Indian version of alliances

Politics of Sharing

By Dr. S.Saraswathi
(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)

Veteran leader Mulayam Singh of the Samajwadi Party, one of the biggest challengers to a second term for the BJP, speaking in the Lok Sabha on the last day of the last session, sprang a surprise to all by declaring that he wished for Narendra Modi’s return as PM after the polls. It did not sound like a formal courtesy for a leader at the end of his term of office or a passing remark without any intention, but as a considered wish coming from a senior politician.
In an interaction with party workers, he expressed his disapproval of seat sharing formula made by his party with the BSP in near equal proportion. He lamented that party people themselves were out to destroy the party, which he had built. The pact is unique as a tie up between two former CMs of two rival parties of a State.
The speech is an example of inner contradictions in alliance politics. After concluding a pact for UP, the SP and the BSP are set to extend the electoral alliance to Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh. The central feature is omission of the Congress.
Successive elections since the 1970s have done a yeoman service to the representative system of democracy in India in according a recognised place for political party alliances and coalition governments. The two have now become indispensable part of general elections and government formation at the Centre and in many States even under undisputed pre-eminence of one party or clear majority for a single party. But, what is going on in the name of alliances and coalition is the politics of sharing power and positions.
Strange but true – all political parties seek alliances and have voluntarily shed off the restriction to “like-minded parties” as irrelevant and of no consequence. It is an outmoded idea not applicable to a multi-party system with hundreds of political parties. Minds can think, say, and do anything, but remain united in voting whenever survival demands unity. This is at the core of all types of alliances – pre-poll, post-poll, outside support, and issue-based support. The sole object is to capture the government in an election, to save the government for ruling alliance or defeat a government for those in opposition. At other times, the partners are free to indulge in mutual criticism. Decency, embarrassment, inconsistency are unknown in politics.
It is sought to be justified by repeated assertion that in politics, there is no permanent enemy or permanent friend. As it is convenient for everyone, there is no dispute about it.
Both Congress and the BJP have to confer the role of alliance leadership in many States to the pre-eminent local party. In Tamil Nadu, both of them are junior partners – BJP to AIADMK and the Congress to the DMK. Similarly, BJP stays behind JD(U) in Bihar and SAD in Punjab. This strategy works in some States in the North-Eastern Region. Local party leadership is for election purposes while the alliance is named the NDA.
Barely, 13 months after the Shiv Sena passed a resolution to contest alone in all future elections, it made a U-turn by announcing alliance with the BJP. The PMK, a strong critic of AIADMK for corruption and was negotiating with the DMK sealed a pact with the AIADMK and has become part of NDA. SP and BSP, competitors for UP throne have joined hands to corner bulk of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in UP.
Still, certain combinations are unthinkable like Congress and BJP, DMK and AIADMK, and TMC and CPI(M). All of them are leaders competing for the seat of government.
Several quotable quotes have emerged elucidating the characteristics of the politics of alliances shaping in the country.
“We are accusing each other, but we are friends”, said Sonia Gandhi to Mamata Banerjee who was visibly annoyed at the joint attack of the Congress and CPI (M) in the parliament over the chit fund scam. Bengal CM replied that she would remember what happened in Parliament. Looking back, we can recall how she fared as alliance partner in NDA government of Vajpayee.
“Poll alliances and party ideologies are two different matters”, said Tamil Nadu CM justifying electoral alliance between AIADMK and PMK important to prevent PMK from joining the DMK in Assembly by-elections. To the PMK, one of the harshest critics of the AIADMK, it is a change in strategy to win seats and not change in its stance. It says that it will continue to criticise alliance partners.
The Indian version of alliance politics compels the leaders to face critics outside and inside the alliance. It can make the system more democratic provided public interest underlies criticisms and not sheer show of number game.
“Joint alliances are not forged based on principles, but to bring down the enemies”, said another leader citing the importance of a negative aim. This object brings together sworn enemies. Existence of multiple axis in multi-party alliances is common.
“The fight with the Congress will remain in the State. At the national level, we will fight together”, said Mamata affirming her dual role. Similar is the situation for the TDP also. However, it is still not clear what stand the SP and BSP will take to reconcile their dual role vis-à-vis the Congress.
Among the various regional parties, the DMK and the AIADMK seem to be under compulsion of circumstances to ally with the Congress and the BJP respectively and have no other alternative. Other regional parties like the TMC, TDP, SP, BSP, RJD, JD(S) have an option and have chosen to be anti-BJP, but still undecided about leadership and even about having the Congress in the alliance.
Among rare instances in the politics of alliances, the AGP’s decision to sever ties with the BJP over the issue of Citizenship Bill and possibilities of revival of ties with the lapse of the Bill needs mention.
Political parties in western democracies have declined as mass democratic parties in recent decades especially in membership. On the contrary, parties in India continue to be vibrant and their membership grows in millions. People’s interest in politics and political leadership is growing due to several welfare schemes bringing the masses in direct contact with political leaders at least in their locality. Parties occupy a central place in the collective life of common people who look upon them as the agents for transformation of their lives.
Party alliances are very common in many countries like Brazil, Italy, and the Netherlands. Under the German Federal Electoral law, members of a parliamentary group having the same basic political aims do not compete with one another. In most countries, parties fight under the banner of the larger party and campaign together.
An alternative to alliance is Electoral Fusion which is an arrangement where two or more parties list the same candidate. Parties are separately listed, but candidate is common. The system is also known as cross endorsement, multi-party nomination, and plural nomination.
Such a system is unworkable in India where parties remain separate not because of policy differences, but for gaining political places. Alliance is a strategy not for fusion but for sharing. — INFA