Es baar coaltition sarkar!

Modi 3:0

By Poonam I Kaushish

The old order has yielded to the ‘new normal’. A power paradigm of Modi’s 3.0 which serenades ‘Es baar coalition Sarkar.  Certainly BJP secured the numbers as single largest Party 240 but the mandate to govern totaled 293 with allies. Yet as he starts his third term his Council of 72 Ministers has Modi’s trademark on it, on his terms. With the winner taking it all!

Voters have unequivocally underscored they want an accountable Government and a strong Opposition. One is not possible without the other.

Elections also have a knack of taking the sheen off seasoned politicians. Recently, Modi said, “I am convinced Parmatma sent me for a purpose…. He does not reveal his cards…just keeps me do things.” Yet, the results show Modi as just a mere mortal politician, albeit a talented and successful one who rose from an ordinary-chaiwallah-turned extraordinary Prime Minister thrice over.

Questionably, will Modi be able to run successfully a coalition Government? Have a free hand? A strong and stable Ministry without him losing his trademark decisive edge? Will his term be leashed by 15 coalition partners with 40 MPs? Or will he cock a snook and continue to have his way? Redefine politics and deliver?

History tells us most Governments are left vulnerable to whims, fancies and arm twisting by coalition allies when they seek their support, specially at times when it matters the most. Looking at Modi’s four terms as Gujarat Chief Minister and two terms as Prime Minister, he has always enjoyed an absolute majority and ruled on his own strength. This will be his first experience of ruling with borrowed support.

To do justice to the mandate the new NDA will need to function as an alliance in both letter and spirit and need to be a different Government amid promises of continuity and stability. Modi spoke a new language, “If bahumat is necessary to run a Sarkar then sarvmat is needed to steer desh.”  He projected a face of being more mindful of and attentive to the need for the Centre to carry along the States, specially allies.

Both JD(U) Nitish and TDPs Naidu are experienced, shrewd and demanding politicians who are masters at maneuvering coalitions. They have ditched BJP in the past and are opportunists, not loyal friends. But neither have any incentive to ditch Modi in the foreseeable future. Their 12 and 16 MPS will be the twin pillars on which the BJP will rest. Accommodating their interest will be a test of negotiations and patience.

The Government’s stability would be a factor of concern only when the Government brings in major reforms which he has indicated in his third tenure. Along-with some of the major Constitutional amendments will require a special majority in Parliament, over two-third MPs  and ratification by at least 50% of State Legislatures.

Undoubtedly, BJP secured the numbers as single largest Party 240 but the mandate to govern totaled 293 with allies. Add to this it is no secret that Modi has never been a team player in his over five decades political career. At the ‘victory’ ritual the Party conveniently dust-binned ‘Modi Ki Guarantee’ of a third successive Parliamentary majority, neatly sidestepped his failure of ‘400 paar’ while hailing NDA Sarkar.  Notwithstanding, he matched Nehru record of three terms.

As the BJP-led NDA starts its innings the biggest challenge for NaMo will be to sync his authoritarian and soloist instinct, balance his Hindutva heart and convert his regime into a coalition of minds based on pragmatism. Which he has displayed as Prime Minister in the past by rolling back decisions once they hit a roadblock: farm laws and land acquisition.

Besides, it remains to be seen if will give greater elbow room to his ‘coalition’ Ministers on governance and decision-making process as presently nearly everything is decided by the ubiquitous Prime Minister’s Office. Till date BJP has tried to polarise the electorate on lines of religious identity but with allies who have problems with sectarian discourses because it jeopardises sections of their supporters will be tricky terrain to navigate.

The Prime Minister would need to have a wider consultative process which might call for negotiation and accommodation. This could cut both ways —— Compulsions of coalition politics can work as a mechanism for checks and balances in Government but it could also skew policies. Consensus building will have to be the bedrock of governance, despite Modi as Prime Minister for two terms never having to negotiate the minefield of coalition politics.

The BJP would need to recalibrate its expansion plans and tailor its tactics to be on the same page with allies to let Government run smoothly. Some of its more contentious agenda will have to wait. Already, TDP has expressed reservations about repealing the Muslim quota is some States and Uniform Civil Code promised by BJP. The JD(U) is concerned about the Agnipath scheme.

Managing inconsistent demands from allies will be a skill that will have to take centrestage again. The challenge for Government is to separate genuine policy concerns from pressure tactics and play accordingly.

Modi could take a leaf from Vajpayee’s playbook who managed the NDA with aplomb 1999-2004 by setting aside controversial agendas and crafting governance policies agreeable to allies. Institutionalising the coalition management mechanism can help Government ride the growth momentum and address crisis points such as unemployment, farmers distress, inflation etc which are pan-India phenomena and could singe the NDA in general and BJP in particular.

But more than his coalition partners, Modi will have to secure again the confidence of the Sangh Parivar headed by RSS. Specially against the backdrop of Party President Nadda contentious claim the Party was “saksham” and no longer dependent on RSS. Stories abound of how RSS showed its annoyance by not adding heft to BJP campaigning.

Modi needs to discuss the results threadbare for him to make a fresh beginning and regain the lost halo of a leader who never loses electoral battles. Assembly elections are due in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Haryana soon and Bihar next year where BJP has not done well. Maharashtra losses have as much to do with drought and farm distress along-with poor coalition management. NaMo needs to restore BJP’s electoral dominance post haste.

Undeniably, Modi’s task is not enviable. The burden on him is enormous and much is expected of him. His track record shows that he can and will as he is a past master in the art of political survival and has consistently time and again proven all political calculations and expectations wrong.

Being his own man, doing what he pleases, working ‘collectively’ will not be a very easy task. He will need to navigate the choppy waters of coalition Government, an art he might not take long to master. As a leader who has pledged to seek consensus, he will have to allow greater debate and accept criticism, rein in recalcitrant Hindutva elements and take prompt action against communal attacks on religious minorities.

Also, defections and re-elections in the future can change the balance of power in BJP’s favour in the Lok Sabha in the next five years. If he manages to keep the tried and tested NDA coalition together then it spells ‘Happy Times.’ Time will tell  — INFA