By Promod Puri
Politics of coalition has been the norm in India for the last over two decades.
So far, this has been essentially an alluring and opportunist wangling when political parties form coalitions with the sole intent of sharing power. United Fronts of Left and Right, Centre-left and Centre-right, or a mix of all is the reality of India’s vibrant, dirty and still maturing democracy.
In recent years, especially after the near-fatal downfall of the once mighty Centre-left Indian National Congress in the last 2014 election, and the sharp emergence of the Centre-right Hindu religious-leaning Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), the inevitable coalition politics of the country can and should be more relevant for the diverse Indian society than just political maneuvering and horse trading.
Coalition alignments of multi-parties in multi-dimensional societies need more spaces, adaptations, and adjustments compared to the governance of monolithic populations to conform to the order of manageable and functional democracy.
Traditionally, India has been a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-religious and geographically diverse country.
For that reason, democracy in this nation of over a billion people (1,350,438,098) can only be covered by a multiplicity of political parties catering to its diverse masses rather than two or three parties as the case in most culturally, linguistically and religiously homogeneous countries.
In India’s heterogeneity, coalition politics is the innate necessity as a result of its accepted and reasonably functional multi-party system.
It is in this coalition of diversities that the regional parties are obligated to meet the needs and distinct cultural, linguistic and religious values of their peoples rather than just filling the numbers to have a piece of pie in their hunger for power.
Since the overall composition and spirit of national alliances depend upon its constituent partners, a challenge to the Indian democracy lies in how it accommodates a multiplicity of regional demands, issues, and identities. For example, immigration, minorities’ rights, and job or educational reservations are the matters which demand regional understanding, concerns, and sentiments.
Consequently, the regional parties of India can be more assertive in their distinct provincial responsibilities and commitments while extending their support for the existing two national parties, the BJP, and the Congress.
The BJP leads the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), while the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is led by the Congress Party.
The NDA was formed by the BJP in 1998, and since 2015 it has 37 member parties. Except for the BJP, most of the constituents of the NDA are all regional parties representing the various states of the country. It is the ruling front since the last general election.
The UPA is a center-left fluctuating union of around 30 parties. Except for the Congress Party, most of its membership belongs to the regional parties as well.
Besides the BJP-led and the Congress-led national fronts, a third alternative has recently emerged. It is presented as Mahagathabandhan, which is an alliance of Centre-left opposition groups of 15 parties with secular fundamentals unlike the claims of the BJP and even the Congress Party.
Except for the All India Trinamool Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party (recognized as national parties by the Election Commission of India), the Mahagathabandhan can be viewed as an assemblage of regional parties. And that gives a different flare to the coalition system of India’s democratic outlook as there is practically no dominance of a major national party in this BJP and Congress free political bloc.
The ‘gathabandhan’ is basically a union of ideologically-related constituents unlike that of BJP-Akali Dal in Punjab or now dissolved BJP-PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
In the absence of a dominating national party, whose leader often holds dictatorial powers, the regional ‘gathabandhan’ or alliance can be more autonomous and democratic in its entity and operation than the BJP-led and the Congress-led alliances.
The almost monocratic aspects of Indira Gandhi and later Sonia Gandhi of the Congress Party, and now Prime Minister Narendra Modi are the known realities of disregard and even abuse of democracy in India.
In that respect, the Gathabandhan is a positive new feature of coalition politics of the country which can offer the true spirit of democratic functioning as there is little chance of emergence of dictatorial dominance in this arrangement.
The wheels of democracy can only move when these are not stalled by the authoritarian controls of national parties’ leadership. Otherwise, it is an autocratic functioning within a shell of so-called democracy.
The unity of India lies in its diversity. And that diversity can only be safeguarded when its politics of coalition is not impacted by autocratic behavior of any single party leadership.