Coalition politics by definition is where political parties, often with similar interests, but not always, form a bloc and are represented collectively as an individual entity, as opposed to a conglomeration of various parties, which normally tends to be the case, and usually it is because the major parties, as far as India is concerned there are only two major parties, the BJP and the INC, have failed to obtain a clear majority or a decisive victory.
It not something that is new or unheard of and it common enough, but what makes India different is that it has 29 states with varying interests and while the national aspirations may be the same or similar, the state interests are anything but.
The term coalition itself implies that there has to be some behind the scenes negotiations between the parties who are members of the coalition or who have agreed to be a part of the coalition and that to some extent means that the major parties can’t have it all their own way, i.e. there has got to be some give and take, and with India entering an era of regionalism, the chances of either of the major parties gaining an overwhelming majority, without the help of its local allies, in any of the states, looks modest at best.
The burgeoning of regional parties that are proliferating like wild mushrooms with no clear national objectives in mind, and are limited to regional objectives, which is not necessarily a bad thing, as long those objectives are acceptable objectives, tends to suggest that India is indeed looking at an era of coalitions, one that is more conspicuous than the previous.
Can India afford another era of coalition politics? Well, for starters India hasn’t been dominated by coalition politics for all that long, and most of the parties, with exception of the INC and parties like the Indian Communist Party, only came into existence in the mid 70’s and early 80’s. The BJP itself, despite its at times overwhelming national presence only came into existence in 1980, though it has to be said that the Arya Samaj and the Brahmo Samaj have been around for a lot longer than that. Both these organizations, it is not fair to call them parties because they are more focused on social reforms than anything else, but they do act as feeder parties to the BJP, have been around for some time. The Brahmo Samaj was founded in 1828 and the Arya Samaj some forty-seven years later in 1875. The former was founded in Kolkata and the latter in Mumbai.
Coalition politics only became a facet of Indian politics after 1984 and even then, it didn’t have much of an impact until about a decade ago.
Many of the regional parties that we see today didn’t develop organically and their births were to some extent induced by the enactment of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 (AFSPA) which initially came into force to address the troubles in Assam but was later extended to cover “disturbed areas” in Arunachal Pradesh, Bengal, J & K, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Punjab, and Tripura and the sudden sprouting of many of the regional parties that we see today was to some degree stimulated to quell the ethnic and racial tensions there.
At this stage it doesn’t look like there is much of a choice not at state level anyway. Nothing is going to stop the birth and growth of these regional parties, unless of course there are some legal or constitutional changes made and the number of political parties in the country are limited or individuals are prohibited from forming new political parties, but to do that would be to go against the principles of democracy, and for obvious reasons it is something that most people don’t want to see happen.
India is entering a phase where regional politics is gaining ground and the two major political parties are faltering at state levels. However, that in itself is not necessarily a bad thing and as long as the regional parties can be limited to state assemblies, then the federal issues can be ironed out by the two major parties i.e. the BJP and the INC.
In all fairness it is not practical to expect total and complete coverage of all 29 states, and even writers and journalists restrict themselves to specific states, they would have to if they wanted to do their jobs effectively, and that is because of the overwhelming number of issues that each state is faced with and many of these issues have to be addressed at state levels because a majority of these issues involve ethnic and racial interests.
Copyright © 2019 by Kathiresan Ramachanderam