Originally Published 2004-05-31 11:45:57 Published on May 31, 2004
The advent of yet another coalition regime at the Centre has suddenly raised questions about ¿coordination¿ between the party and the Government. Already there are talks of power-centres, in turn setting a bad precedent at one level, and leaving a bad taste at another.
Of coalitions and coordination
The advent of yet another coalition regime at the Centre has suddenly raised questions about 'coordination' between the party and the Government.  Already there are talks of power-centres, in turn setting a bad precedent at one level, and leaving a bad taste at another. 

Elections-2004 has confirmed the earlier belief that coalition politics is here to stay at the  national-level, at least for some more time to come.  It will be prudent thus to evolve rules for the new  game than playing without any - and blaming failures  on the players, rather than on the absence of rules.  To the extent the ruling Congress-led United  Progressive Alliance (UPA) takes the coordination  committee seriously, a lot of problems would have been  solved. 

The question remains if the Government should function  under the guidance of an 'extra-constitutional'  authority like the coordination committee. The  erstwhile BJP-NDA rulers also had a coordination  committee, and there may now be need to have some  guidelines about what would be within the purview of  the 'organisation', and what would be the exclusive  prerogative of the Government, politically represented  by the Council of Ministers. Again, it is an evolving  process, and healthy precedents need to be set when  occasions cause the demand. 

In all democracies, elections are won and lost, based  on party agendas. The performance of the Government is  checked against this agenda. Or, at least that is the  belief. In a way, more than the independent agendas of  individual political parties, the common agenda of the  coalition on the whole has received greater attention  in recent times, be it under the BJP-NDA earlier, or  the Congress-UPA, since. In the case of the UPA, such  a coalition agenda has been drawn up in the post-poll  scenario, yet the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) does  not deviate much from the independent poll planks of  individual partners. 

Given the different pulls and pressures, which are for  real in any ruling coalition the world over, the  coordination committee can be a healthy apparatus to  ensure implementation of the promises made to  themselves, and to the people at large. It lays down  the policy framework, and the Government becomes the  implementation authority. While the working of the  Government and its functionaries are not put in the  dock by coordination committees, they could still  carry mid-course reviews of programmes and suggest  correctives. After all, it is the party that goes back  to the people for a fresh mandate and they should know  what had happened to the earlier promises made to the  people. 

There are tested models of coordination committees in  the country, though at the State-level, which can be  adapted, with being replicated, at the national-level.  The 'West Bengal model' of the ruling Left Front in  the State is a temptation that any leader of any  coalition would like to emulate, but it requires the  kind of brutal majority that the CPM leader of the  alliance alone has. The BJP-NDA may have been  fashioned on this, as events of the time proved. 

The other one is the 'Kerala model', where there are  two variants. Here again, the CPM-led Left Democratic  Front (LDF) is closer to the 'West Bengal model'. The  ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) is another model,  where the Congress leader has accepted the  inevitability of having to accommodate the allies, and  their preferences, as well. The fact is that all three  models have been institutionalised, are working in  their own way, and have helped keep the respective  coalition together - for decades now. The absence of  such a coordination committee was also felt in the  case of the National Front and United Front  Governments, though that was not the only reason, they  collapsed. 

Of course, this does not address the question of  'power-centres', though no doubt the coordination  committee is bound to be described as one, before  long. The question arises because of the division of  responsibilities between the Prime Minister and the  person of the Congress president, leading the  coalition. No such questions were raised either when  Jawaharlal Nehru was the Congress Prime Minister, or  Atal Behari Vajpayee, the BJP Prime Minister. Both, on  record, had independent party presidents working with  them - under them, to be precise. There are those who  attribute electoral reverses of the times to the  failure of the Government of the day, to take  directions from the organisational wing. 

At a more direct-level, it all depends on whose  shoulders the act of winning and losing elections  rest. In the present case, it does not rest in the  shoulders of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, though one  'wrong step' and the voter may have a different view,  the next time round. When politics has been reduced to  the art of winning - and, not losing - elections, it  makes sense, though. But here again, it need not  automatically flow that Delhi will be another Chennai,  and Manmohan Singh will be another Panneerselvam,  though in the Tamil Nadu context, such an arrangement  had its own relevance and justification. 

The taste of the pudding is in the eating, though the temptation now will be to call it pasta.

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N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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