Single And Successful - Can The BJP Pull It Off?

Single And Successful - Can The BJP Pull It Off?

by N V Subramanian - Sunday, June 14, 2015 12:45 PM IST
Single And Successful - Can The BJP Pull It Off?

In theory, single-party governments ought to be able to deliver considerably more that coalition administrations. In recent practise, that has often not been the case. In the presidential system of the United States and France, the unified and pointed authority of a single-party government becomes embodied in spirit and substance in the person of the President. The President is elected by popular vote and has equal and in special circumstances more immediate powers than the legislature. But Presidents Barack Obama and Francois Holland have for all the authority bestowed to them run poor, lacklustre administrations. They rank low in comparison to a majority of their predecessors in office. It won’t get better.

In the traditional Westminster derivations of single-party government as they so prominently obtain in Britain and India, the results are no happier. Naturally in the details the odd denouement becomes intelligible. For example, public opinion is so fragmented in the United Kingdom on a variety of issues that despite a majority for David Cameron in the recent elections, few expect him to be able to provide a capable government. A number of factors including social media technologies have atomized British society to a degree that the impact is felt in extreme within political parties, where unruly and even rowdy younger representatives are beyond anyone’s control. The more perceptive British commentators have remarked that Cameron might be ruing the loss of his Liberal Democrats’ deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, from their previous coalition government.


In India’s case, too, the devil’s in the detail, though the trend for single-party government, rather forcefully established by Narendra Modi’s rise at the Centre, is broadly progressing in the right direction. Single-party government acquired a taint in more than 60 years of Indian National Congress (INC) political dominance and rule. It reached egregious apogee during the term of Rajiv Gandhi, whose absolute majority in the Lok Sabha (404 out of 514 seats) provided little hindrance to his declining prime ministry, and probably made it worse.

From that high point of single-party government to the subsequent low dross betrayed by a succession of coalition governments would seem poetic justice mingled with voter disgust except for two counter signals. The Modi wave in 2014 ended the awfulness of coalition governments, especially the outgoing one of Manmohan Singh, who presided over the most corrupt and venal regime since independence. In the second place, the coalition era exhibited islands of excellence in the shape and form of two governments led by two of the wisest Indian politicians, P. V. Narasimha Rao and A. B. Vajpayee. They reinforced the old truth that individuals can make a difference overcoming adverse circumstances.

The broad conclusions from all the foregoing are this. There is no substitute for the characteristic efficiency and productivity of a single-party government as Prime Minister Modi has exemplified in one year of office. The Congress example of six decades and particularly of Rajiv Gandhi’s one desultory term equally upsets this thesis, but only marginally. The key is that strong, determined and visionary leadership makes all the difference between a productive and a wasteful single-party government. The leadership principle holds in a coalition dynamic too, but since it is inherently disunited and weak, even strong prime ministers like Narasimha Rao and Vajpayee ultimately would be stymied, as they were. In the states, the picture is made naturally more complicated by mixed trends of coalition and single-party governments, with a third variable supplied by strong central party commands, especially in the case of the Congress, weakening their provincial leaderships and entities to preserve their supremacy.

The Congress is unlikely to come out of its present rut under the dynastic leadership of the Nehru-Gandhis. So any forward-looking counsel to it is unmerited. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in a better position to grow and one infallible mean to spectacular rise is to strive to establish single-party governments in as many states as possible besides the Centre. The arrangement at the Centre of a single-party government remaining by choice in a coalition mode as the Communist Party of India-Marxist regime abided in its heydey in West Bengal is worthy of emulation elsewhere. Whilst securing the leadership and the real powers with the party, it permits the exudation of a magnetic field that keeps attracted like-minded political forces and minimizes political fragmentation. Care must be exercised though that the party that forms the nucleus of this arrangement always contests for a majority of seats in elections to ensure future majority in government. The BJP would be sensible to follow this code in the upcoming elections in Bihar and elsewhere in due season where it is the subordinate coalition partner.

The phenomenon of coalition politics is expressive of political fragmentation and political parties would be sagacious to internalize this landscape by accommodating the maximum of compatible and competing interest groups. Ideally, a political party must reflect the macro-culture and politics of its region and setting while constantly enhancing its equity and value. That segment which would prefer to retain its independent identity while remaining in alliance ought to be allowed the privilege. The Bharatiya Janata Party has got a lot of this right but much remains to be done. What should forever remain in sight, however, is that the future lies with governments of single parties that are the least monolithic in their internal structure, culture and environment and yet propound a coherent and modern Weltanschauung.

N.V.Subramanian is the Editor of and writes on politics and strategic affairs.
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