Future Of The Congress & Economy

Updated: Jul 1 2004, 03:47am hrs
Only twice has a single party has ever won an overall majority in Parliament. After Charan Singh in Uttar Pradesh in the early 1960s discovered the electoral magic in pre-poll alliances, pre- and post-poll alliances and coalitions have become common. Those parties that agree on a common minimum programme for a coalition government tend to be more effective and survive for longer.

The destabilising factor has always been the outside support. The Congress demonstrated this by suddenly withdrawing its outside support from governments led by Charan Singh, Chandrashekhar and Deve Gowda. The present coalition government will live so long as outside support from the Communists (and possibly Samajwadi Party) continues.

With strong regional parties in each state, no one party may get a majority in a future Parliamentary election. From its rough treatment of the Samajwadi Party that gives it outside support in Parliament, it seems that the Congress already thinks that it can win 200 to 250 seats by itself. As the senior coalition partner but with only 145 seats, it has hogged most of the power. The Congress needs to show an unaccustomed modesty and discretion in its treatment of allies and outside supporters. It must allow its most valuable asset, the Prime Minister with his unmatched reputation for integrity and ability, to do his job without backseat driving.

A Secretariat in the Congress Party at government expense to oversee the implementation of the Common Minimum Programme is a major interference. A lesson from earlier coalition governments in India is that a CMP must have flexibility in implementation. The Prime Minister and his Cabinet must judge how far they can take flexibility. The Congress President, with Cabinet Minister rank, can now choose to invite (or not) the Prime Minister or others to its meetings. But will she attend Cabinet meetings to report on what her Secretariat is doing

Fortunately, the ridiculous assertion by the Union law minister that the Congress President can call for any Ministry file(s) she wants to see has been buried. But party is now superior to the government. The rules and conventions for this relationship are almost impossible to write, given the volatile nature of political parties and ambitions of their many power seekers. Are we going to see a Bulganin-Kosygin like tandem representing India at summit meetings

The Congress party has enough to do in focusing on present and prospective coalition partners and supporters. The Prime Minister, if allowed to do his work without interference, will deliver the maximum benefit to the Congress. It might then be able to bargain for more seats from its allies that it can contest by itself.

The BJP, the only other national party, is in a dilemma. Five years in power have taught it that India cannot be transformed into a Hindu country despite the dominant Hindu electorate. Standing in the way are international reputation, swing votes of minorities, the detestation of many Hindus of the loot, killing and rape of Muslims in Gujarat and the reservations of coalition partners. Modi is a millstone around the partys neck, not an asset. Mr Advani used the rath yatra for the temple in Ayodhya for purely short-term gain in fighting one election. Modi similarly was an asset for one Gujarat Assembly election and a liability thereafter.

But the BJP is part of the RSS parivar. Without the cadres of the RSS to mobilise votes, the BJP by itself can never win elections. It has decided to go with the stance of the RSS and abandon the soft and ambivalent but more inclusive approach of Mr Vajpayee to Hindutva, anti-minorityism and cultural nationalism. It might prefer to also continue the Vajpayee line but they are contradictory. The beneficiary from this ambivalence could be the Congress. But the Congress has to swiftly learn the coalition dharma.

As the BJP reverts to its RSS moorings, the opportunistic allies in the NDA could be persuaded to desert it. The Samata Party has become irrelevant in Bihar and elsewhere. The Telugu Desam is discredited. In Tamil Nadu both the Dravida parties need to ally with the Congress to win. The urbane Patnaik of BJD in Orissa could have nothing in common with the RSS. The Samajwadi Party might be amenable to seat adjustments in UP and more trustworthy than Mayawati. The Congress party should be wooing them to reduce its dependence on the ideologically incompatible Communists and the venal folk in the RJD.

Does an India ruled by coalitions mean that development takes a back seat Vajpayee heading a 25 party coalition took initiatives on economic reforms, military might, foreign and security policies. Unlike individual party manifestoes, the CMP becomes a Bible for multi-party coalitions. Everyone refers to it. The Prime Minister and his ministers are the high priests who interpret and implement it. If Dr Manmohan Singh is allowed to function freely, the coming years might see the beginning of more holistic economic and other policies.

The author is Chairman, Institute for Social and Economic Change