(Article) Coalition Politics: Future of Indian Political System - Civil Services Mentor Magazine May 2012

Coalition Politics: Future of Indian Political System

Coalition Politics is a time tested thing in Modern Democracy. TheconceptofCoalition Politics basically draws its roots fromthe times when warring states sometimesused to allywith each other inorder to defeat of a common enemies, as in Vedic Civilisation’s Dasragya war, Nizams & British coalition verses Marathas . In recent times in India got a taste of Coalition Politics at the state levelwhen the Left front comprisingof Communist Party of India (CPI), CPI (Marxist) and others formed the first ever Coalition Governmentin IndiaatWestBengalwith Mr. Jyoti Basu as the Chief Minister (succeeded by Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee)whichtill datehasn’t been defeated. At the national level the first ever coalition government was formed underthe PrimeMinistership ofLate Shri MorarjiDesai Jiwhich existedfrom24th March 1977 to 15th July 1979 headed by nowan insignificantJanata Party (who reputation has nowbeen acquired by its breakaway section which formed the Bharatiya Janata Party). Since 1996 Indian Politics has been dominated with CoalitionGovernmentswhichbyfar have been stable after a shaky start.The incumbent Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh is heading a coalition Government of 15 parties called the United ProgressiveAlliance (UPA)with Mrs. SoniaGandhi, beingitsChairperson which isholding asecond terminOffice.

The term‘coalition’ is derived from the Latin word ‘coalitio” which is the verbal substantive of coalesce which means to grow together. However, as actually used, it somewhat belies it nominal meaning, ‘for the units or the elements brought into combinationby a coalition very seldom grow together in any literal sense. According to the dictionarymeaning coalitionmeans an act of coalescing, or uniting into one body: a union of persons, states: alliance. In the strict political sense the word coalitionis usedfor ‘allianceortemporary unioninto asingle governmentof distinct parties ormembers of distinct parties. It is also generally accepted that a coalition
can takeplace onlywithin thecontexts of mixedmotive inwhich both conflict and common interest are simultaneously present and must govern the Course. Political coalition or political alliance is an agreement for cooperation between different political parties on common political agenda, often for purposes of contesting anelection tomutuallybenefit bycollectivelyclearingelectionthresholds or otherwise benefiting from characteristics of thevoting systemor for government formation after elections. A coalition government is a cabinet of a parliamentary government in which several parties cooperate. The usual reasongiven for this arrangement is that noparty onits owncanachieveamajority inthe parliament. In such times, parties haveformed all-partycoalitions (national unity governments, grand coalitions). If a coalition collapses a confidence vote is held or a motion of no confidence is taken.

Coalition and/or minority governments were rare between 1947 and 1989when the CongressPartywon majorities of seats in the Lok Sabha (LowerHouse),based on only pluralities of 40 to 48 percent of the vote. These victorieswere anartifact of the first-pastthe- post electoral system’s disproportional seat-vote ratio bywhich theleading party getsdisproportionately moreseatsthanvotesinpercentageterms. As like any other democracy, political parties represent different sections amongthe Indiansocietyandregions, and their core values play amajor role in the politics of India. Both the executive branch and the legislative branch of the government are run by the representatives ofthepoliticalpartieswho have been elected through the elections. Through theelectoral process,the people of India choose which majority in the lower house; a government can be formed bythat partyor thecoalition. The full-term stability of the NDA and the endurance of theUPAfor eight years as of today, has also been due to the fact that coalitions in India since 1996 have been characterized to a large degree by spatial compatibility, that is, they consist of a patchwork quilt of parties that have state-specific bases and do not compete on each other’s turf. This enables even minoritycoalitions dependenton outside support to last, combined with the fact that intheUPA’scase thesupporting Left parties,whatevertheirdissatisfactionwith Congress policies do not wish to create an opportunity for the BJP to return to power.

