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Has Bihar Changed The Future Of Coalition Politics In India?

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Democracy in any country is a messy business. And in India, the regulated periodic elections bring people out on the streets in full force in a way that is unseen in other countries of the world.

Concepts like ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ have changed since Plato and Aristotle. The theoretical foundations of society have been changing through countless socio-political processes. Nowadays, we have new spaces and new apparatuses that we can use to understand these changing phenomena. Biopolitics is now a word that takes another value in our lives. Our idea of subjects and individuals will not be the same for too long.

Subjects and the use of power by entities like the state and state actors are no longer a secondary matter as history and philosophy join together to provide ideas and support to contingent and evolving opinions.

Politics cannot be well-thought-out in the absence of participation of the people, whether such participation is represented, as in the parliament, or whether it’s with direct democracy involving direct participation of the masses. In any kind of situation, the participation of the subject underlies the whole idea. It avoids political activity from becoming something akin to an army or led by a devout group of believers wherein only the will of the group’s head is followed.

India is a nation with the number of political parties ranging in double digits. It follows a multi-party system and today, there exist many political parties at regional as well as national levels.

If we look at the era between the 1950s to late 1960s, this period is defined by Rajni Kothari as the period of Congress predominance. The dominance of the Congress in this era was witnessed both at regional and national levels. However, the gradual emergence of regional parties made it difficult for a single party to attain clear majority to form a government. Thus began the need for coalition politics.

Image Credit: Arun Sharma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Coalitions bring instability in functioning and policy making. A coalition government forms when two or more political parties form an alliance, compromising on their respective party policies and agendas.

A coalition is made up of democratically elected representatives, but in itself, it is a way to grab power regardless of the verdict of the electorate. Coalitions create political insecurities because no one knows when the government may destabilise.

The opportunistic nature of certain people to usurp power by using their charisma deceives the people and breaks their trust. This shows how political propagandists can dehumanise individuals, especially when they become subservient to the will of unjust institutions rather than their own conscience.

The people of Bihar had to suffer from flawed and corrupt leadership. When political leaders and their constituents are subjected to the same laws as ordinary people, only then the state becomes a rational social structure, instead of being a tool for domination.

The 2015 Assembly elections in Bihar were contested against communal forces by the Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) and Janta Dal United (JDU), along with the Congress. After the alliance, Lalu Prasad Yadav said, “We are coming together to defend secularism by defeating Modi, Amit Shah and the RSS.”

Nitish Kumar, the present Chief Minister of Bihar, had at the time vehemently argued, “Our biggest challenge is to defeat the forces of communalism represented by Mr Modi.” 

With the victory of the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ in Bihar, analysts had said that coalition politics in India was far from over. The coalition was composed of the Indian National Congress and two former rivals: the RJD and the JDU. Although the three parties had varying ideologies, a common enemy united them.

Bihar’s ‘Mahagathbandhan’ didn’t even last two years before the political game in the state took a U- turn. Now, Nitish Kumar has switched to Modi’s side and formed government with the support of the BJP. Along with this, secularism seems no longer worth fighting for as the CM of Bihar shifts his stance from defending secularism to having ‘zero tolerance‘ towards corruption. This move, which reeks of moral bankruptcy and sheer opportunism, has been given an artful spin.

But the amidst all this political drama, much of reality seems to have been lost. Despite all the overemphasis and suggestions that elections have high stakes, politics in Bihar may not be of as much gravity as the prevalent narrative suggests. Some people still believe that the results could damage Modi’s standing within his own party.

Was Nitish Kumar previously ‘secular’? And now that he has allied himself with the BJP, has he become ‘communal’? Should we ask some questions as to why Nitish Kumar’s morality was not outraged during the 2002 Gujarat riots when Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat? Why did he support the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee? Why did he distance himself from the NDA when Modi was made the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate? And why, today, does the issue of corruption trump the atmosphere of violence and fear that is all around us?

It is interesting to see that some of Nitish Kumar’s supporter are busy erasing what he and the BJP have said against each other in past. But I think they should press the pause button because who knows what happens next. In politics, there are no permanent enemies or friends. The truth is that both communalism and corruption should be resisted in an uncompromising and nondiscriminatory manner.

The duplicity cuts across the parties. Can the BJP who, at present, are targeting the Congress and Lalu Prasad Yadav for corruption, explain their cosy relationship with the Reddy brothers in Karnataka – the mining tycoons charged with massive fraud? Or how they are at peace with Congress defectors in uttarakhand? Last but not the least, how is the BJP at peace with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), who have a softer stance towards the Kashmir conflict?

All said and done, political parties will continue to rely on coalitions regardless of electoral verdicts. This has its advantages as well as disadvantages. In the ultimate analysis, it is the competency of the government and not whether it is a coalition or an individual party which plays an important role in impacting the welfare of the people. Whether the right decisions come from a coalition or an individual ruling party, they will always be appreciated and rewarded by the public.

However, coalition politics in this part of the world are not stable; they are prone to the constant flux of power. People need to refuse the corruption of power. Wherever there is an accumulation of power, corruption will prevail and with that, domination and oppression of the individuals by the state. Coalition politics brings out opportunism and the vested interests of certain individuals take priority over that of the community as a whole. In other words, we can say that such politics can be linked to a future where everything belongs to the state and no one is free.

But what happens if the process is corrupted? Ambiguous psychological apparatuses are used these days to make people believe what is not true. This supports the idea of a ‘transversal’ vision of reality but demands the involvement of main social structures like governments, schools, etc which are capable of establishing the reality.

When politics comes into the act, the entire landscape becomes organically dynamic. With this, if the state, as a major institution for subjects, is not able to provide whatever the parts involved need, instability in the form of revolutions or questioning of authority is impossible to stop.

When politics is measured as responsibility instead of creating advantages for the wealthy and dominant groups, then the end goal will bring success to the whole of society and therefore ensure its transformation and autonomy. It must ensure a better future, not only development in a materialistic way.

Nowadays, coalition based government try constantly to aspire to a better political system considering the responsibilities of the ‘wise ones’ over the rest. However, many times, these more well-off actors of the political system couldn’t resist the idea of pursuing a better future – not for the people but themselves.

Many times, authoritarianism and the need to procure material wealth become the driving factors for exercising any political activity which results in growing dissatisfaction among those who couldn’t enjoy that wealth. They start to see the gap between themselves and the ones in power.

To govern then becomes a disguise for looting, with those in power justifying their actions by arguing that it is their right to make an authoritarian use of resources – that many could not really understand how it is to govern a country or a city. The ‘elites’ do not always bear an altruism that will promote the well-being of the majority but are constantly susceptible to ideas that maintain their own status as a beneficent minority.

Unfortunately, those who exercise power in the form of authority will have to become more creative and constantly develop new tools to maintain power.

Arif Khan is a research scholar at Dept. Of History and Culture, Jamia Millia Islamia. He is interested in conflict studies. He regularly writes on Kashmir conflict, and other issues of socio-political concern. He can be reached at

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