For most of the years since independence, the federal government has been led by the Indian National Congress (INC), Politics in the states have been dominated by several national parties including the INC, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) and various regional parties. From 1950 to 1990, barring two brief periods, the INC enjoyed a parliamentary majority. The INC was out of power between 1977 and 1980, when the Janata Party won the election owing to public discontent with the corruption of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In 1989, a Janata Dal-led National Front coalition in alliance with the Left Front coalition won the elections but managed to stay in power for only two years. As the 1991 elections gave no political party a majority, the INC formed a minority government under Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and was able to complete its five-year term. The years 1996–1998 were a period of turmoil in the federal government with several short-lived alliances holding sway. The BJP formed a government briefly in 1996, followed by the United Front coalition that excluded both the BJP and the INC. In 1998, the BJP formed the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) with several other parties and became the first non-Congress government to complete a full five-year term. In the 2004 Indian elections, the INC won the largest number of Lok Sabha seats and formed a government with a coalition called the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), supported by various parties.
As like any other democracy, political parties represent different sections among the Indian society and regions, and their core values play a major role in the politics of India. Both the executive branch and the legislative branch of the government are run by the representatives of the political parties who have been elected through the elections. Through the electoral process, the people of India choose which majority in the lower house, a government can be formed by that party or the coalition.
India has a multi-party system, where there are a number of national as well as regional parties. A regional party may gain a majority and rule a particular state. If a party represents more than 4 states then such parties are considered as national parties. In the years since India's independence, India has been ruled by the Indian National Congress (INC) for 48 of those years. The party enjoyed a parliamentary majority barring two brief periods during the 1970s and late 1980s. This rule was interrupted between 1977 to 1980, when the Janata Party coalition won the election owing to public discontent with the controversial state of emergency declared by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The Janata Dal won elections in 1989, but its government managed to hold on to power for only two years. Between 1996 and 1998, there was a period of political flux with the government being formed first by the right-wing nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) followed by a left-leaning United Front coalition. In 1998, the BJP formed the National Democratic Alliance with smaller regional parties, and became the first non-INC and coalition government to complete a full five-year term. The 2004 Indian elections saw the INC winning the largest number of seats to form a government leading the United Progressive Alliance, and supported by left-parties and those opposed to the BJP.
Coalition and/or minority governments were rare between 1947 and 1989 when the Congress Party won majorities of seats in the Lok Sabha (Lower House), based on only pluralities of 40 to 48 percent of the vote. These victories were an artifact of the first-past-the-post electoral system's disproportional seat-vote ratio by which the leading party gets disproportionately more seats than votes in percentage terms.
However, over the six elections from 1989 to 2004 the Congress's vote share fell steadily from just under 40 percent to 26 percent, each time retaining a plurality, sometimes by less than 1 percent but failing to convert to a majority of seats. The decline in the Congress vote has been matched by the rise in the BJP's vote from 11 percent in 1989 to 25 percent in 1998, sliding to 22 percent in 2004, and by the rise in the vote share of a range of overwhelmingly single-state parties called regional parties (which are not necessarily programmatically regionalist). The combined votes of the Congress and the BJP in the last two elections have been under 50 percent.
These three post-1989 mega-trends-the decline of the Congress and the rise of the BJP and regional parties-have led to minority situations in parliament and in turn to the formation of minority and/or coalition governments. Underlying this multi-partism is the gradual consolidation of political strength in an ever-larger number of states since 1967, and particularly since 1989, by a range of non-Congress parties, which may be the BJP, the Left parties or a range of regional parties, many of the latter representing linguistic, religious, and state-specific caste identities. Taking a long-term view, the regionalization and "ethnification" of parties on caste/religious lines and the formation of multi-party coalitions mark a shift toward a different kind of accommodative politics from the internally grand-coalitional politics practiced by the Congress when it was an encompassing umbrella party. The multi-party coalitions since 1996 signify a shift in the accommodation of group interests to a politics of presence with "ethnicized" parties participating in broad coalitions with "national" parties.
Today, there are only seven states out of twenty-eight (and Delhi with seven Lok Sabha seats) in which the two national parties, Congress and BJP, are the two leading parties in parliamentary elections: Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Arunachal Pradesh. They are the two leading parties but in the presence of significant third parties in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Manipur, and Goa. Beginning in 1998, and accelerating in the 1999 and 2004 elections, the party system has become very loosely bipolar, divided between the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition and the Congress-led UPA coalition, with a number of significant parties such as the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) (both of UP), the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (of Tamil Nadu), the Asom Gana Parishad (of Assam), and the Left parties, not formally part of either.
