Coalition Politics is a time tested thing in Modern Democracy. The concept of Coalition Politics in my opinion draws its roots from the times when warring states sometimes used to ally with each other in order to defeat of a common enemy; one example being The Battle of The Red Cliffs (208/9 CE).
India got a taste of Coalition Politics at the state level when the Left front comprising of Communist Party of India (CPI), CPI (Marxist) and others formed the first ever Coalition Government in India at West Bengal with Mr. Jyoti Basu as the Chief Minister (succeeded by Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee) which till date hasn’t been defeated. At the national level the first ever coalition government was formed under the Prime Ministership of Late Shri Morarji Desai Ji which existed from 24th March 1977 to 15th July 1979 headed by now an insignificant Janata Party (who reputation has now been acquired by its breakaway section which formed the Bharatiya Janata Party).
Since 1996 Indian Politics has been dominated with Coalition Governments which by far have been stable after a shaky start.The incumbent Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh is heading a coalition Government of 15 parties called the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) with Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, widow of Late Shri Rajiv Gandhi Ji being its Chairperson which has now just now been elected for a second term in Office
India’s shaky start to Coalition Politics:
India entered into the age of Coalition Politics in the 1990s. Post 1970s emergency period saw the emergence of Janata Party and the weakening of the Indian National Congress, which once was the undefeatable Political Party in India. Also the breaking up of the National Parties saw a resurgence of Regional Parties which started dominating the state-level politics.
Although Coalition Governments were in existence once or twice during the era of Late Shrimati Indira Gandhi, during 1996-1999 there were 4 Coalition Governments.
When Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee couldn’t sustain the Government in 1996 due to lack of Majority (i.e. 272+ seats) in the Indian Parliament after being just 13 days old, the Third Front (a group of regional parties and Non-Congress and Non-BJP combine also referred to as the United Front) formed the Government headed by Mr. H. D. Deve Gowda. who was in office from 1 June 1996 to 21 April 1997. The Congress Party and other smaller parties including the left provided outside support to him in order to provide a stable Government and prevent snap-polls.
But due to rising discontent between the UF and Congress the latter withdrew support and in order to avoid elections, a compromise was reached. The Congress party agreed to support another United Front government under new leader, provided its concerns—such as not being consulted before taking important decisions and being marginalized—were addressed.The United Front elected Shri Inder Kumar Gujral as new leader and he was sworn in as Prime Minister on 21 April 1997. But unfortunately due to some internal problems in the Government, Congress again withdrew support and mid-term elections were called after Third Front governments failed twice.
This time, a cohesive bloc of political parties lined up with it to form the National Democratic Alliance headed by the BJP, and Shri A.B. Vajpayee was sworn in as the Prime Minister. The NDA proved its majority in parliament. Towards the end of 1998 however, the AIADMK withdrew its support from the 13-month old government. The government lost the ensuing vote of confidence motion by a single vote. As the Opposition was unable to come up with the numbers to form the new government, the country returned to elections with Vajpayee remaining the "care-taker prime minister".
India finally harnesses the coalition horse:
After 4 failed Coalition Governments and 2 mid-term elections, on October 13, 1999, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ji took oath as Prime Minister of India for the third time. The BJP-led NDA had won 303 seats in the 543 seat Lok Sabha, thereby securing a comfortable, stable majority. The Coalition Government that was formed lasted its full term of 5 years – the only non-Congress government to do so.
The National Democratic Alliance was widely expected to retain power after the 2004 general election. The parliament had been dissolved before the completion of term in order to capitalize on the economic boom and improved security and cultural atmosphere. However, the coalition sidestepped controversial and ideological questions in favour of bread-and-butter economic issues during the campaign and subsequently lost almost half its seats, with several prominent cabinet ministers being defeated.
The Indian National Congress, led by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi became the single largest party and, along with many minor parties, formed the United Progressive Alliance. With the conditional support of the leftist parties from the outside, the UPA formed a government under Dr Manmohan Singh. The alliance completed a full term and remained in power after the 15th General Elections in May 2009. Although the left now longer supports the UPA but with new allies it has been able to extend its lead in the Lok Sabha.
India now looks forward to a stable future of Coalition Governments as single-party majority seem to be a thing of the past now.
Future of Indian Coalition Politics:
Both Experts and Political Parties agree that the era of Coalition Politics has just begun and its here to stay. “At the time when regional political parties are assuming significance and the days of single party rule are over, there is no escape from coalition politics."— says Mr. Sharad Pawar, Union Agriculture Minister and President of the Nationalist Congress Party.
Experts say that Coalition Politics is result of rise of Regional Parties on agendas of National Importance. One of the reasons for the growing importance of Regional Parties has been their success in articulating the interests of the assertive backward castes and Dalits or ‘untouchables’. These parties remain ‘regional’ in terms of geographic location, but are national in terms of issues relevant to the country as a whole. Their role within the national coalition is also indicative of a more competitive and polarised party system.
The continuity of coalition governments (first under the NDA and later UPA) confirms not merely the decline of one party rule and rise of regional and smaller parties, but a crisis of majoritarian political culture, based on the dominance of a single party led by a charismatic leader over a cluster of smaller parties.
Both the Coalitions have faced the problem of internal disputes due to clustering of parties having differing manifestos. For the sustenance of a stable future of Coalition Politics, the parties must keep their Common Minimum Program ahead of their own ideologies.