2019 will be driven by regional allies
Two words have gained currency in Indian politics in recent times —strong and weak. A section of political stalwarts, on the one hand, are trying to woo voters by advocating a strong government at the Centre, on the other hand, however, are those who want a weak government in New Delhi.
No doubt, a strong government has its advantages, But there are some example, where some leaders, despite being called weak, didn’t surrender during crucial moments. But let’s first go through the performance of coalition governments, often considered weak.
In the general elections of 1967, the Congress lost power in eight states for the first time. And with that the culture of khichdi or coalition governments in India came into being. In Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Rajasthan and Punjab, anti-Congress parties formed coalition governments. But these political compromises proved to be shortlived. In the next four years, 32 governments were formed and they all crumbled. During this time, Bihar actually set a record of its own. Nine governments were formed there, and they collapsed. In Uttar Pradesh too six governments were formed and fell during this period.
Now let’s talk about the cycle of power at the Centre. Six prime ministers -- Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, Vishwanath Pratap Singh, Chandrashekhar, HD Deve Gowda and Inder Kumar Gujaral were the prime ministers virtually born out of political erosion and decay. Even Atal Bihari Vajapayee himself proved to be the prime leader for only 13 days in his first tenure. Did these prime ministers take any significant decisions for the country? While examining this question, we come across many surprising facts.
I remember, Vishwanath Pratap Singh implemented the Mandal Commission before his government lost the vote of confidence. A huge ruckus was created over the implementation of Mandal Commission but this ultimately became a medium to promote and improve the condition of the backward, downtrodden and marginalised sections of society.
Among the names I have mentioned, only Deve Gowda is with us today. He regrets the fact that he has not been considered a strong prime minister. Recently, during the gathering of political veterans in Kolkata on West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s invitation, Deve Gowda mentioned that two significant projects- the metro rail in Delhi and India’s largest bridge Bogibeel were projects cleared in his tenure.
Narasimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh had also put their coalition governments at stake while taking tough decisions. Narasimha Rao became the prime minister after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. It was under his direction that Manmohan Singh laid the foundations of economic liberalisation. Today if India dreams of becoming the largest economic power in the world, it is because of the vision of Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh.
In the same way, the Vajpayee government propped up by Mayawati, Mamata and Jayalalithaa conducted the nuclear test in Pokhran and proved to the world that India’s nuclear programme is not just an illusion but a reality.
Manmohan Singh too had the courage to risk losing the support of an old ally, the Left, while signing the nuclear energy agreement. Had the Samajwadi Party (SP) not supported the government at that time, the UPA government would have collapsed.
Doesn’t this show that the intentions of the leader are either weak or strong not that of the coalition?
Today whether it is the Congress or the BJP, both are facing difficulties in keeping their allies together. The attitude of Shiv Sena is well known. Uddhav Thackeray doesn’t let go of any opportunity to criticise the Union government directly or indirectly. The Shiv Sena has made it clear that in the next elections the party will play the role of big brother in Maharashtra. In the same manner, Nitish Kumar has also taken on the role of big brother in Bihar. The JD(U)’s representation in the Lok Sabha was very low as compared to Shiv Sena, despite this, it managed to get the same number of seats from the BJP for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. The Ram Vilas Paswan-led LJP also was able to make the BJP accept its conditions in the same way.
This is true of the Congress also. To prevent the Modi and Shah juggernaut, Rahul Gandhi has shown outstanding political skill in Karnataka. He supported the JD (S) which had only 37 seats to form the government and HD Kumaraswamy became the chief minister. It’s a strange coincidence. The day Shiv Sena was making disapproving noises about the BJP, Kumaraswamy in Karnataka was threatening the Congress. Before this, the old ally of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, the SP, tied up with the BSP ignoring the Congress completely.
It is certain that both national parties will have to face such political manoeuvrings in the days to come. But one thing is certain -- the regional parties will keep reminding the leadership of the Centre of their compulsions and vulnerabilities. This cycle is not going to stop in a vast and pluralistic country like India.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan
The views expressed are personal