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Coalition Government as strengthening force to democracy

Published: 25th May, 2019

The criticism that coalition governments are inherently or necessarily unstable is not borne out by facts. Since the 1990s at the Union level, India had three Congress-led governments which were able to complete their full terms. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was able to complete his full term as the head of a BJP-led coalition.



The criticism that coalition governments are inherently or necessarily unstable is not borne out by facts. Since the 1990s at the Union level, India had three Congress-led governments which were able to complete their full terms. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was able to complete his full term as the head of a BJP-led coalition.


What determines the successes of coalition governments; how do they contribute to economic growth, and why post-poll coalitions are popular in India. The article will intend to cover these angles - critically.


  • Political systems are classified into federal and unitary forms of governance based on the distribution or concentration of powers between the centre and the state or in the centre respectively.
  • Federalism is a concept applied to a political system characterized by two levels of government deriving powers and functions from an authority which is not controlled by either level of government.
  • Federalism requires understanding and negotiations between the centre and state governments in the making and implementation of policies.
  • The upper level of government is the national or central government and the lower level of government may be called a province or state or canton.
  • The process of fragmentation of the national party system and emergence of minority or coalition governments started in India from 1967. This period also marked the emergence of coalitions and also new parties and mergers along with breakup of some parties and absorption of the others.
  • This began the era of Coalition Politics or Multi party rule in India. The adoption of multiparty system and regionalism changed the centre-state relations to a certain extent.
  • Participation of many regional parties in the coalition government at the centre particularly indicates the significant shift from centralized governance towards shared rule and federal governance.


  • The real essence of democracy can be captured only by governments that are accountable, transparent and representational of not just majority opinions but a cross-section of opinions. They should reflect the modern principles of accommodation and co-existence.
  • There really is no empirical evidence to show the greatness of majoritarian single party governments nor prove the failure of coalition governments.
  • They are good or bad as per the set of people who govern, the policies they frame, the plans they draft and their ability to deliver.
  • India achieved its best economic growth during the coalition government of UPA I. Maximum economic reforms were introduced during the Narasimha Rao led minority government and economic stability was achieved also by the National Front government.
  • With regards to a coalition government, it is often believed that the coalition government is not stable, is anarchist and it generally collapses at frequent intervals.
  • Arun Jaitley also described the Janata Dal-led United Front government from 1996 to 1998 as the worst period for India, calling it anarchy.

But was this period really anarchic?

  • World Bank data indicates that India’s GDP and annual GDP growth didn’t suffer due to a minority coalition government at the Centre. India didn’t collapse as a country, no foreign country attacked it and communal riots did not break out.
  • This was the time that India’s IT industry also took off.

Reluctance to form pre-election coalitions

  • In India, there is one national-level player and several regional parties. In both cases, the national party seeks to expand its geographical reach across and within States.
  • In such situations, these parties seek to keep their cards closer to their chest and play them after the elections based on the outcome.
  • If there was a situation where there were only State parties and no all-India party, this would have enabled pre-election coalitions.

Coalition vs. Majoritarian - Polity

A clear majority doesn’t automatically guarantee good governance. Despite not being in a true coalition government, Modi still has enough problems like Shiv Sena and dissenters within his own party like Arun Shourie, Shatrughna Sinha and Kirti Azad, who leave no opportunity to criticize his policies.

The flip-side of coalitions, however, is that they are rarely dictated by a sense of commitment and will to serve for welfare.

The impact of the Coalition government on Centre- State relations can be discussed under the following headings in light of the recent political developments:

In the recent times the appointment of the governor has gone through a rough phase due to coalition form of government. Political compulsions to form the government especially at the national level solely guided by the majority gaining political party certainly results in deteriorating Centre- State relations.

Further also it would make the office of Governor exposed to vulnerabilities of the political pressures.

These events erode democratic credibility of the political system.

The participation of regional parties in the Centre has significantly impacted Indian federal structure. The formation of coalition government has resulted to a large extent deviation from the characteristic of Indian federalism with centralizing tendencies.

Though the coalition form of Government provides an opportunity to different to Socio-Cultural and Economic parties to participate in the Governance of the Nation, it brings about a lot of turf between the Centre and State.

The regional parties at the centre attempt to articulate and aggregate regional interests’ irrespective interest of Nation which in turn affects the overall development of the Nation

With regional parties emergence the demand for state autonomy has increased drastically.

This in turn has helped states to emerge as champions of competitive as well as cooperative federalism. This is particularly beneficial for the health of democracy.

Coalition vs. Majoritarian - Impact on democracy

In case of almost all the coalition governments, the majority of citizens of the country have voted for the parties that are part of the government.

As a wide consensus of opinion is related in this case, all the policies are debated thoroughly by the government before they are implemented.

On the other hand, it is much more likely in case of a single party government that badly thought policies could be implemented by the government, probably due to narrow ideological reasons.

They are often guided by an appetite for power. They could also be brazenly illogical sometimes, like the coming together of the ideological opposites, BJP and PDP, in 2015.

Ethics in Governance - The Government has Promises to Keep

Coalition and Ethics:

The Constitution should be amended to ensure that if one or more parties in a coalition with a common programme mandated by the electorate either explicitly before the elections or implicitly while forming the government, realign midstream with one or more parties outside the coalition, then Members of that party or parties shall have to seek a fresh mandate from the electorate.

Summary note:

The concept of coalition government is good, however, its success depends on the manner in which the coalitions are forged and how governance percolates down. That is equally true of single party governments.

With all their ills, coalition governments are actually far more inclusive than single party majority governments. However, both can be two sides of the same coin of fascism as long as the will of the people is not strong enough.

Learning Aid

 Practice Question:

Coalitions of convenience tend not to have coherent policy agendas and tend to be divided from within. Policy formation and to put up a working Cabinet are two separate but important issues that matter to a working coalition. Coalition governments can get a lot of things done. Discuss.

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