Experts saythatCoalitionPolitics is result of rise of Regional Parties on agendas ofNational Importance.One of the reasons for the growing importance ofRegional Partieshas beentheir success inarticulating theinterestsoftheassertive backward castes and Dalits or ‘untouchables’. These parties remain ‘regional’ intermsof geographic location, butarenationalintermsof issuesrelevant tothecountryasawhole.Theirrolewithin thenational coalitionis also indicative of amore competitive and polarised party system.Cabinetsbasedonacoalitionwith majority in parliament, ideally aremore stable and long-lived than minority cabinets while the former are prone to internal struggles, they have less reason to fear votes of no confidence. Sometimes grand coalitions of two large partiesalso occur, but these are relatively rare and large parties usually prefer to associate with small ones. However, if none of the larger parties can receive enough votes to form their preferred coalition, a grandcoalition mightbe their only choice for forming a government. In many democratic countries, such as Germany, France, India, Israel and Italy, government by a coalition of political parties isconsidered normal.This debate is closely related to issues of voting reform, as countrieswith some formof proportionalrepresentation tendto have more political parties in parliament than  those that use a first-past-the-post system, and so are more likely to have coalition governments.

The basic essence of federalism is the notion of two or more orders of government combining the elements of ‘shared rule’ for some purpose and regional ‘self rule’ for others. It is based on the objective of combining unity and diversity. This means accommodating, preserving and promoting distinct identities within a larger political union. The noted constitutional authority, DurgaDasBasuwrote that Constitution of India is basically federal, butof course withstriking unitaryfeatures. According to Nani Palkivala, Indian Constitution provides for a cooperative federalism among states with a bias in favour of the Centre. He was of the view that if the Constitutionisworked in theright spirit, there would be no need to consider any amendment asfar ascentre-state relation is concerned. He further said that the problem has arisen to-day in an acute formbecause over a period of years the Centrehas acted in amanner inwhich at best has beencontrary tothe spirit of the Constitution. Article-1 of the Constitutionmentioned that‘India, that is, Bharat shall beUnion of States’. If this articleis analysedit providesthemessage that there shouldbemore of cooperation and understanding than the concept of domination andconflict.Theconflict that occuredin theIndian Federalprocess are due to the conflict between party in the power at the Centre and the parties in opposition to it which control some of the states. In all federal system, and, in particular, what are called polyethnic unions there is a conflict of values between those of the nation and the subnationswhich constitute theUnion. Inacoalitionsituation, governments are forced to build consensus amongst the allies. In theory, to the extent that these efforts at consensus building are debated on the merits of the issues involved, coalition governments are actually healthy. Inpractice,however, the perception that these negotiations amongst allies sometimes amount to unhealthy andunethical quid-pro-quos, is gaining ground. The recent cash-forvotes issue that erupted in Parliament, and widespread media coverage about the kinds of ‘deals’ that have been struck with various allies to get support for the India-USnuclear agreement, Rail Budget, FDI in retail, Srilanka issue and many more have only reinforced our concerns about tenuousnatureof coalitionpolitics. If we as a nation are likely to live with coalition politics, there are some important issues we need to consider. Hollow as it might sound, we need a massive push for enforceable ethics reforms among political parties, how partiesraise funds,howtheyspend them, howmuch of it needs to be transparent and otherrelated issues.As a country, we cannotwait for a chance discovery of an oasis in the desert to save us. This needs a concerted effort of citizens fromacross the country to push for higher standards inpublic life.

