At a certain time in its history, India was ruled by regional strongmen. The government in Delhi was powerless to impose order in the country. Law and order was collapsing across the land and the economy was in shambles. The lawless 18th century after the end of Aurangzeb? Think again, the situation is not very different from the present, the age of Sharad Pawar, Karunanidhi, Mulayam Singh Yadav, the Badals and the Chautalas.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
As the Congress party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tie up alliances, their plight is evident. Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) demanded a national “alliance” with the Congress which, if they succeed in sewing up, will leave the Congress with anything but a national share of members of Parliament (MPs).
The BJP is no different. It has had to align with Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal, a party hardly known for sticking with alliance partners. In any case, both the Congress and the BJP are in a parlous political condition in big states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, among others. This does not bode well for them and, in turn, for sound governance of the country. Unless they’re able to secure a large number of wins in big states, they will have to rely on alliance partners from across India. That is the rub of the problem.
In a polity where small parties with a few MPs can determine the fate of a government, the system of cabinet responsibility is a polite fiction. One just has to look at the performance and accountability of various ministers in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. The controversies generated by the telecom, civil aviation, agriculture, health and family welfare ministers (the list is considerably longer), requires no elaborate commentary. The Prime Minister was either reluctant or powerless to crack the whip on errant ministers. Governance was the first victim.
The biggest problem, however, is cronyism. The Indian economy is still “regulated” by the Union and state governments. Even today, a ministerial favour or a whim can enrich a private company immensely. In the situation outlined above, it is impossible to arrest corporate fraud and loot of public resources. Ministers from small parties have no compunction in giving away precious resources to private bidders. If the next government is dependent to an even greater extent on alliance partners than the UPA, the outcome is a foregone conclusion: ever-greater corruption and much-diminished ministerial accountability.
Alliances: the bane of Indian politics? Tell us at email@example.com