Short Essay on Coalition Governments in India

Among Muslims, there were Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, Abul Kalam Azad, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai and among the lower castes — lower castes as then was called — Kamraj in South and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Nobody ever thought of castes and creeds — all were fighters for freedom and were fighting a concerted and combined battle against a foreign rule.

Politics then was not for power but for breaking the shackles of the foreign power. There was complete oneness in aims and objects — the ways might have differed a bit. Subhash Chandra Bose did not see eye to eye with Mahatma Gandhi’s creed of non-violence and resigned from the Presidentship of the Congress.

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There was the group of young spirited revolutionaries like Chandrashekhar Azad, Sardar Bhagat Singh, Ashfaqullah, Ras Behari Bose, and others who wanted to win freedom through violent means. They were feeling uneasy and restive with the Gandhian policy of peace. With all these ideological differences in the modes and methods there was complete unanimity in gaining the one objective — freedom from the foreign yoke. All these leaders had a character; they had a dedication, they had a faith.

India won freedom in 1947, but the communal politics had begun to raise its head. The Muslim League and Jinnah could not accept anything less than a separate country — Pakistan as against Hindustan — that was Bharat. It is from here that rifts began to surface up on communal and caste lines.

Mahatma Gandhi also had his own thinking and his own agenda with regard to the downtrodden class — the British called them scheduled castes —The Shudras’ in the caste hierarchy of old. Mahatma Gandhi was all out to uplift this down­trodden class and to bring them up in the main stream of the social life of the country.

He called them by a new nomenclature — he called them ‘Harijans’. This feeling of sympathy for this class gained so much ground that Dr. Ambedkar — a great legal luminary and one of the framers of the Constitution of free India — himself belonging to the scheduled caste — made a provision of granting ration to the scheduled castes in matters of jobs etc. but he envisaged a period of fifteen years to be sufficient to uplift this class and bring it educationally and culturally at level with the so-called higher classes.

Thus started the politics of communities and castes which in the political field was yet unknown. The creation of Pakistan caused an eternal rift between the two major communities of India — Hindus and Muslims — and the ‘Harijan’ factor created a marked consciousness that there existed a class of people who have to be given due representation in all fields for which the policy of reservation was adopted and accepted.

All this had its wide ramifications at the political level and influenced the future politics of the country and became the basis of coalition governments.

After the country gained independence Pandit Jawahar Lai Nehru was chosen by Mahatma Gandhi to lead the country as the Prime Minister. From 1947 to 1957, the Congress remained the dominant party but the government under Pandit Nehru set in motion the twin ills in governance — corruption and politics of castes. It began to be seen that while forming the cabinet due representation needed to be given to all communities and castes — the Sikhs, the Muslims, the Christians, the Scheduled castes and so on.

The first case of corruption at high places was registered at the level of Krishna Menon as the Defence Minister in the purchase of air craft’s and the other case was the Mundra case. There had started a gradual decline in the overall governance of the country and the worst ever shock was received by the country in the Chinese aggression in 1962 in which India had to suffer a great humiliation for which Krishna Menon, as the Defense Minister was largely responsible.

Further on, on the economic front also, the government in power failed to remove the disparities between the rich and the poor, rather the disparities increased, and there started a voice being raised regarding the backward classes — who were regarded as economically backward — and a further class of ‘Other Backward Classes’, other than the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes came into being and Chaudhary Charan Singh, otherwise and originally a Congressman became the leader and the champion of the Backward classes.

During the regime of Indira Gandhi, politics had declined to manipulations and maneuverings to remain in power and the mobilisation of money and muscle power and the media, the law interpreting authorities and the educational system — all these were attempted to be managed in her favour.

Just after gaining independence, Mahatma Gandhi had suggested that congress as a political party should be disbanded. That of course, was not done but under Indira Gandhi a vertical rupture took place in the party with a number of old stalwarts deserting the party, forming into Congress (O) under Nijalingappa and Indira Gandhi formed her own group and this was named as Congress (I) of course, the election of 1971 was won by Indira Gandhi and her Congress. The ‘Garibi Hatao’ slogan worked in her favour but soon after under Loknayak Jai Prakash Narayan, a Jan Andolan (mass movement) was launched throughout the country and the faith of the people in the government got shaken. In a huff, Indira Gandhi declared emergency in 1975 — the first ever emergency declared — and all the top leaders and even grassroots workers of the Opposition parties were put behind the bars under the most humiliating and inhuman conditions.

