lok Sabha will be shocked by the behavioural contrast of the members.During the Congress regime and the post-Congress Coalition period, The incidence of unruly behaviour in both houses of Parliament has been more frequent during the latter, and the Speaker has been compelled to convene meetings of parliamentary party leaders more often than before to settle quarrels. This points to the absence of a centralised parliamentary party organisation in a coalition system when contrasted to a single-party majority.
From a sociological point of view, this phenomenon is reflective of a general decline in the elitist character of the people’s representatives. Legislators speak in the language of the masses and behave in style understandable to them. They come from the grassroots and represent the popular culture, unlike the legislators of the fifties and sixties who represented a higher-level culture. Moreover, with many parties represented in the Parliament, the MPs feel themselves closer to their respective party chiefs and immediately respond to them unlike in the days of the Congress dominance system. The party chiefs behave like feudal lords and demand total loyalty from their legislators. The latter is dependent on their leaders for their career and future political existence. Today the legislators’ freedom of speech in the legislature is restrained by the party leadership even though no legal provision provides for it.9 The Opposition may also be a coalition as in Kerala, or it may consist of disunited single parties or groups of parties as in West Bengal or at the Centre. In either case, one primary function of the Opposition appears to be to entice the ruling coalition partners into their fold, not only to pull down the government but to strengthen their ranks. So the Opposition is never satisfied with attacking the policies of the government as in an orderly parliamentary system, but it is always alert on using other means for overthrowing the ruling coalition. Both sides being coalitions, it may be presumed that they are easily susceptible to efforts to make wedges in their blocs. Relatively, the Opposition of the coalition system at the Centre has become more potent than that of the earlier-Congress system.
The Party System
Coalition politics centres around political parties as it involves games played by the latter to gain the maximum pay off. It becomes relevant when no single-party cantransfer power on its own. In such circumstances, one partyadjoins another one or more parties to fight the elections and to form a government. The coalition is an alliance of parties that decide to work together in the election process or after the elections and share power in running the government. Coalitions or party alliances could be pre-election or post-election phenomena. Many parties may cluster together, pool their resources and work jointly to maximise their gain by defeating counterparts in the election process. If there is a one alliance fighting against individualised rival parties, the prospect of the alliance winning more seats as compared to its rivals is stronger. If two equally strong accords are pitted against each other, the effect will be that of a healthy two-party system, either of them getting a majority to form the government. If more than two alliances compete, the result will be likewise in favour of one of them or no one at all, with no alliance being able to capture a winning majority. The only possible solution will be a further coalition of two or more alliances. 1. Single alliance vs Disunited parties 2. First alliance vs Second alliance 3. First alliance vs Second alliance vs Third alliance.According to M. Laver, political parties make policy packages as storefronts to attract voters, and the leaders forget them once the election won.Anthony Downs said that parties formulate policies In order to win elections rather than win elections to formulate policies.However, that a well-drawn-out policy and a commitment to implement the same will help maintain lengthy credibility of the party or faction of parties is nowhere doubted.When ‘like-minded parties’ or parties with similar ideological goals make a coalition, they make a joint programme that may not have serious setbacks. Serious problems occur when ideologically polarised parties work together. The common minimum programme becoming a joint manifesto for all parties tojoin that coalition. With a perspective to accommodating the ideologically distant parties, many ideological or ‘fundamentalist’ sacrifices will have to be made by the leading parties. Long-standing coalitions will recognise the importance of CMPs and prepare them sufficiently early to face the elections.
According to Ajay K. Mehra, Deve Gowda government had developed a Common Minimum Programme (CMP) which was thereof not only on the manifestos of the coalition partners but incorporated the political agenda of those parties which had not taken part in the government."5 The common minimum programme(CMP) was a broad statement of approaches to handle India’s problems. The BJP-led coalition of 1998 elections debated of framing a Common Minimum Programme.After the elections they set-up a drafting committee with George Fernandes as the convener for the purpose.The document, called the National Agenda and prepared by Govindacharya, a General Secretary of the BJP, under direct inputs from Vajpayee, Advani and Fernandes, sought to avoid the politics of confrontation and usher in an epoch of national reconciliation and consensus.The BJP perceived the growing returns coming from appearing moderate and accommodating. The BJP changed its stance on some contentious issues like the reconstruction of the Ram Temple at Ayodhya, the prelude of a Uniform Civil Code, the deletion of Article 370 which gave special status to the Jammu and Kashmir State. These items were dropped from the common minimum programme (CMP) of the coalition government. This was a serious setback for the BJP which had tried to build the party organisation on this plank.
Moreover, the AIADMK, which was an associate in the election disapproved support to the BJP to establish the government until some of its unreasonable demands were incorporated into the agenda. The AIADMK leader Jayalalitha had put forth five conditions :
She also wanted to be put on the agenda a demand for raising the height of the Periyar dam in Kerala to 150 feet. In such circumstances, the process of preparing the CMP could be an impossible task. However, preparation of the CMP is also a strategy of making the partners acceptable to each other.
