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Politics of Coalition or Identity?

Harihar Bhattacharyya

Edited by E.Sridharan
Academic Foundation, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 463, Rs. 1295.00


There is a saying among scholars of India that whatever we say about the country on the basis of some findings may be contradicted by a different kind of findings. No wonder, the exasperated long term observers of Indian politics, Lloyd and Susan Rudolph (1987) used the  expression ‘rich-poor’ state about India. Consider the very first sentence of chapter 1 (‘National and State Coalitions in India: Theory and Comparison’, pp. 23-70) of the book under review by the editor: ‘Coalitions are the order of the day in Indian politics and looks like remaining so in the foreseeable future’. The underlying assumption in such a statement is perhaps the successive experience of ‘hung’ parliament in India since the late 1980s. The situation has changed radically with the result of the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 which returned the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power with a thumping majority on its own although it fought the election as a pre-election alliance called National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and the government that was formed is styled NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government. The BJP led NDA’s outstanding victory has reduced the other ‘national’ level parties to a pitiful position so that there is no official ‘Opposition’ party in the current Lok Sabha. While the State level scenarios do not seem to contradict the above observation by the editor because even in the heyday of ‘one-party dominant’ rule at the Centre, the States had had differential coalitional experiences across the country from the very first elections in 1952, it is now hard to say that coalitions are going to remain the order in Indian politics at the pan-Indian level. But the editor makes a theoretical point when he says that while in the existing theoretical literature on coalition politics, nearly all based on the experience of unitary, western liberal democratic systems, the Indian case is a theoretical ‘outliner’, nonetheless the Indian case has theoretical import for understanding coalition politics in socially diverse developing countries (pp. 25-26). Another very important point made by the editor is the need for taking an ‘integrated view of coalition governments, electoral alliances, political parties and their social bases…’ (p. 27).     This massive book has nine chapters including the Conclusion with five State studies and three theoretical-conceptual chapters. The States covered are Maharashtra, Bihar, West Bengal, Punjab and Kerala. Each State chapter drafted by competent specialists has lengthy and detailed statistical data, and tells us about ...

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