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February - March 2004


Coalition Politics, Elections & the Future of India

by Krishan Ralleigh

After the euphoria of winning in three States, the BJP's young Turks almost forced the top leadership to go for the general election now rather than wait for another six months. J M Lyndgoh, the present chief of the Election Commission, in an interview with the BBC World Service, stringently criticised Indian democratic system as it exists. He retires in February. Coming from the Chief Election Commissioner, it is a solemn warning of the doom that lies ahead for the Indian polity unless some drastic steps are taken by the top political leaders in all parties.

Now that the die is cast, BJP, the dominant partner of National Democratic Alliance, a partnership of more than 19 parties in parliament, is determined to continue its winning streak in the general election which is now going to be held in April. There is turmoil even at this early stage. The BJP's top leaders, meeting in Hyderabad are already predicting victory for their party. The ebullient President of the BJP, Mr. Venkiah Naidu is hoping to capture 300 seats in the Lok Sabha in the coming election.

President of the Congress party, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, goaded by the coterie of her advisers, has fervently started negotiating with regional parties for a grand alliance of 'secular' parties against the National Democratic Alliance. Somehow, the top leaders of the Congress have convinced her that defeat of Congress governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh is not a vote against her style of running the Party, but because the congress went alone in these state elections without any allies.

Nothing can be farther from truth. Congress has lost its popularity among masses because it failed to deliver when it was in power for almost fifty years. Congress governments made corruption respectable wherever they were in power. Congress became a hierarchical party, looking for leadership from members of one family whether they were capable, experienced or suitable for the job. Consequently, Congress party itself became autocratic in its decision-making, dogmatic in its policy-making and arrogant in its attitude towards the masses. It has now become a conclave of opportunists, toadies and men who have amassed wealth through corruption.

Of course, there are exceptions. But they have no voice. Some of them, in disgust, have left the party. Otherwise, why should not Maneka Gandhi, Sharad Pawar, Mulayam Singh, George Fernandez, Mamta Bannerji and many other leaders of centre-left parties be with the Congress? The vision of India that Jawahar Lal Nehru, Sardar Patel and Mahatma Gandhi had, is, sadly, not inherited by the Congress anymore. This vision, however, is shared, may be in parts, by many parties, including the Bhartiya Janata Party.

Mahatma Gandhi's advice to the Indian National Congress was to dissolve itself and let the country be ruled by different parties. This has already happening albeit not in an organised way.Atal Behari Vajpayee's government is a coalition of many parties. The leadership itself is a collective leadership. The Congress party should endeavour to attract leaders of other parties who shared the vision of Jawahar Lal Nehru.

India must become a modern democratic country, free of superstitions, racial prejudices and religious fanaticism. The pace of economic development and social cohesion is too slow for the young generation who have gradually outnumbered the old generation of those who thought of 'freedom from foreign yoke' as panacea for all ills; and are now sulking because free India could not reach those heights promised by the leaders of the Freedom Movement.

The government of National Democratic Alliance under Atal Bihari Vajpayee has partially reiterated some of those dreams. The realisation is still a distant goal. However, the leadership is old with narrow vision. They are vulnerable.

The Congress Alliance, if it comes, should have newer and younger leadership. It should shun corrupt political leaders. I very much hope that the next election will prove to be a watershed in Indian politics. A two- party system may now emerge at the national level. These two parties will themselves be coalitions of various parties but will have many common strands in their policies. On these criteria the younger generation of Indians will judge them in the next election; and throw out those who cling to outdated ideologies, employ corrupt means to gain power and worn out individuals.

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