Time to end the Post Poll Alliance Plot!

Ever since H.D. Kumaraswamy became the Chief Minister of Karnataka through a post poll alliance between his party JD(S) and the Congress, he and Karnataka have been in the news, mostly for all the wrong reasons. From the wrangling over members of the cabinet, allocation of ministries and decision over waiving of farm loans, the so called “Unconditional” support of the Congress to the JD(S) has come with the “Conditions Apply” water mark! This is a coalition government formed after elections where, the Chief Minister in his own admission is at the mercy of the Congress which won more seats in the assembly and one that he fought a bitter battle against, during the elections. This has brought to the fore the moral legitimacy of a post poll alliance and the raison d’etre for this post!

This sort of a post poll arrangement is not the first and constitutional provisions remaining the same, will not be the last either. In the last few years, we have had similar post poll alliances being cobbled up in Maharashtra between the BJP and Shiv Sena and in Jammu & Kashmir between the BJP again and the PDP. In Bihar, we had the pre-poll alliance partners JD (U) and RJD coming together, winning, forming a government successfully only to fall apart in just under 2 years. The same JD (U) has now got into an alliance with the BJP, which it fought intensely against during the elections and is now running a coalition government! One glance at the political situation in all these states presents a similar and not so encouraging picture. Of an unease, under the veneer of partnership.  Of open differences in day-to-day functioning, even after coming to power with an understanding of a common minimum programme.

In Maharashtra, though the coalition government has been in power for more than three years now, there have been serious differences between the BJP and Shiv Sena on the vision, programmes and the idea of development.  The Shiv Sena opposes these in the media for public consumption while continuing to be a part of the very cabinet which takes these decisions. There cannot be a bigger deceit on the voting public than this!

In Jammu & Kashmir, the coming together of BJP and PDP was itself a very strange occurrence. Here were two parties who ended up with complimenting geographical presence (PDP in the valley and BJP in Jammu, Ladakh area) but with different ideological outlook to the state. Not surprising that decisions related to governance like handling of militancy and response to the ground situation,… were viewed through their respective ideological prisms and were subjected to pulls and pressures.  Not surprising again, that the alliance finally broke off last week!

In Bihar also, we keep hearing of murmurs of rumblings under the still surface of the Kosi River!

In all these states, it is indeed a legitimate democratic process that threw up hung verdicts which essentially reflected the mood of the public. And hence it may appear that the formation of a coalition government though based on a post poll alliance, is indeed a reflection of the rather muddled mandate. And in that sense one could argue that, democracy won at the end.

And as Indians we have still not forgotten the many short stint governments and Prime Ministers we had in the mid 90’s all thanks to post poll plots! Have we?

 If democracy is just about free and fair elections and installing “a” government as an end result of that process, probably, we should not grumble much about how governments function once they come to power. However, I do believe that democracy is not just about the election process but also about the outcome of the process as a reflection of the collective will of people as demonstrated by the election results and the ensuing governance.

From that point of view, is a post poll alliance, where 2 or more parties who contested and fought against each other bitterly before the elections come together and form a coalition government, fair? Is that arrangement a fair representation of the mandate or the collective will of the people? Is it not fooling the voters if, the party against whom you raised a stink over issues like corruption during the election campaign is now part of your government, for example? And there are more legitimate questions like these.

In a pre-poll alliance, parties “come together” probably with a common ideological plank or against a common enemy or some common promise or premise. This is transparent to the people when they go to vote. In a post poll scenario, parties “cobble up together” an alliance.  And there is a big difference between the two!

Apart from the moral issue of a post poll alliance government going against the will of the people, the other obvious issue with it is the thriving of “resort politics” – a phrase today associated with deal cutting and other “Direct Benefit Transfers”! Today, we are a witness to all this happening before us but have to be silent because post poll alliances are deemed acceptable under the constitution! Even the Supreme Court expressed its inability to term post poll alliances as invalid!

One of the main argument in favour of post poll alliances is that, today the constitution doesn’t dis-allow such an arrangement. Has the time not come to look at reviewing this aspect of it and make amends?