Reasons for Coalition Politics in India areasfollows:

  1. Growth of Regional Political Parties:Growth of regional parties has been reason for the emergence of coalition politics in India.
  2. Inability to Represent India’s diversity: Coalition politics also thrives because of the inability of national parties to continue to give a feeling to the diverse population in India that they are able to adequately representtheirdisparate interests. pc. The BJP’s vote share increased fromabout 11 pc in 1989 to a little below 25 pc in recent elections.
  3. Lose ofTrust: The tendencyof the national partiesto speakof national level issues, and to force coherence in thepolitics andviews on issues, is at oddswith our extremely diverse population. In the initial years, to the extent that theCongress party wasable to accommodate regional/ local interests and reflect their aspirations, it was possible to maintain a large single party identity. Butover theyears, regional and caste identities have begun to increasinglyassert themselvesin the political space.
  4. The moral degeneration in politics: Combinedwith regional parties’ ability provide credible alternatives to theCongress party in the states, led to a situation, where ‘horse trading’ became relatively commoninunsettling state governments. The brazenmanner in which political parties traded MLAs ledto thepassage of the antidefection lawin 1985.



  1. The coalition government addresses the regional disparity more than the single party rule.
  2. Coalition government is more democratic, and hence fairer, because it represents a much broaderspectrumofpublic opinion than government by one party alone. In almost all coalitions, a majority of citizens voted for the partieswhich formthe government and so their views and interests are represented in political decisionmaking.

  3. Coalition government creates a more honest and dynamic political system, allowing voters a clearer choice at election time. It is also easier for parties to split, or new ones to be formed, as newpolitical issues divide opinion, because new parties still have a chance of a share inpolitical power.

  4. Coalitions provide good government becausetheir decisions are made in the interests of a majority of the people.A coalition government better reflects the popular opinion of the electorate within a country.
  5. Coalition government provides more continuity in administration. Amore consensual style of politics also allows for amore gradual and constructiveshift ofpolicy between administrations.
  6. Such government functions on principle of politics of consensus. Besides, states are given more powers, and the base of concept of federalismis strengthened.
  7. Government will be more consensus based: resulting policies will be broadly approved of for the benefit of the nation.
  8. Better representation of the electorate’swishes 10. Better quality of policy: enhanced scrutiny and increased attention paid to each policy
  9. Increased continuity: election does not lead to dramatic overhaul whichcan producefragmented rule
  10. Yet instability apart, coalition governments have been effective in enhancing democratic legitimacy, representativeness, and national unity.


  1. Coalition government is actually less democratic as the balance of poweris inevitablyheld by thesmall partieswhocan bartertheir support for concessions from the main groupswithin the coalition.
  2. Coalition government is less transparent, Because a party has no real chance of forming a government alone, themanifestos they present to the public become irrelevant and often wildly unrealistic.
  3. Coalitions providebad government because they are unable to take a long termview.
  4. Coalition governments are very unstable, often collapsing and reforming at frequent intervals – Italy, for example, averages more than onegovernment peryear since 1945. This greatly restricts the ability of governments to dealwith major reforms and means that politicians seldom stay in any particularministerial post for long enough to get to grips with its demands.

  5. Coalition governments are definitely far less effective, not durable, and non-dependable as compared to the governments formed by any one party with a definite ideology and principles.
  6. In coalition governments, MLAs and MPs from all the parties are given portfolios/ministries and appointed as Ministers. These ministers are appointed on the recommendations of the parent party, without taking the qualification, characterandcriminal /clean record of the MLAs and MPs.

From above discussion it can be concluded that since India is a diverse countrywith different ethnic, linguistic, and religious communities, it also has diverseideologies.Dueto this, thebenefit that acoalition hasis thatit leadstomore consensus based politics and reflects the popularopinion of theelectorate.Inorder to have stable coalitions, it is necessary that political parties moderate their ideologiesand programmes.Theyshould bemore opento takeothers pointof view as well. They must accommodate each other’s interests and concerns. In India, parties donot alwaysagree onthe correct path for government policy. Different parties havedifferent interestsand beliefs and it is difficult to sustain a consensus on issues when disagreement arises. However, this is not to say that we have never had successful coalitions. Governments in W. Bengal, Kerala, N.D.A. last ministry as well as present U.P.A. Government led by Congress (twice) at centre have been successful coalition.