This situation was created for people and leaders of different political parties opposed to Indira Gandhi to come together under one banner and on one platform. The Jan Sangh, the Socialists, the Congress (O), the Bhartiya Lok Dal all joined hands.

The imposition of emergency awakened them to the reality that remaining apart as splinter groups would keep them weak to fight the Congress (I).The Janta Party was formed — the first coalition party — and they won the 1977 election with Morarji Desai becoming the Prime Minister. But differences soon surfaced in the partners and this first coalition government failed and in the December 1980 mid-term polls, the Congress (I) again bounced back to power.

In 1984 the Dalit Mazdoor Kisan Party (DMKP) was formed with the merger of Charan Singh’s Lok Dal, the Democratic Socialist Party, the Rashtriya Congress and some dissidents of the Janata Party and in the 1984 elections, this combination formed the main opposition.

Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 again turned the tide in favour of Congress (I) and Rajiv Gandhi won the Lok Sabha elections with his party emerging victorious with 415 seats in the Lok Sabha. Rajiv Gandhi came up to give a call for a clean government but that call could hardly hold ground with the Bofors deal coming up as a symbol of corruption at high level. V.P Singh, who launched the charge, resigned from the Cabinet and the Congress, and formed the Jan Morcha and this Jan Morcha with its constituents came to power in November 1989 elections.

Then came the Mandal Commission issue and VP Singh spearheaded the movement and boosted up the caste equations to catch the scheduled castes, the scheduled tribes and the backward classes votes. He pleaded for 27% reservation for backward classes over and above the 22.5% already in existence for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

The Janta Dal split on this issue and Chandrashekhar formed the government for a short spell to be brought down by the Congress. On the other side Mulayam Singh Yadav created his own vote bank of OBCs and Mayawati and Kansi Ram with their Bahujan Samaj Party tried to pull the rug from under the feet of Mulayam Singh to create the lower class vote bank. With the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the BJP again caught the imagination of the masses and the party triumphed in 1996 elections and became the single largest party in the Parliament.

But for the formation of the government, the BJP had to seek allies like the Trinamul Congress of Mamta Banerjee in West Bengal and the AIADMK of Jayalalitha — both these ladies kept the Atal Behan Vajpayee’s coalition government on tender hooks and ultimately the government could not survive a no-confidence vote. Then Deve Gowda became the Prime Minister of coalition governments; and even he had to step down to be replaced by I.K. Gujral.

The Congress demanded the dismissal of the DMK government in Tamil Nadu and on the government’s refusal to do so, the Congress withdrew support and the government of I.K. Gujral fell causing again a midterm poll. The next general election to the Lok Sabha was won by the NDA on minimum common programme and it was thus coalition government formed by the coalition of parties which was at the helm of affairs at the Centre.

Even in the States of U.P, Bihar coalition parties are forming the government. In U.P Jats have been given the OBC status. This is how castes are being won over to keep the governments going. It was followed by the UPA coalition at the Centre which is at the helm of affairs at the Centre.

As things, stand in the national political scenario, its seems imperative that now coalition governments have become the rule of the day Regional parties are gaining favour of the electorate in their own regions and these parties have to be wooed and kept in good humour to let governments be formed and to run.

There is a 90- member cabinet in UP to satisfy all coalition partners and similar scenario is bound to emerge all over the country indorse of time. Caste politics, regional parties, and coalition governments seem to be an inevitable formation but this entire scene is depressing. So far as the general national perspective is concerned.

If there is no national agenda and only regional interests to play, how can India boast of being a nation? If coalitions have come to exist, as it seems they have, it is necessary for the coalition partners not only to look to their immediate and parochial gains; they should come up with an agreed agenda prior to the elections as the NDA had done; but they should keep their eye on the national scene in the national good.

The nation and the national interest should rein supreme — caste and communal gains are much too narrow a perspective and have to be shunned at all costs, otherwise the nation and the electorate would stand cheated which no government, whether at the Centre or at the State level can be permitted to do.