If we follow big headlines of news channels and newspapers, we get the impression that we are doomed if we get a Majboor Sarkar (weak government). Majboor, according to them, stands for an ‘opportunistic’ coalition put together to grab power. The underlying assumption is that such weak governments are unstable, lack decision-making ability and are prone to populism and therefore bad for the country. Does history support such an assumption?
Have all Majboor Sarkars between 1989 and 2014 led by VP Singh, Narasimha Rao, HD Deve Gowda, IK Gujaral, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh let us down? They fit into the category as they were multi-party coalitions, pulled in different directions by partners.
Of the 25 years of coalition era, we have had stable governments for 20 years. So the argument that coalition means instability does not hold. Were they indecisive? The answer is an emphatic no.
Was the decision to open up Indian economy in 1991 an insignificant one? Implementing recommendations of the Mandal Commission, giving quota to other backward classes in jobs, was a bold move and taken by one of the most Majboor Sarkars we have had. The decision to conduct nuclear tests at Pokhran was taken by a so-called Majboor Sarkar headed by Vajpayee. Would an indecisive government have gone for rural employment guarantee scheme, right to information or Indo-US nuclear deal?
Majboot Sarkars (strong governments), on the other hand, too have had their fair share of big decisions. Emergency was the boldest one. Can we afford something like that now? Demonetisation will certainly rank among the boldest ones ever taken. Are we ready for one more round of notebandi?
Take a look at the track records of all strong regimes we have had so far. They are known to have taken questionable decisions. Any decent book on contemporary history has all the details. Still confused?
Delivery of All Sarkars on Substantive Issues Has Been the Same
Let us look at the majboot vs majboor debate from yet another angle. Let us draw a list of pressing issues all governments face and see whether majboot-majboor dichotomy holds. Here are some of the important ones:
- We want to be firm with Pakistan and stay friendly with all other neighbours. Have we ever seen any so-called feeble government capitulating or strong governments bulldozing Pakistan into submission? Verbal bravado of some regimes aside, our approach towards our neighbours in general and Pakistan in particular has been pretty consistent.
- We want to compete and co-exist with China. Have we ever heard any political leader saying anything different? The level of engagement may vary, but all governments in the last three decades have stayed the course on Sino-Indian relations. And all governments, including the all-powerful current regime, have failed to tilt the terms of trade our way. We import way too much from China and the level of exports is dismal. Any cause of worry here in case of a so-called feeble regime?
- Bijli, Paani, Sadak (electricity, water and roads), ration through PDS, and fertiliser should be made available to all. Any disagreement here? The cost at which government services are made available may see occasional variation, depending on whether we have a macho government or a feeble one. However, if we look at the subsidy bill all these years, we get a sense that macho governments have been as reckless (or populist, depending on your perspective) as the majboor ones.
- That maintaining internal security should be priority number one and that we should keep our borders safe. On this count too, we do not have evidence to suggest that macho governments have fared better.
- There should be an all-out war against illiteracy, poverty and discrimination. Have we ever heard a voice of dissent here? Haven’t all governments faltered on this count?
The point I am trying to make is very simple — on substantive issues, there is very little to choose between a Majboot or a Majboor Sarkar.
The difference, however, is in the style of governance. While the strong regimes have tended to centralise power, there are multiple power centres when coalition governments are at the helm.
Majboot Sarkars Mean Majboor Institutions
Since we have seen enough of coalition and single-party regimes, we can clearly see the Majboot-Majboor dichotomy in terms of how important institutions have performed. Let us consider a few here.
The Election Commission — The institution got its teeth and independence following the appointment of TN Seshan as the chief election commissioner in 1990. His rise and the growing stature of the EC coincided with the onset of coalition era. We know how crucial the role of EC is for conducting free and fair elections. Even a hint of dilution, and we hope there is none, in the way EC exercises its power can potentially alter reflection of the will of the people through elections.
While the EC continued to flex its muscle through the entire period of coalition era (1989-2014), can we say the same now, with so much confidence, when we have a Majboot Sarkar at the helm?
The Reserve Bank of India — We have had some outstanding personalities as RBI governors in recent years. All of them maintained cordial relations with the governments of the day. But they never allowed themselves to be dictated by the short-term requirements of their political masters.
Perhaps Majboor Sarkars all these years did not come across as threatening. Can we be as certain about RBI’s independence now in the face of the current strong regime? RBI’s independence is directly related to the heft of currency notes we carry. Can we allow dilution of the value of currency notes we hold by compromising the independence of the banking regulator?
The Central Bureau of Investigation — Can we ever recall a free-for-all among officers in the country’s premier investigative agency? Did we ever see so many CBI officers approaching courts to get their individual grievances redressed? There is no denying that the CBI has been his master’s voice all through. The current malaise suggests implosion of an agency that is tasked with investigating high-profile cases. It seems a Majboot Sarkar has been injurious to the institutional health of the CBI. Can it get any worse?
We can go on and on.
The point though is, given the way Majboot Sarkars have fared all these years, should we still ridicule coalition governments?
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