Nearly three months after elections were held in November 2006, The Netherlands finally has a new government. Unlike in the United Kingdom or the United States - where only two parties really count - the political scenario in
The Netherlands is a lot like India's, with a host of parties all enjoying pockets of support. And coaltion politics becomes inevitable. In November, out of 150 seats, the Christian Democrats Party (CDA), which headed the ruling coalition won 41, its main opponent the Labour Party got 32, the Liberal Party 22 and the Socialist Party 26 - while the remaining seats were shared by a host of smaller parties, none of whose tally crossed double figures.
All the major parties did worse than expected, except the Socialists, whose score had been just nine seats in the last parliament. The CDA and the Liberal Party, both somewhat right wing, have been traditional allies, but this time, even together, they had only 63 seats, well short of the 76 seats needed for a majority.
After endless discussions and staggering compromises, the new government has been formed. And what a government! It comprises the Christian Democrats and the Labour Party, which is a bit like the Congress and the BJP teaming up! The third component is a very small Christian party. Jan-Peter Balkenende continues as prime minister as head of this strange combination.
Both his appearance and his poor oratory have been mocked by his critics, but despite them, Balkenende will be running his fourth consecutive government. His previous government was the most right wing government The Netherlands has had since the Second World War. This one, with the Labour Party is being called 'left wing', which only goes to show how meaningless ideology is becoming. Even so both these traditional foes turned friends may face piquant situations in coming weeks.
The first to face the 'inner contradictions' of this government however, may well be the small Christian party. With its strong Christian leanings this party opposes abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage. All three are permitted in The Netherlands, they form the fabric of tolerant Dutch society. The two big parties will never agree to undo the legislations that permit them. How will the Christian party explain to its voters its support for a government which allows all three?
Until recently the ordinary Dutchman’s knowledge of India was fairly limited. Suddenly all is changing. Today, much to my shame I sometimes find my Dutch friends correcting me about facts relating to India! They know more about India than I do! There are many reasons for this.
For the first time the Dutch are coming into contact with a large number of Indians on a regular basis, thanks to India’s booming global business. Mittal Steel’s headquarters was based in the Netherlands, till the recent takeover of Arcelor. And of course there is the takeover by the Tatas of the Anglo-Dutch steel multinational Corus.
This was front page news here for weeks, so that even people in the rural areas are now aware of the Indian presence in the Dutch business world. Also, Dutch companies like ABN-AMRO and Philips have brought thousands of Indian employees to The Netherlands. Forever clad in hats, scarves and gloves they have become a part of the landscape of Amsterdam. Then there is the tourism. Indians now number among the top ten nationalities among foreign tourists visiting Amsterdam.
The Dutch media has responded appropriately. For the first time in history, major television channels and newspapers have posted correspondents in New Delhi. This is, perhaps, the best proof of India’s growing importance and influence here in The Netherlands.
Dutch papers are reasonably internationally orientated, but a correspondent for a specific country is a privilege that only the world’s most influential nations are granted, so India is now on par with countries like the U.S, China and Great-Britain. The roles have changed and the Dutch know it. As one leading daily recently, while reporting the Corus affair put it it is “colonialism turned upside down" now.