India has not had a single-party government since the 1989 general elections which saw V.P. Singh become the Prime Minister. Coalition “dharma” has become the order of the day, and not even the once-omnipotent Congress party has been able to form a government on its own since then.
The unfortunate impact of this era of coalition governments has been in the form of a weakened administration, indecisive governance and higher corruption, not to mention the inability to push forward critical reforms.
And probably there is no greater example of this than the first and second UPA governments headed by the Congress’ Manmohan Singh and propped up by a bunch of regional parties such as the DMK, NCP, Left Front, etc. If it was the Left parties that did not allow the govt. to proceed with any kind of substantial financial or labour reforms in UPA-I, it is now the DMK’s A. Raja who has tarnished not only the govt.’s image but also that of the “Mr. Clean” Prime Minister himself.
The Problem With Coalition Politics
The prime problem with coalition governments is that there are too many centres of power, usually with divergent principles, as a result of which the government’s ability to operate freely and perform optimally is constricted. A few issues are highlighted:
- Each coalition partner demands some ministerial berths, as a result of which many ministries are unable to perform their constitutional duties because of lack of effective leadership at the top (Railway Ministry under Mamata Banerjee is a case in point)
- Unpopular decisions, even if acutely necessary, are either put off or watered down to the point of being meaningless (Railway fare hikes, Diesel, Kerosene and LPG price hikes, etc.)
- Reforms get pushed on the backburner (Insurance, Pension & Banking reforms, labour law reforms simplifying hire-and-fire, etc. are pending since a long time)
- Accountability suffers and corruption rises (note the A. Raja and Shibu Soren cases)
- Regional priorities overshadow national ones. As most regional parties don’t have any presence outside of their state, they tend to promote regional issues even at the central level (e.g. Railways under Lalu Yadav giving preference to recruitment of Biharis)
What’s The Way Out?
In my view, the only way to disentangle our governance from this mess is to restrict the number of political parties that can contest national elections. How can we do this effectively and objectively?
Very simple. Allow only national parties to contest national elections.
As per the Election Commission rules, political parties are divided into regional and national parties. Regional parties are those that have a presence (i.e. elected members) in one or more state, upto a maximum of three states. If a party has a presence in four or more states, it becomes a national party.
Since the method of certifying a party as regional or national is objective and transparent, there would be no scope of anyone claiming unfair treatment or exclusion under this scheme.
At the time of announcing elections, the Election Commission would also declare the list of recognised national parties after applying the above qualification criteria to that point of time, and only those would be able to contest the election.
Also, by allowing only national parties to contest national elections, we would be meeting several other objectives:
- We would reduce the number of political parties contesting national elections, thereby bringing stability and certainty into governance
- Since all parties contesting national elections would have a presence in multiple states, they would be more hesitant to give preference to regional priorities at the cost of national interest
- It would force parties to be more accountable and responsible, as poor performance in states would render them ineligible to contest national elections (which are obviously the most important)
What About Independents?
Independent MPs are very small in number in any case and, in my opinion, the benefits of excluding them from contesting far outweigh any drawbacks. Or perhaps independents could be allowed to contest provided they declare which of the national parties they are going to support beforehand.
What do you think? Do chip in with your views on this.