For the next five days until results of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections are out on 23 May, and for a few days thereafter until India’s next government is firmly in place, one particular word will be spoken and dissected more than any other used in Indian politics: coalition. While the Congress has not once indicated it could form the government by winning a majority on its own, the BJP camp had been full of leaders predicting number of seats that the party will win — until its national general secretary and RSS ideologue Ram Madhav applied the brakes on the increasing figures by implying in an interview that the BJP may have to depend on alliance partners to return to power.
Ram Madhav is a political figure who must be taken seriously. Not only because he is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s in-charge for sensitive strategic regions like Jammu & Kashmir and the Northeast, but also because he has been “loaned” to the BJP by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Ever since joining the BJP, Ram Madhav has been entrusted with important assignments and is among the fastest growing leaders in the BJP.
Ram Madhva’s suggestive view is concurrent with surveys that conducted by agencies and researchers engaged in electoral coverage, whose findings also indicate that neither the BJP nor the Congress appears to be getting a majority, and that there is a strong possibility of a coalition government being formed at the Centre.
In time, however, and especially since the BJP’s win with a thumping majority in 2014, a ‘coalition government’ has come to carry a perception that such an arrangement is not great for the country’s development. But this may well be just a myth. This article attempts to examine the veracity of this “common perception” regarding coalition governments and growth. We have tried to evaluate the workings of both coalition and full majority governments, the former of which made its entry into the Indian politics in 1977 after the Emergency, when the country also had its first non-Congress government (Janata Party) at the Centre.
Coalition governments are pro-poor
For the past few years, several researches have been trying to determine which section of the society benefits from coalition governments and how. A similar research was jointly conducted by Prof Torben Iversen of Harvard University and Prof David Soskice of London School of Economics and Political Sciences. Titled ‘Electoral Institutions and the Politics of Coalitions: Why Some Democracies Redistribute More Than Others’, the paper was published in the journal of American Political Science Association. Iversen and Soskice were puzzled over the rise of inequality, albeit at a varying degree, in countries across the world.
The professors’ research shows that rise in inequality is slower in countries that have coalition governments. On the other hand, countries with a majority government have witnessed rapid rise in inequality. The researchers found that coalition governments are more focused on re-distribution of resources, which is not a priority for majoritarian governments.
Coalition governments and redistribution of resources
In conventional political science literature, it is well argued that the system of proportionate representation (PR) produces a multi-party system, and as a result of which countries that adopt this system see coalition governments. Contrarily, the ‘first past the post’ (FPTP) electoral system produces two-party system, which gives countries majoritarian governments. India is an exception where the FPTP system has produced a multi-party system. Iversen and Soskice’s paper shows that democracies that adopted PR electoral system have seen less rise in inequality in comparison with democracies that have FPTP electoral system.
A vital aspect of any electoral system is regarding the need for governments to be more attentive towards redistribution of resources, which is possible under coalition governments. While majoritarian governments claim to represent the will of majority voters, in reality they merely enjoy Parliament-based majority and do not represent the maximum possible number of voters.
To understand this, let’s take a look at the 2014 Lok Sabha election results for instance. The BJP led by Narendra Modi won a majority in Parliament by only securing 33 per cent vote of the total votes cast. In other words, around 67 per cent voters voted against the Modi government.
Even the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) got more than 22 million votes in the elections but did not win a single seat in the Lok Sabha, which effectively meant that there was no member in Parliament to represent the voice of the 22 million voters who chose the BSP. Similar was the case with many other political parties and their voters too. If this trend carries on, we are likely to witness a scenario where the voices of marginalised repeatedly remain unrepresented by lawmakers in Parliament and the government, since they support the party that neither wins nor becomes part of the government at the Centre.
In contrast, countries with proportionate representation system see coalition governments comprising many parties. This means a larger number of voter voices get represented in the decision making of that government. It is the larger voices that push coalition governments to be more redistribution friendly, which is beneficial for the poor and marginalized communities.
Why India needs coalition governments
In India, coalition governments are necessary for inclusive development as the idea of the “nation” is still taking shape, because the country has extreme diversities based on language, region, caste, religion and there is not much fraternity or social congeniality among various communities and groups. “We must overcome all these difficulties if we wish to become a nation in reality. For fraternity can be a fact only when there is a nation,” BR Ambedkar had said in his last speech to the Constituent Assembly. Political parties in India too have developed on the basis of linguistic, religious, caste and regional diversity, which seems unlikely to be reversed by any political party in the near future. In such circumstances, if any one party gets a majority on its own, then it leads to domination of a certain region or group in the government.
Such claims have been repeatedly made about the Modi government that because Narendra Modi hails from Gujarat, the businessmen and administrative officials coming from his home state have dominated under his rule. This led to resentment against his government among businessmen and officials from other regions. So, if no party gets a majority in the 2019 elections on 23 May, then a coalition of parties would likely form the government at the Centre. A coalition government would be better placed to accommodate more groups and classes as it would go about making decisions and forming policies for the masses.
The author is currently doing his PhD on Rising Inequality and Its Implications on Political Behaviour of People in India at the Department of Politics and International Relations, Royal Holloway, University of London. Views are personal.
This article has been translated from Hindi. The original can be read here.