Like the tango, coalition politics can often be mistaken for a display of violent partnership — full of tugs and stretches, sudden pulls and apparent pushes. But it is an intricate dance that requires the partners knowing each other’s spaces without either of them stepping on each other’s toes. On Tuesday, two allies of the UPA did more than just crush toes; they were at each other’s throats over the issue of the introduction of a Bill in Parliament. And it did not make a pretty advertisement of the way parliamentary democracy is conducted in this country or the manner in which the UPA expands itself as a ‘united progressive alliance’.
Since the UPA government occupied the centrestage in 2004, allies within the coalition and outside have been held together by that super-glue: anti-communalism. Like villagers putting their children to sleep by warning them of the return of Gabbar Singh, the UPA and its allies have constantly told themselves to remain ever-vigilant by sticking together for the sake of keeping the BJP and its friends outside the door. Such an arrangement has led to much hand-wringing at state levels among traditional political rivals forced to sup together at the Centre. At the national level, the UPA has been ticking along, keeping its internal bickerings more or less behind the purdah. The sole exception has, of course, been the Left, which by dint of its role as the government’s ‘conscience-keeper’, has occupied the traditional ‘Opposition’ space without actually appearing to make the government’s life too difficult. But on Tuesday, marshals had to be brought in to break up a scuffle between Left MPs from West Bengal and DMK parliamentarians — all over the issue of a Bill that proposes to establish a maritime institution in Chennai instead of Kolkata.
The ‘banal’ reason behind the civil war aside, one wonders about the coordination skills of the UPA. Left leaders maintain that they were not consulted when the Bill was being prepared by the government, leading to a Left delegation meeting the Prime Minister to protest earlier this month against the proposal. There are other contentious issues that can make the united progressive cadence turn into a cacophony — the Cauvery dispute between Kerala and Karnataka being just one of them. The UPA, for all its talk about mastering the art of coalition-building, must look to the more delicate matter of coalition-keeping. For this, having all its allies at the table while choosing the menu would be a good idea. A tango with legs all akimbo can be one ugly dance — as was on display in Parliament on Tuesday.