In the 1998Lok Sabha elections the United Front (UF) brought out a common minimum programme (CMP) and a joint statement policy on behalf of its partners, but the Left parties issued a separate manifesto highlighting their differences with the United Front.Personality-based factions and parties are a known phenomenon of the Indian political scene. This provides personality clash as a most common cause for party splits, and in such cases, any alliance between two newly emerging personality-centred parties became an impossibility, despite policy closeness or similarity of social base. Bitter hostility between the rival leaders and their followers may foreclose a meeting point, as in the cases of Karunanidhi vs Jayalalitha, Laloo Prasad Yadav vs Ram Vilas Paswan and Ramakrishna Hegde vs. Deve Gowda. However, a common enemy or the lure of office may bring them together into the same coalition or another coalition after a lapse of time. Party coalitions in India always try to develop their base by attracting more parties than required for keeping themselves in power.In other words, large-sized coalitions are significant in the Indian situation. Following the rule of the Indian National Congress in accommodating a large number of groups and interests, the party coalitions tend to produce themselves ‘Maha-coalitions’ for winning the most significant number of seats for themselves and demote the opposition to nil. So, the ruling coalition’s seem to be on a constant search to pick and swallow from the opposition. At the Centre, a government can function effectively only if it is assured of a two-third majority to make constitutional amendments possible although the general tendency is to accommodate large-sized coalitions. This is a characteristic reactive of the political culture of the country.
Another phenomenon in Indian politics is the nonparticipating external support that some parties prefer to offer in order to sustain up a party or coalition of parties in power without making a commitment to share the responsibilities of government. Parties think ahead about the aftermath of their participation as regards the forthcoming elections to Parliament And if they find the payoffs from immediate power is lesser than the pay up in store for them.10 Riker and Laver do not consider policy even as an instrument in electoral politics and coalition formation.11 Anthony Downs said that parties formulate policies in order to win elections rather than win elections to formulate policies.12 This has been the policy of TDP and Trinamool Congress towards the NDA government. However, TDP was prepared to have minimal participation by accepting the Speakership of Lok Sabha. This policy may also result from other covert considerations of the party leader, such as striking the growth of rival members in the party by blocking their entry into power positions. This further makes them feel free to declare their independence of the regime at slight provocations.
The political culture of coalitional politics linkage in the Indian situation is clear from the observations made above. What we can call the Indian political culture is amalgamated of mixed, State-based political cultures further different by ethnocentric factors and evolutionary phases. The coalitional setup is a political power relationship evolved from an all-inclusive, umbrella organisation of the Congress party and shaped by historical imperatives like the declining one-party dominance and Marxian change of attitude towards parliamentary palliative. However, the common cultural elements may contribute to the formation of stable political arrangements in most States of the country, if not in all.
Finally, the dependence of coalition politics on the electoral system needs to be examined. Maurice Duverger evolved a three-point thesis, from his analysis of European electoral politics, regarding proportional representation and the party system. The thesis included ': (i) that proportional representation tends to lead to the formation of many independent parties; (ii) that the two-ballot majority system tends to lead to the formation of many parties that are allied with each other; and (iii) that the plurality rule tends to produce a two-party system.13 Duverger’s law has been examined at length, stimulating a whole body of research into the political consequences of electoral systems. However, the impact of the plurality rule in the Indian situation has not been unidimensional, or even bi-dimensional is complicated by several factors such as ethnic divisions, economic cleavages and size of constituencies. The Italian experience of Proportional Representation compelled the .revision of the electoral law in 1993, introducing plurality rule in three-quarters of the seats for Senate and Chamber of Deputies while retaining proportionality for the other part.14. The first elections held in 1994 after the adoption of the new law witnessed a trend towards three alliances Left, Right and Centre.
However, in contrast to Britain and the US, the Left and the Right were not unitarian political parties but loose alliances of very different parties. The plurality system’s seatvote disproportionality reinforces the stability of coalitions based on compromises. Disunity would mean to them vote disaggregation and excessive loss of votes. Hence it follows that Duverger’s thesis that the plurality rule system would tend to produce a two-party system may partially be established in the situation wherein the opportunistic phase is crossed over.
I am sincerely thankful to my guide, Dr Neelam Panday, Associate professor, Dept of political science and public administration, Annamalai University, Tamil Nadu, for helping in this research paper. Without her, it would not have been possible. The discussion we did, helped in making a better understanding of the topic, and she also helped in the collection of material. My sincere thanks to my friends who helped me in the discussion process for making this research paper.
Notes and References
Research Scholar, Department of Political Science and Public Administration,
Annamalai University, Tamil Nadu
Assoc. Professor, Department of Political Science and Public Administration,
Annamali University, Tamil Nadu