Policymaking gains from coalition politics - Hindustan Times
close_game
close_game

Policymaking gains from coalition politics

Jun 10, 2024 10:00 PM IST

The positive effect coalitions can have on policy is usually missed due to the identification of policymaking entirely with the speed of decision-making

The return to a coalition government at the Centre, with no party having a majority, brings with it immediate concerns of stability. These concerns are not trivial when the coalition is dependent on the leaders who have been on the other side of the fence and have, in the not too distant past, been major critics of the Prime Minister (PM). Yet, an excessive focus on what it will take to keep Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), and N Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in line will keep the focus away from recognising the opportunities that coalitions bring.

**EDS: IMAGE VIA PMO** New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi chairs the first meeting of his new Cabinet, attended by the newly-inducted ministers, at the prime minister's 7, Lok Kalyan Marg residence, in New Delhi, Monday, June 10, 2024. (PTI Photo)(PTI06_10_2024_000252B)(PTI) PREMIUM
**EDS: IMAGE VIA PMO** New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi chairs the first meeting of his new Cabinet, attended by the newly-inducted ministers, at the prime minister's 7, Lok Kalyan Marg residence, in New Delhi, Monday, June 10, 2024. (PTI Photo)(PTI06_10_2024_000252B)(PTI)

Conventional wisdom in India, which seeks governments with significant majorities, underestimates the costs of the security that coalitions bring. As governments with a significant majority can brush aside all criticism, they can take decisions that may not have passed due scrutiny. A striking example of excessive political stability causing unnecessary economic and social distress was demonetisation. It is now widely acknowledged that the exercise did not remove black money, with almost all the demonetised notes being successfully exchanged for new currency. All that it did was disrupt the economy and cause considerable hardship. It is very unlikely that such a step could have been taken by a coalition government. The internal discussion on major issues that is typically seen in coalition governments is bound to have brought up the near-unanimous view of economists that demonetisation would not work.

The positive effect coalitions can have on policy is usually missed due to the identification of policymaking entirely with the speed of decision-making. PMs who make quick decisions are seen to be stronger leaders. The buffer that comfortable majorities provide against criticism can encourage quicker decisions, but decisions are just one part of policymaking. Theorists usually see policymaking as going through several stages. Before a decision is made there is the creation of the agenda and the formulation of specific policies within it. Policymaking cannot also ignore what happens after a policy is made. The success of a policy depends on its implementation. This, in turn, depends on the ability, and willingness, to regularly review policies so that their course can be corrected.

The recent record of the government at the Centre does not rule out the possibility of a coalition doing better at most stages of policymaking. The election results suggest that the agenda of policymaking over the last five years could have done with some changes. The idea that growth alone matters, irrespective of the inequalities that accompany it, has dominated Indian policymaking in recent decades going back to before 2014. The majority enjoyed by PM Narendra Modi in his first two terms ensured this agenda gained greater momentum. That the agenda did not address the conditions on the ground has now become clear with the Opposition making joblessness a successful electoral plank. A coalition government would have improved the chances of the government being forced to give employment a greater priority than it received.

Coalition governments also bring together multiple ideological streams, usually representing diverse interests. This could leave its mark on policy formulation. In the centralised regime of an all-powerful leader, there is little room in the formulation of policy for local conditions in different parts of the country. Policymakers have remained insensitive to the fact that millions of workers carry out short-term assignments in distant cities while retaining their homes and families in villages. This indifference was brought brutally into the open during the Covid crisis. The lockdown was announced without any consideration for the hundreds of thousands of workers who were forced to trek several hundred kilometres to return home. A coalition government, with parties representing the regions where the workers came from, may just have been more sensitive to their interests.

The ability of a coalition to articulate diverse interests could also influence the implementation of policy. A centralised, single-party government would tend to focus on the macro picture without sufficient concern for local detail. This was, arguably, evident in the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. The entire project had been the centrepiece of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s politics for decades. The party took care to involve persons from across the country in the construction process in Ayodhya. The larger national focus did, however, come at the cost of attention being paid to the impact of the project on its immediate surroundings. That the local population did not share the national enthusiasm of the BJP for the temple has been made clear in the election results. The BJP lost Faizabad, the constituency which includes Ayodhya. It is conceivable that a coalition that included parties whose interests were concentrated in the region around Ayodhya may have been more sensitive to the local impact of the project.

Excessively centralised governments can also have an impact on how policies are evaluated. While all governments seek to exaggerate their achievements, governments that are not open to criticism can do so more freely. Over the last decade, the government has given in to the temptation to change the measuring rods in ways that exaggerate its achievements. The consequences of these changes were not adequately debated before the measures were introduced. While a coalition government may have also fallen to these temptations, it is possible that internal differences would have led to greater debate before the change.

Recent experience tells us that while a strong majority does enable quick unchallenged policy decisions, it does not necessarily help in other aspects of policymaking. A coalition government has the opportunity not only to be more democratic but also more effective in the overall process of policymaking.

Narendar Pani is JRD Tata Chair visiting professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru. The views expressed are personal

Catch every big hit, every wicket with Crickit, a one stop destination for Live Scores, Match Stats, Infographics & much more. Explore now!

See more

Get Current Updates on India News, Elections 2024, Lok sabha election 2024 voting live , Karnataka election 2024 live in Bengaluru , Election 2024 Date along with Latest News and Top Headlines from India and around the world.

Continue reading with HT Premium Subscription

Daily E Paper I Premium Articles I Brunch E Magazine I Daily Infographics
freemium
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Share this article
SHARE
Story Saved
Live Score
OPEN APP
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Sunday, July 21, 2024
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Follow Us On