The full-term stability of the NDA and the endurance of the UPA for three years as of today, has also been due to the fact that coalitions in India since 1996 have been characterized to a large degree by spatial compatibility, that is, they consist of a patchwork quilt of parties that have state-specific bases and do not compete on each other's turf. This enables even minority coalitions dependent on outside support to last, combined with the fact that in the UPA's case the supporting Left parties, whatever their dissatisfaction with Congress policies do not wish to create an opportunity for the BJP to return to power.
Given the loosely bipolar national party system divided between the UPA and the NDA with a number of non-aligned parties in between, the implications of the BSP's victory in UP for national politics over the next two years are probably as follows. If the BSP successfully consolidates in UP, then we are likely to see further losses there for the Congress or the BJP or both (UP has eighty out of 543 elected Lok Sabha seats) and hence their further dependence on other states to make good the loss and on their coalition partners. Furthermore, if the BSP makes inroads into the largely Congress-inclined Scheduled Caste voters in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra in 2009, the UPA could be badly hit. Conversely, if the BSP is hit by anti-incumbency in UP, the Congress and the BJP could pick up some of the voters moving away from it.
There are three other important factors that will condition coalition politics in the run-up to the 2009 national elections. First, can the Congress preserve its coalition intact? Already, there have been three exits, the TRS in Andhra Pradesh which was crucial for the 2004 victory there, the MDMK in Tamil Nadu, and the JD(S) in Karnataka which broke with the Congress and wrested the state government from it by forming a coalition with the BJP. Two more partners are shaky-the NCP in Maharashtra and the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir. Second, how will the Congress and the BJP perform in the major state elections due by May 2009-Gujarat (containing twenty-six Lok Sabha seats) in late 2007, Manipur, Nagaland, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram (nine Lok Sabha seats) during 2007-08, and Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Delhi by late 2008 (containing eighty-two Lok Sabha seats)? While the BJP is well positioned in Gujarat, will anti-incumbency set in against the ruling parties (BJP in all except in Delhi) in the other states by late 2008? If so, will it help the Congress in those major states in the national elections? Third, what will be the state of the economy, which has been in an unprecedented bull run for the past three years, and particularly the politically sensitive inflation and unemployment indicators?
All in all, it would appear that 2009 will most probably be a repeat of the loosely bipolar result of 2004, that is, an NDA and a UPA both falling short of a majority and dependent on support from one or more of a range of non-aligned parties with state-specific bases to form a government. Who rules will depend on the precise arithmetic of the result and pre- and post-electoral coalitions formed.
There are several reasons for the rise of coalition politics in India.
1.Lose of Trust -In early years after independence, our political leaders benefited from the hallo of our independence movement. These leaders commanded a certain degree of moral authority which stood them in good stead not only in winning elections, but also in keeping their parties united.The tendency of the national parties to speak of national level issues, and to force coherence in the politics and views on issues, is at odds with our extremely diverse population. In the initial years, to the extent that the Congress party was able to accommodate regional/ local interests and reflect their aspirations, it was possible to maintain a large single party identity. But over the years, regional and caste identities have begun to increasingly assert themselves in the political space.
2.Inability to Represent India’s diversity-Coalition politics also thrives because of the inability of national parties to continue to give a feeling to the diverse population in India that they are able to adequately represent their disparate interests. During the Nehru years, the vote share of the Congress party was between 40 pc and 48 pc. Since the late 80s, the BJP has been seen as a second credible ‘national’ party. This has resulted in a fracturing of the vote between the two large parties. Between 1989 and 2004, the Congress vote share has declined from almost 40 pc to a little over 25 pc. The BJP’s vote share increased from about 11 pc in 1989 to a little below 25 pc in recent elections.
3.The moral degeneration in politics- combined with regional parties’ ability provide credible alternatives to the Congress party in the states, led to a situation, where ‘horse trading’ became relatively common in unsettling state governments. The brazen manner in which political parties traded MLAs led to the passage of the anti-defection law in 1985. The law said that MLAs and MPs who disobeyed their party whip and defected would lose their seat from the house they were elected to. While this law was hailed as a panacea to prevent the unethical behaviour of defections amongst elected representatives, it also gave enormous power to the leadership of political parties to force all the members to act strictly in accordance with party diktat. This lack of political voice to smaller groups within national parties continues provide fillip to coalition politics in India.
4.Growth of Regional Political Parties- growth of regional parties has been another reason for the emergence of coalition politics in India.