Given the surge in popularity of the BJP in the run up to Indian General Elections, it is understandable that there would be concern amongst opposition leaders who are battling to save their dynasties and their relevance. What is more surprising are the articles that have started to glorify coalitions where authors have started to hope for a coalition government at the centre. A coalition is defined as an act of union between a group of individuals who share a common set of values or a common vision. Political coalitions have adapted the meaning of coalition to mean a temporary alliance for combined action but still with a common set of goals for the larger good of their constituents.
In the forthcoming elections, the now defunct mahagathbandhan has a single point agenda of removing the BJP at the centre. That is it. Unlike earlier coalitions, this time that constituents of the mahagathbandhan have not even been able to come together with a common minimum programme. No one can agree on who will lead the coalition. They blatantly fight in the states and collaborate at the centre.
Coalition governments around the world are always weaker and less decisive. Compromise and tolerance are the general dharma of most coalition governments where adjustment and acceptance of parochial needs takes priority over national needs.
Let us examine the flaws of a coalition government as is evident not just in India but around the world and then make our own assessment as we step out to vote.
- Federal Structure is compromised: Coalition governments by their very definition is a group of small parties that come together because no single party can form the government. This leads to the major challenge of who will lead. We have seen chief ministers by rotation so that personal agendas can be met. We must ensure that we do not allow personal agendas of regional parties to determine the path of our nation.
- Strong versus Lame Duck Prime Minister: Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had famously remarked when asked about the telecom scams that he headed a coalition government and was therefore unable to do anything. The leader has no option but to compromise when faced with a challenge that suits a single party but not the nation. Areas like GST (Goods and Services Tax), Bankruptcy Code, Social welfare schemes like Aadhar, Jan Dhan Yojana, Swachh Bharat, National Health Scheme and others have been on the agenda of successive governments for the past two decades but could not be implemented because of coalition governments.
- Constitution of India: The Constitution has clearly stipulated about a hundred areas that can only be decided by Parliament and not by the States. These include Defence, Foreign Policy, Common Currency, Judiciary, Federal Taxes, Airlines and several others. Coalition governments have vested interests on most of these matters. They need to make a change for their constituencies and they always figure out ways to bypass these areas.
- Fiscal prudence is compromised: In order to meet the vastly varying financial demands from its coalition partners, governments have been known to compromise of fiscal prudence. Regional and state requirements take precedence. It is common to see high rates of inflation and high fiscal deficits which lead to serious structural flaws in the national economy.
- Promises are made with no intention of meeting them: Voters need clear accountability so that they can ask their leaders to deliver on their poll promises. Coalition partners always have a credible excuse for not delivering on their promises. Corruption is also seen as an acceptable practice to meet the needs of various political parties who demand their pound of flesh. No one is accountable.
- Health and Education: State controlled subjects like Health and Education are a case in point. Everyone unanimously accepts that Health and Education need everyone’s focus. We can see the huge disparities that exist in states. Why do our politicians believe that all people are not equal, and some states have better health and education and others do not? The same applies to most other areas that have been handed over for governance at the state level.
- Personal agendas drive decision making: Given the 5-year duration of parliament and even shorter duration of coalition understandings, the political parties know that they have a short window to maximise financial gains for their respective groups. This is what we have seen in the UPA Government from 2004 to 2014 and nothing gives me confidence that the thinking will change if they come to power in 2019.
- Foreign Policy: World politics is changing from a borderless world to a world that is beginning to draw borders again. Only strong countries with strong leaders will be able to carve out a place in this new world that will increasingly respect strong economies and strong defence capabilities. We have seen the criticism of Uri and Balakot. We can already hear rumblings of breaking away in Kashmir if any action is taken on Article 370. A coalition government, by its very definition, will always be weak and therefore will compromise on the country’s interests in the international arena.
- Decision making slows down: Understandably, when there are dozens of individuals who believe that they can lead the nation better than others in the coalition, they have their own set of divergent views on every subject. Therefore, decision making on even the simplest of matters needs the support of everyone thus slowing down decision making.
- Any party can pull the plug: Coalition governments are frail and always walking on thin ice, not knowing when cracks may appear. They are supported by a group of individuals who have no common ideology. The first step is to start making statements against the coalition, next is to sulk and the final step is to withdraw support thus ensuring that the house of cards will collapse. Several instances of governments hanging in there or compromising their values have been seen and continue to be seen.
Can India afford to have a weak, unstable and selfish set of coalition leaders with their own personal and private agendas run this nation and fritter away all the significant gains we have seen in the past 5 years?
Remember the old line “Too many cooks spoil the broth?” Do we want to see musical chairs for the chair of the Prime Minister? Are we willing to see a new Prime Minister every 6 months?
Most governments are elected with less than 40% votes. However, simple mathematics does not work. If two warring parties add up their votes in the previous elections, they will automatically assume that they will sweep the next polls. They also assume that their voter is gullible enough to vote for a combined party and forget all that has been said by their fearless leaders against one another in the past.
We need a single party that has the required 272 seats in Parliament. This will ensure that the leaders will not have to compromise on decision making or take decisions that suit their regions but are detrimental to the nation.
We need to vote with our heads and make sure that we vote for a single party with a strong leader that can help millions of young people achieve their dreams.