The Department of Political Science, JMI, organized a seminar on “Coalition Politics in India” on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011, by Dr. E. Sridharan.
Dr. E. Sridharan is a political scientist, and the Academic Director at the University of Pennsylvania Institute for Advanced Study of India. He was a former Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research at New Delhi from 1989-97.
Beginning with the theoretical and the historical perspective of coalition politics in India, Sridharan went on to elucidate the evolution of various patterns in Indian politics.
In his lecture, he detailed the three accenting phases of Indian politics. In the first phase he talked about the period of the first four general elections for Lok Sabha (1952, 1957, 1962 and 1967), where the Congress party won a majority and ran a stable, single party, full-time government. Even on the state level, the pattern was more or less similar to that of the Lok Sabha — single-party majority, with the Congress party in power in most states.
The next phase of 1967-89 still saw Congress’ plurality of votes but there were some significant changes. The Janta Party, in 1977, won what was like a “Congress victory in reverse” with forty-two percent of votes. There was an emergence of a bi-polar party system where the Congress was pitched against a single opposition, and at times against a coalition-opposition. It had to face competition in the states as well. For instance, it had to compete against the DMK in 1967, a regional party in Tamil Nadu.
The third phase saw a fall in the Congress vote-share. “Once the leading party’s vote-share falls below forty percent, it no longer converts to seat majority,” claimed Sridharan, “this is where minority-coalition becomes a solution.”
“There is a strong pre-electoral coalition process in India. When the second or third largest party has better chances of running the government, it proves to be an incentive to pool votes and set aside ideological differences to form pre-electoral coalition,” he added.
He further explained the run-up to the formation of Janta Party in 1977, and the trend of a broad front against the Congress party. The later years saw a furor of anti-Congress coalitions.
“But the later coalitions were a learning process at work. They learned from the 1977 – Janta Party that unification of idealistically different parties does not work, and outside support was a better option than conjugation,” he further added.
Sridharan used the term “multiple bi-polarity” while speaking about the accentuation of bi-polarization of parties at state level. Regional parties are now able to get into the center to form coalitions. He talked about the power maximizing theory where parties can be expected to dump ideology to form coalition in greed for power, and the policy affinity theory where policies and principles matter, and only ideologically compatible coalitions are formed.
“Coalition politics conduces to opportunism. Parties are in politics to win, not to lose. Here, ideologies are diluted,” he stated while explaining that there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics and the desire for power, more often than ideologies, guides the coalition moves.
Sridharan concluded by pointing out the reasons for the success and stability of minority coalitions in India, while, as he claimed, these are the least durable ones on the international scenario.
“Nine out of thirteen coalitions in India have been minority coalitions. Coalition politics happened because of fragmentation of a single party. A space has been opened by coalition politics which did not exist earlier,” he stated.