Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Do we need electoral reforms to eliminate coalition politics?

The PM in an interaction with media yesterday stated something to the effect that coalition politics forced him and his government to make compromises. That Raja, and before him Dayanidhi Maran, was the choice of the DMK leadership and that he (the PM) had no choice in the matter......nor definitive proof against Raja when Cabinet was formed in May 2009. As could be expected, given the present mood of the country, this statement has been received with a high degree of cynicism and disappointment. How can the PM of a country accept so openly that his government was forced to make compromises? Isnt this proof that he is a weak PM?

But honestly, what the PM has said is the truth. Coalition politics is bad for any country. It makes the process of decision making subjugate to political compulsions. Policy decisions are taken not on merits, but on the wishes (actually "demands") of coalition partners. By definition, coalition partners (especially those who come together after fighting an election against each other) have differences on many subjects. For political parties trying to find common ground in forming an alliance, compromising on pricincples is a basic requirement. Everyone knows that coalition partners put stiff pre-conditions before joining an alliance. Coalitions are the best thing that happened to small (read non-Congress and non-BJP parties) parties. Small parties look at coalitions opportunistically - as a way to blood their weak parties. To that extent, public dis-enchantment starts the day the coalition government is formed. But what is the alternative to coalitions? Another round of elections? Would that throw up a different result? If there is no alternative, why is it difficult to accept that a coalition government will involve compromises? Why do we behave so naively when the PM makes a clean breast of it?

Coalition politics adds to the usual pulls and pushes that exist in a democracy in any case. Lets take the nuclear deal as an example. The Congress believed that the deal was good for India. After all, it was an emphatic assertion of its strength as a country since we were getting the deal at our own terms.  The nuclear club that had been formed largely against India was effectively welcoming it with open arms. Under normal circumstances, the BJP would be expected to support the deal. When they were in power, they had expressed a similar desire to make a deal. That they opposed the deal is understandable and indicative of the usual political need to oppose. But when the Left alliance partner of the UPA..... opposed the nuclear deal, it created a messy conflict. In fact, it brought to the fore the very concept of the Left aligning with the Congress given their stark differences on the US and other western countries.

Most issues that have recently dogged the Congress have been created by it's alliance partners. The 2G scam caused by the DMK has proved to be a huge bug-bear. Had it not been for the compulsions of coalition politics, the Congress would have dumped the DMK long back. A lot of the problems of inflation and poor management of agriculture can be attributed to the NCP.....whose head appears to be too old, inept and un-interested in doing his job. Sharad Pawar also appears to be involved in several other scams in the real estate sector in Bombay. Everyone knows that he is the biggest and wealthiest land owner in the state....perhaps in the country. The Congress's own scams - CWG for instance - are minor in contrast. They are cases of "routine corruption". 10-15% of the contract money was siphoned off by Kalmadi in the CWG.....whether it went to him or to the Congress is a matter of detail. They were blown out of proportion by media largely in its own selfish quest for eyeballs. The real damage to the UPA was done by the DMK and the NCP. And yet the public blames the Congress. This is in the very nature of coalitions.....the lead party takes the flak for its partners. It's not like the Congress has been singled out.....the BJP also suffered when the NDA government was ensnared by many controversies caused by its own alliance partners. People expect the lead party to rule strongly.....and like to forget that it simply cannot, given the poll arithmetic.

If we as a nation should be angry, it should be about our election system. A ruling party needs a minimum 50% of the seats. This rule was ok at the time the constitution was drafted. At that time, no one imagined that there would be so many regional parties ruling in the states. Maybe we need to reform that system now.  Mayybe we need a system that allows a party that wins the most seats (even if not more than 50%) to rule. Maybe we should have a rule that the ruling party cannot be thrown out before it completes its 5 years.  Maybe we should not allow post-poll alliances at all. Only pre-poll alliances which fight under a common banner should be permitted......and they should then be compelled to stick together for 5 years if they win. Of course, any new system will have its own problems. The point is this. Do we as a nation have the maturity to understand that any system will have its own problems. Can we behave more maturely?

The real truth is that coalition politics is bad for any country. All of us know about the problems caused by coalitons. The BJP led NDA had its own problems. How can anyone forget the mess caused by George Fernandes in the Tehelka scam? Or in Coffingate? Yet we appear shocked when these things happen. We dont want to accept that some the DMK, AIADMK, BSP and SP.....have made a business out of coalitions. They switch loyalties to whoever gives them the best deal. If we are angry with these problems, lets start by demanding election reforms. Lets debate the pros and cons of a new system. And lets then react maturely to the issues that emerge. Blaming the PM for the current system is not a solution.

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