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Home / Books / Review: Ballots and Breakups by Sunita Aron

Review: Ballots and Breakups by Sunita Aron

Sunita Aron questions the ethics of forming coalitions, when arch enemies join hands only to be able to form governments, or declared ideologies are compromised to be able to win more seats

books Updated: Nov 01, 2019 19:42 IST
Poulomi Banerjee
Poulomi Banerjee
Hindustan Times
Atal Bihari Vajpayee being sworn in by president Shankar Dayal Sharma on 16 May 1996. The government lasted 13 days.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee being sworn in by president Shankar Dayal Sharma on 16 May 1996. The government lasted 13 days. (Girish Srivastava/HT Photo)


360pp, Rs 499; Bloomsbury
360pp, Rs 499; Bloomsbury

“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” – Sunita Aron quotes the line from Shakespeare’s King Henry IV in Ballots and Breakups: The Games Politicians Play. And through the 327 pages of her book on coalition politics, she traces the “uneasy” alliances that parties form to come to power and the fragile state of government and governance that results from it.

Senior resident editor of the Lucknow edition of the Hindustan Times, Aron draws on her vast experience in political journalism to follow the journey of coalition governments in the country. From Charan Singh, the prime minister who didn’t face parliament even once, to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s 13 days in office in 1996, and the Mayawati-led BSP pulling out of a coalition with the BJP in 1997 leaving the 28-day-old Kalyan Singh government in jeopardy, she gives many examples of the weakness of coalition governments. She also talks about how partners try to push their own agendas and please vote banks when in power, resulting in confusion and problems in governance. When Mulayam Singh and Kanshi Ram came together to win the 1993 UP polls, for example, the two started pushing Yadav and Dalit interests to safeguard their own. Aron recalls the caste clashes that followed and the mistrust between members of the two partner parties.

She also questions the ethics of forming coalitions, when arch enemies join hands only to be able to form governments, or declared ideologies are compromised to be able to win more seats. In March 1997, Aron writes, “BSP decided to dump it pre-poll ally Congress to join hands with the BJP, a considerably unethical move”. The BSP and the Congress had fought the elections together. In Bihar, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav buried their public animosity to form an alliance to check the BJP’s progress in the state. If that alliance was strange, what followed was stranger: Nitish’s growing proximity to the BJP and his distance from Lalu’s party.

Sunita Aron
Sunita Aron ( Courtesy the publisher )

Though Aron devotes more space to Bihar and UP – her field of work – and, of course, the Centre, there are also chapters on politics in Maharashtra and the southern states, the north-east and in Kashmir. The book ends with the author trying to come up with a respectable model for future coalitions.

Read more: Sunita Aron’s book ‘Akhilesh Yadav: Winds of Change’ is a must-read

The work is rich in detail with personal experience woven with inputs from political experts and backed by research. There are interesting back stories, details on how partnerships came about and coalitions were brokered, who helped whom, who outsmarted whom and how, glimpses into friction between parties and politicians, all of which adds to the drama of the narrative. Students of politics will find this an important addition to their reading list, and one that gives them an understanding of Indian governance. A book this information rich deserved better editing and more careful proofing. However, the odd missing articles or preposition don’t affect the reading.

Few politicians are likely to set aside the time to read Ballots and Breakups. This is sad. Reading it might stop them from resorting to shallow tactics to seize power, and would convince them that the electorate is not in the dark about their poll antics.