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Debating the Coalition Option

Harish Khare

Edited by Katharine Adeney and Lawrence Saez
Routledge/Taylor and Francis Group, London, New York, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 296, Rs. 395.00

By Bidyut Chakrabarty
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 280, Rs. 595.00


India has had thirteen prime ministers since 1947 and of these only one –Atal Bihari Vajpayee—was a genuine non-Congress specimen. As it happened, Vajpayee also turned out to be the only non-Congress prime minister to complete a full five year term as the head of a coalition government. This has somehow led both to a romancing of the idea of coalition and to an intellectual respectability for Hindutava as an ideological construct. The unstated assumption has been that somehow the “Hindu Nationalists” worked the coalition in a uniquely innovative and a wholesome manner. These gifted “Hindu Nationalists” are deemed to have refuted the two assumptions in the coalition theory: (a) coalition governments are more unstable, and (b) that the nationalists are incapable of compromising on their basic ideology. This BJP exceptionalism is spelled out by Katharine Adeney: “It IS significant that it [the BJP] was willing to compromise on its agenda in order to do this [form governments in 1998 and 1999]; dropping controversial pronouncements from its manifesto.” This theme permeates the two volumes.   Coalition Politics and Hindu Nationalism claims to bring together “the world’s leading scholars and rising stars of South Asian politics.” This edited work hopes to move away from the passions of the day and to undertake the “extremely challenging” task of an “academic evaluation” of the National Democratic Alliance government, without getting normative about the BJP and its divisive politics. Given its very nature as a collection of different voices, there is no final judgment in the volume; but, the initial working assumption of the BJP exceptionalism melts away pretty soon.   Alistair McMillan’s analysis of the BJP’s performance as the head of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition points out, rightly, to the limits to ideological, policy or political cohesion. Partly because it is expediency that holds the alliance; McMillan calls it “pragmatic electoral alliances”. The leading party always finds itself having to bargain with the allies with their “state-specific interests”; it is a case of animated stalemate—a case of “sub-optimal outcomes” —sometimes the allies succeed in moderating the extremism of the BJP, sometime the allies watch helplessly as the BJP got away with murder, literally, as they did over the Gujarat,2002. Except Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Jan Shakti, no party walked out of the NDA. “This means that the national policy may be determined according to the interests of the sub-sections of ...

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