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Tuesday, Dec 10, 2019

In Maharashtra political churn, it’s advantage coalition politics | Opinion

Irrespective of which way the Shiv Sena goes — whether with its estranged alliance partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), or with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress, it is coalition politics that has won, not just in Maharashtra, but across India.

opinion Updated: Nov 13, 2019 16:57 IST
Abhay Vaidya
Abhay Vaidya
Pune, Hindustan Times
The people of Maharashtra certainly don’t want a fresh round of elections. Therefore, the formation of a coalition government in the state is a strong possibility. This is the only way forward for the state now.
The people of Maharashtra certainly don’t want a fresh round of elections. Therefore, the formation of a coalition government in the state is a strong possibility. This is the only way forward for the state now.(Vijayanand Gupta/HT Photo)
         

Irrespective of which way the Shiv Sena goes — whether with its estranged alliance partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), or with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress, it is coalition politics that has won, not just in Maharashtra, but across India.

Although coalition politics has its flaws, its greatest advantage is the element of checks and balances that coalition partners exert on one another.

It was nearly two decades ago when the country was frustratingly witnessing the rise and fall of coalition governments, that the late bureaucrat-turned farmer leader, Sharad Joshi, had extolled the virtues of coalition politics. He had explained the significance of this political alignment in an interview to this journalist and said that this was best way forward for India because it would prevent excesses from any government that enjoys a comfortable majority.

The pitfalls of a coalition government are the kind of embarrassing compromises that a dominant partner is forced to make to preserve the stability of the government itself. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh admitted to this during a meeting with editors in February, 2011, in New Delhi. Singh explained that his inaction on the alleged corruption in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA-II) government was because of the “limitations of coalition politics”.

Corruption is the result of weak institutions in India. It cannot be entirely blamed on the “limitations of coalition politics” as was done by Singh. In fact, that is a lesser evil compared to the critical strength of a coalition formation. It is almost as if there is an Opposition sitting within the government itself, and one cannot argue against a bigger and better advantage than this.

This is exactly how the Shiv Sena functioned in Maharashtra in the last five years and more as the coalition partner of the BJP, although it did this out of a sense of urgency to assert its own existence in Maharashtra and not play second fiddle to the BJP.

Given the popular support for the BJP and its mascot, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after the results of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the Sena had been reduced to playing second fiddle to the BJP. The BJP wanted to preserve the alliance but also aimed to reduce the Sena to insignificance on its home ground.

Rather unexpected, BJP’s numbers in the Maharashtra state assembly fell from 122 in the 2014 state assembly polls to 105 in 2019. To be sure, the BJP, in an alliance with the Sena, contested 152 seats in 2019 compared to 230 in 2014 when the two parties had contested elections on their own and formed an alliance after the results. The Shiv Sena’s numbers also fell, but less dramatically from 63 to 56. In 2014, the Sena contested 282 seats as against 126 in 2019, while the NCP improved its strength by 13 seats and the Congress by two.

The Shiv Sena, led by its late founder Bal Thackeray’s son Uddhav, and the party’s sharp-tongued, acerbic spokesperson Sanjay Raut, smelt an extraordinary opportunity to install a Sena chief minister in a 50:50 formula with the BJP.

When the BJP’s top leadership and its erstwhile chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis refused, Uddhav jumped ship, confident that he could now realise the promise he had purportedly made to his father—of installing a Sena chief minister once again, if not with the BJP, then certainly with the support of the NCP and the Congress. However, the latter dithered in taking a decision and Sharad Pawar sought more time from the Governor, who wrote to the Centre that no party or coalition was in a position to form the government and recommended President’s Rule.

The people of Maharashtra certainly don’t want a fresh round of elections. Therefore, the formation of a coalition government in the state is a strong possibility. This is the only way forward for the state now.