Coalitions or Complete Bedlams
The Dinesh Trivedi episode has again driven home the grave administrative and constitutional shortcomings that bedevil mixed regimes.
The Dinesh Trivedi episode has again driven home the grave administrative and constitutional shortcomings that bedevil mixed regimes. The arrangement devolves disproportionate powers to parties with tiny numbers in parliament, dwarfs the office of the Prime Minister and makes political allegiance more inviolable than allegiance to the Constitution.
What’s true of the Trinamool Congress is true as much of the Congress, the BJP, the Left and more particularly the regional parties with numbers to keep the government going. Manmohan Singh is only the latest in the series of hapless premiers forced to kowtow to whimsical party factions and allies.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee was similarly humiliated by Jayalalithaa and Bal Thackeray, Deve Gowda took insults from Sitaram Kesri and Lalu Yadav and Inder Gujaral from Sharad Yadav. The latter demitted office when the Congress demanded that he junk DMK as an ally following the report of a Commission that probed the conspiracy aspect of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.
Many years before the start of this circus, Morarji Desai’s running feud with his Home Minister, Charan Singh became the precursor to the fall of the Janata Party regime on the Jana Sangh constituents’ dual-membership of the RSS. Even VP Singh fell between two stools over the Mandal issue that prompted the BJP to counter it with Kamandal politics.
Rated as serious political allies with clearly defined positions on issues, even the Left parties nearly brought down UPA-1 on the India-US nuclear deal the PM had turned into a prestige issue. The government survived on the strength of the Samajwadi Party’s support. The wheel has since turned a full circle with the UPA looking up again to Mulayam Singh’s backing in the face of Mamta Banerjee’s open defiance on slew of policy issues ranging from the Lok Pal bill to the NCTC and FDI in multi-brand retail.
The expedient nature of the so-called coalition dharma is antithetical to good governance. It’s violates constitutional norms and lets politicos exercise powers way beyond their mandate. The result: political dysfunction and policy paralysis that were the bane in varied measures of the VP Singh-led National Front, the Congress-backed United Front and the BJP-led NDA before UPA-2.
The NDA and the UPA-1 functioned better in relative terms. That essentially was on account of agreed common minimum programmes enforced through institutionalized consultative mechanism. Singh’s second stint has been hamstrung by the absence of a CMP and a forum for regular interaction between allies.
About time the PM and Sonia Gandhi set up a coordination/steering committee of UPA allies. That might not make coalition partners such as Mamata Banerjee temperamentally amenable. But it surely will afford them a forum to voice differences, rather than hurt the government’s image by open display of anger.
For its part, the Congress must remember that the prime responsibility for making any coalition work is that of the core party. If arrogant, it can alienate allies. If reasonable and persuasive, it can have is way on complex issues.