Naidu's plans to unite the opposition may see some hurdles, but it still wouldn't be the first such effort of its kind. The country has witnessed several attempts at building a front to form a government at the national level but not one succeeded in providing stability at the Centre.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu is taking big strides in reaching out to opposition leaders in a bid to cobble a grand alliance to take on the Bhartiya Janata Party in the next general elections in 2019. Naidu on Thursday met former prime minister and JD(S) chief H D Deve Gowda and his son and Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy in Karnataka.
After the meeting in Bengaluru, Kumaraswamy declared that the 2019 elections will see a repeat of the 1996 elections. “I think 1996 will be repeated in 2019 elections,” he said, adding that Deve Gowda and Naidu are old friends and their arithmetic is good. Naidu also hinted at a 1996 model of a coalition in which Deve Gowda was the prime minister with outside support from the Congress.
Naidu was referring to the third front coalition in which 13 parties had come together to form a government in 1996. The Congress was not the part of the front but supported the government from outside. However, it withdrew the support a year later, forcing the country to go for election.
Referring to the then United Front government, Naidu said, “The Congress is the main and major party. If you see only one experiment, that is under Deve Gowda’s prime ministership. At that time, the Third Front had come to power. Then we had taken support from Congress from outside. That is the only experiment.”
Naidu’s plans to unite the opposition may see some hurdles, but it still wouldn’t be the first such effort of its kind. The country has witnessed several attempts at building a front to form a government at the national level but not one succeeded in providing stability at the Centre.
Given the history of such large alliances, it is highly unlikely that Naidu was referring to the 1996-model as some kind of governance model. But, what appears from his statements is that he was hinting at the need for regional parties to come together to take on the BJP under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah in elections.
Regardless of the opposition parties’ idea behind the call for a united front, the country has a lot to learn from the history of such fronts in the past. Here is the good, bad and ugly of a ragtag coalition government at the Centre.
Never expect stability
History tells us that large alliances can hardly ensure a stable government at the Centre. Such fronts are attempted not for the larger politics but simply to deny a person or a party power at the Centre. Something similar had happened in 1996 when the multiple regional parties had come together to deny power to both the national parties – Congress and BJP. Naidu had played a key role in uniting the different parties and Deve Gowda was made the Prime Minister. Few months into the government, cracks had emerged in the coalition as different parties had different stands on a score of issues.
The country was staring at yet another election but a formula was devised and the Congress agreed to support another front under the Prime Ministership of IK Gujral. He headed the government for 11 months. But, this too did not work and the grand old party withdrew its support forcing the country for another general election.
In a recent interview, finance minister Arun Jaitley said that grand alliances are inherently unstable and their longevity is limited. He also cited the examples of previous coalition governments headed by VP Singh, Chandra Shekhar, HD Deve Gowda and IK Gujral. From 1996 to 1999, India saw four Prime Ministers — HD Deve Gowda, IK Gujral and Atal Bihari Vajpayee two times until he was elected for a full term in 1999.
Lack of stability at the Centre means an unstable government with regular changes or frequent elections in the country that could cause a massive burden on the exchequer. Last Lok Sabha election had cost India Rs 3,426 crore, 131 per cent higher than what was incurred five years ago. In 2009, the cost of conducting the general election was Rs 1,483. Besides the cost factor, decision-making also gets delayed due to multi-party involvement with each one lobbying for their interests. However, one thing that such governments can boast about that decisions were taken only after taking everyone on board.
Expect good economic growth
A coalition government at the Centre does not mean weak economic growth for the country. The second wave of a coalition government in India started after the 1990s. Before this period, India has had fairly a stable government with some hiccups in the 1970s during the period of Janata Party government. But if you look at the economic growth before 1990, India’s economic growth was between 3-4 per cent.
According to the World Bank data, between 1996 and 1998 when the United Front government was in power, India overtook Germany and became the world’s fourth-largest economy behind the US, China and Japan. In 1996, India grew at the rate of 7.6 per cent and had the economy of USD 399,791 million. The next year, the growth rate came down to 4.1 per cent to USD 423,189 million. However, it again recovered to 6 per cent to USD 428,767 million in 1998.
This growth rate jumped to over 8 per cent during UPA-II, which was also a coalition government. However, this economic growth cannot simply be attributed to the coalition government as the country had witnessed one major reform in 1991 that boosted the economy in a significant way. But what needs to be underlined in all this that despite no majority government in close to three decades, the subsequent coalition governments have succeeded in maintaining the growth rates.
In coalition governments, the regional leaders carry considerable weight as they are considered movers and shakers of the national politics. The very nature of the coalition government is to respect every party in the coalition as the one single leader can change the political equation when it is required. The life of any coalition government is decided by the regional players and the equation that larger parties maintain with them. The national parties listen to them and their interests are considered while taking policy decisions at the national level. The regional leaders also get important portfolios in the Union cabinet. But, how effective they are during such arrangements is a matter of debate.