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Suc­cess­ful coali­tion pol­i­tics is pri­mar­ily about get­ting the arith­metic right. But since pol­i­tics is a means to cap­ture power and gov­ern­ment, rul­ing coali­tions, once formed, also need to gov­ern. The Congress party and its al­lies in the Dis­united Pro­gres­sive Al­liance have done a rea­son­able job of the math­e­mat­ics— that is why they are still in of­fice. They have, how­ever, made an aw­ful mess of gov­er­nance. This is be­cause nei­ther Congress nor its al­lies are able to look be­yond the num­bers game and recog­nise the real na­ture of coali­tion pol­i­tics.

It is easy to be galled by Sharad Pawar ( with 9 MPs) when he holds the Union Gov­ern­ment to ran­som. It is equally easy to be ap­palled by Ma­mata Banerjee, whose 19 MPs ap­par­ently hold a right to veto any pol­icy mea­sure. In­deed, both Pawar and Banerjee make a mock­ery of the peo­ple’s man­date by act­ing as though they have at least 100 MPs each, rather than 9 and 19 in a House of 543. It would, how­ever, be wrong to lay the blame for dis­ar­ray in gov­er­nance on them alone. Be­cause if the al­lies pre­tend that 20 MPs are 100, the Congress runs the Gov­ern­ment as if 206 was 272, its coali­tion ad­harma. This is in sharp con­trast to the Va­j­payee- led NDA gov­ern­ment which re­mains the most suc­cess­ful coali­tion in terms of de­liv­er­ing gov­er­nance.

Congress has given no ally a seat at the cru­cial Cab­i­net Com­mit­tee on Se­cu­rity that con­sists of the Prime Min­is­ter, and min­is­ters of home, fi­nance, de­fence and ex­ter­nal af­fairs. Va­j­payee chose to give a seat at the high ta­ble to then Sa­mata Party chief Ge­orge Fer­nan­des, even though BJP had 183 seats on its own. Fer­nan­des also dou­bled up as con­vener of the NDA. His prom­i­nent role helped BJP build trust with all al­lies.

Congress has also not given its al­lies any say in key ap­point­ments, whether of gov­er­nors, reg­u­la­tors or top bu­reau­crats. Again, the NDA ac­com­mo­dated the pref­er­ences of al­liance part­ners. TDP’s Chan­drababu Naidu, who was sup­port­ing the NDA only from the out­side, was very in­flu­en­tial in a num­ber of key ap­point­ments. Va­j­payee’s in­clu­sive ap­proach en­sured that the BJP’s al­lies saw them­selves as gen­uine part­ners in the gov­ern­ment, rather than as ir­ri­tants which were nec­es­sary only to make up the num­bers.

The largest party ought to be mag­nan­i­mous. If mag­na­nim­ity does not ap­peal to Congress, self- in­ter­est should. It has the most to lose from a dys­func­tional gov­ern­ment. It isn’t too late to give its al­lies a sense of part­ner­ship in the Gov­ern­ment— give them weight­ier port­fo­lios, set up a co­or­di­na­tion com­mit­tee, stop blam­ing them for all cor­rup­tion, ap­point some gov­er­nors of their choice. These would be a small price to pay in ex­change for sup­port on key pol­icy mea­sures. Of course, it may not be pos­si­ble to get the sup­port of al­lies on the most con­tentious is­sues, FDI in re­tail to take one ex­am­ple. But, in a work­ing coali­tion, there must be give and take. The Congress could bar­gain to drop FDI in re­tail in re­turn for sup­port on other re­formist leg­is­la­tion, say on land ac­qui­si­tion or bank­ing and in­sur­ance.

With sta­tus quo, the UPA will rapidly de­gen­er­ate into a dan­ger­ous game of bluff. The coun­try will suf­fer as the game is played out to its log­i­cal end— an early gen­eral elec­tion.


SAU­RABH SINGH / www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

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