One of the other vocal arguments that is used to legitimise post poll alliances is saving public exchequer on expenses over another round of elections. For parties who raise this, it is just a convenient argument to come to power somehow.  In the case of a hung verdict, it is clear that the people are not convinced of the credentials of a single party or a pre-poll alliance. Giving an opportunity to a post poll alliance is the biggest charade that can be inflicted on the public.

If one looks at all angles, post poll alliances don’t check any of the boxes in public’s favour in a democracy. And it’s time as a country we have a debate around it and look at other alternatives of handling a hung verdict than the post poll plots which parties draw up.

Toon courtesy: Satish Acharya

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8 thoughts on “Time to end the Post Poll Alliance Plot!

  1. Brinda says:

    So true Anand. But post poll alliances are here to stay. Society has got ao badly fractured by divisive politics and a majority mandate is unlikely for any party

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mukund S says:

    Hi Anand,

    Well written 👏👏 and you indeed touched upon a complex topic
    To me, the legitimacy of these arrangements are mostly dependent on against/in favour of whom or which party this alliance was cobbled up. Beyond this, talking abt common minimum program is just another way to bring semblance of legitimacy n nothing more
    The fact that in Karnataka the amount of time taken to divide ministries and cajole ministers to take charge of their respective ministries are some of the byproducts of this kind of set up

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Mukund, Thanks for the feedback! You are absolutely right! Common Minimum programme ends up being Minimum programme affecting governance where the primary purpose is to just save the coalition government! I don’t think that this is the outcome we expect out of a democratic process called elections!

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  3. P Vaitheeswaran says:

    Hello Anand,

    1) The topic you touch upon is extremely complex. Your write up seems to me as one from soneone who has made up his mind that post poll alliances are bad because for some reason they do not “reflect the will of the people.” None of the points you make states what the “will of the people” (esp in a fractured mandate) is and how the post-poll alliance is contrary to that “will”. So, let me ask you a simple Q about that premise which seems central to this write up of yours. How have you decided what really is the will of the people? For instance, take the example of the recent Karnataka elections you have referred to. What in your opinion was the real “will of the people” and how do you deduce that? I would love to hear your thoughts on that.

    2) It would be nice if you could suggest some practical solution(s) that, to your mind, would alleviate the need for “post poll alliances” whilst respecting the “will of the people.”

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    • Hi Vaitheeswaran,
      Thanks for writing in.

      1. My fundamental issue with Post poll alliances stem from this fact. Voters make up their mind to vote for a particular party/alliance based on their what they stand for, promises, past performance, their leader,…,… And then after the elections, in the absence of a clear mandate in favour of “A” party or “An” alliance, parties who fought tooth and nail against each other – come together, form a government. In a democracy, this is taking voters for a ride. A pre poll alliance is transparent and a voter votes knowing well what he is getting into. In a post poll alliance it is not. This is clearly against the will of the people as this is not what they voted for.
      2. This issue comes up only in the case of a fractured mandate! If its a clear mandate – issue of post poll alliance doesn’t arise at all.
      3. In Karnataka, it is very clear that – among the parties in fray, the people didn’t find any party fit enough to rule them across the state. Hence the fractured mandate.
      4. I deliberately didn’t put up the alternatives. There could be many alternatives and they come up with pros and cons which need to be thought thro’. Including them will make my piece 5000 words long. Before coming up with alternatives, the purpose of my piece to say that, in post poll alliances, we have a problem and that needs to be recognised. If we recognise we have a problem in hand and have a debate around it, alternatives will be discussed and adopted. Today, post poll alliances are taken as par for the course, which is my issue.

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  4. Suri says:

    Hi Anand
    You have taken a good subject to write about. Alliance could work well if the parties check each others activities against their own ideology and prevent wrong doing by the other party. But I guess that wouln’t happen. Rather once in power, as the ulterior motive is satisfied, people may become complacent. There was a similar alliance government in UK in recent past. One of the alliance party tends to dominate the show anyway. Is it good to be ruled by one party that wins with full majority but without much public service theme in its private agenda?

    Liked by 1 person

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