It has taken three decades for a political party to get a majority in the Lok Sabha. In 1984, Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress crossed 400 seats, riding a sympathy wave following the assassination of his mother Indira Gandhi. Since 1989, coalitions have been the norm, except for a single-party but minority government of the Narasimha Rao-led Congress in 1991-96.
Large governments led by a “strong leader” such as Indira Gandhi in 1971 or Rajiv in 1984, or even UPA-2 under Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, have been known to lose their way and get entangled in problems, sometimes created precisely by the big majorities they know they command. Even the Janata Party government, the first non-Congress majority with 295 seats, withered away in three years.
The polity appeared to have adjusted to coalition governments which, in V P Singh’s famous words, mirrored the fact that “India was a coalition”. With that phase coming to a close for the moment, will India be nostalgic about it? And how will a single-party majority, centred around the singular personality of Narendra Modi, impact the need for representation of the voice of 1.2 billion Indians of all descriptions?
Says Dr Rajiv Bhargava, political scientist and director, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, “We had come to accept the coalition idea as the new norm in India, and as the nice norm, allowing several kinds of diversities to input into the idea of a nation… That has taken a knock by this new phenomenon emerging.” But, he added, “We have to wait and see what it is that Narendra Modi prioritises as there are regions and groups of Indians he has no resonance with. If he allows sections of that vocal citizenry to feel included in a genuine discourse of development, only then will a balance of sorts emerge.”
Historian and commentator Mushir-ul Hasan says “singularity” could signal unwelcome changes. “This could lead to authoritarian structures. The executive will have a free hand, which is not good for parliamentary democracy, especially if the individual on top has a tendency to build on his macho image. Checks and balances that developed in the party system as it evolved have meant representation of different sections of society. Now prospects for backward sections are gloomy. The focus would be to provide for sections traditionally known to be pro-BJP, the corporates and rich, urban, well-off sections.”
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Academic Prof Sudha Pai, who has studied exclusion and politics, says, “He (Modi) could either have an inclusive government that is democratic, absorbs opinions and voices from every section and focuses on what he has promised on the economy and jobs, or he could do what BJP governments are sometimes unfortunately known to do and that is to polarise and make the government narrowly based with not enough representation. In that case, odd that it may sound, the government would have a tough time.”