Event ReportsPublished on Jan 12, 2008
Dr. V Krishna Ananth, political scientist and author, initiated an interaction on the 'Emerging scenario of coalition politics in India' at the ORF Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, on 12 January 2008.
Social management in the era of coalition politics

Dr. V Krishna Ananth, political scientist and author, initiated an interaction on the ‘Emerging scenario of coalition politics in India’ at the ORF Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, on 12 January 2008. Both the main speaker and the participants focussed as much on the history and evolution of politics, including alliance and coalition parties, both at the national-level and at the regional-level as on the present and future scenarios.

Dr. Krishna Ananth said the origins of coalition politics in the country could be traced back to the pre-Independence days. The then Congress party was an umbrella organisation that carried with it the people of all sections of the society. During this period, which continued till the early days of independence, there was a political and social coalition, both coalescing with each other. The social coalition dominated the Indian political spectrum for a long time. This social coalition under the Congress (and other political parties) was aimed at enhancing the Government’s ability to deliver and not just at forming the government/sharing of power.

The social coalition was at the centre-stage till the 1960s. It was followed by a process of rearrangement of the political coalition during the Sixties and the Seventies, which resulted in the weakening of the social coalition. This weakening of the social coalition resulted in politics become a power-game. This resulted in aspirations and the prosperity of the individual. A sudden increase in the number of small political parties followed, flowing from and resulting in their ability to bring the marginalised sections of the people from the periphery to the centre-stage. It is they who are at the heart of the present-day coalition politics in the country. In a way, the evolution of coalition politics in today’s scenario has enabled the empowerment of the people of smaller community.

The speaker said that coalition politics had acquired a different character in different states and regions in the country. In states like Kerala the allies were relatively strong when compared to the leaders of the two opposing political coalitions. In West Bengal, the coalition leader was stronger than the allies. Apart from this, in regional parties, in the case of regional politics, alliances are made and broken more in relation to the strength of the traditional bete noire of the party in power at any given time. With the emergence of coalition politics at the national-level, the regional parties have also taken their differences from the states to the Centre. Due to this complexity, the behaviour of coalition allies in India is one that is not certain and ever-changing to such an extent that forces from the political extremity get to play a major role in power-politics.

Now there is some stability to coalition politics at the national-level. This was not the case earlier (read: 1977, 1989, 1996), when the government of the day could not complete its five-year term, because of internal difference among the coalition partners. This is a common feature in a coalition government, where the allies are more active than the official Opposition.
Points made during the discussion:

  • Political parties have only one aim -- that is to come to power irrespective of the path to that power. There is nothing wrong about their ambitions, but that cannot be said of their methods.

  • India derives its strength as a functional democracy from its legacy of fighting outsiders.

  • It is not only regional parties that play ‘competitive politics’ on crucial issues of national interest and concern. Even individual State units of different national parties have spoken differently on the same issue, based on their perceptions and the import of the issue on their own States. The inter-State river waters issues involving various southern States is a case in point.

  • Rules should be framed, or customs put in place, to ensure that the politics of the coalition does not interfere with the affairs of the State, or the governance of the country.

  • No-confidence motions against incumbent governments should not be allowed be a tool for political vengeance or negotiations. The German example of the no-confidence motion being accompanied by a proposal for an alternative government could be considered for adoption in India, as well.

  • Post-electoral alliances are a fraud on the voters. Instead, parties should form pre-electoral alliances, based on a common understanding and programme, based on which alone the voters would be able to make their choice.

  • Extremist elements have a nexus with political parties, and this trend needs to be curbed.

  • Coalition politics helps bring successive layers of people from the margins to the mainstream of electoral politics, and have their voices heard.


The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.