Saturday, 29 May 2010

Coalition or Co-violation?

Is it a Coalition or Co-violation?
Prof T. Krishna Kumar, PhD (Iowa University)

Professor T Krishna Kumar, formerly Professor and Head, Economic Analysis Unit, Indian Statistical Institute, Bangalore, who has spent a lifetime working on quantitative methods and their possible applications to public policy. He has extensively published in international journals and made a great deal of contribution to India's Economics and Public Policy (EPW). Currently, he is Managing Director of Samkhya Analytica India Private Limited, Bangalore (

We hear that the liberal democrats lead by Nick Clegg and the conservatives lead by David Cameron formed a coalition government in “National Interest”. The two parties have divergent ideologies and hence the question arises how such parties can ever form a coalition and yet keep to their ideologies. One might argue that the ideologies of each party are packaged into a set of stands they take on issues. The two parties may have quite divergent stands on some issues while on some other issues their views are not so divergent. The coalition in such instances would lead to one of two situations: either (i) they ignore the ideological differences and forge ahead with majority decisions in national interest, or (ii) they do not take any decisions on issues on which they have very divergent stands, and take decisions only on issues on which they do not have very divergent views.
First let us assume that in a country with educated and enlightened voters, such as in this case, in order to capture a large vote share parties form their ideologies so that they diverge widely on “major issues of great concern” to a large number of people. Under this assumption any coalition formation under alternative (i) above means that the party is on a suicidal path in the long run. Will any major party take such suicidal path? If the answer is in the negative then the coalition must be of the second kind. If it is of the second kind is it “national interest” not to take any decisions on major issues of great concern to a large number of voters? In either case both parties are bound to violate either the mandate the people had given them or the ideologies of their parties. So is this a coalition or co-violation of ideologies and national mandate?
I see a great parallel in the coalition formations that take place in India and what has taken place in UK recently. While in UK this coalition has been a rare phenomenon that has recurred after 45 years in India this has been happening for nearly four decades. One can learn from Indian experience on how the coalitions actually work. In the state of Karnataka a few years ago two parties, Janata Dal (Secular) a Left of Centre party or JD(S) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a right wing party formed a coalition government. The agreement for the formation was that JD(S) will have its person as the Chief Minister for the first half of a five year term, while the BJP will have its person as the CM for the latter half. After half of the term is over JD(S) went back on its commitment and called for a midterm poll, assuming that under that threat BJP would allow JD(S) CM to continue. The strategy boomeranged and BJP opted for midterm polls. It won with a much better margin and formed its own government. It is needless to say that during the JD(S) rule JD(S) policies received major thrust.
Another example is a recent vote on the “cut motion” during the budget debate. A vote in favor of the cut motion could have brought the Manmohan Singh government down. The Singh government survived, thanks to its arch rival Mayadevi of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) offering its party’s support to Singh’s party. This was done with an implicit understanding that major cases against her would be dropped. From these examples it is quite obvious that such coalitions are against the “national interests”.
What is the political remedy in such situations? Whenever there is a hung parliament there should be a run-off election just between the two major parties by eliminating the others, in which case one of the parties will get the national mandate to govern, or the parliament should convene and elect a “national government” that consists of representatives from all the parties and also a few independent professionals of repute voted by the entire parliament. At present the constitutions of UK and India do not permit this alternative, thus leading to the present situations that prevail.

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