Whatever one might say about the timing, motives or ramifications of Justice Markandey Katju’s sensational disclosure, nobody has yet been able to disprove the facts about the undue extensions given to a “tainted” additional judge of the Madras High Court because of the DMK’s threat to pull out of the UPA government and thus bring it down. My submission is that this was not the only gross impropriety committed in the name of coalition compulsions. At the time when the Congress’s main ally, the Left, was objecting to the government’s proposal to partially privatise several public sector undertakings, for instance, some DMK ministers reportedly barged into the prime minister’s office to warn him that selling any shares of the Neyveli lignite project would bring his government down.
Since public memory is proverbially short, let me remind the reader that when the single-party rule of the Congress ended and the coalition era began, a large proportion of the political class, including pundits and commentators, virtually jumped with joy. At long last, they said, the country will have “real democracy” and those excluded from politics for so long would be empowered. However sincere the belief, reality did not redeem it.
To begin the story from the beginning, it is not clear when exactly the coalition era began. Arguably, it was after the humiliating defeat of Indira Gandhi in the post-Emergency election in 1977. For even though the Janata Party pretended to be a single political entity, it was, in fact, a coalition of four parties, united only in their abhorrence of the Congress and divided over almost everything else. In any case, the Janata collapsed ignominiously in 30 months. Indira spectacularly returned to power. She, and after her assassination, her elder son Rajiv, who was practically dragooned into politics, ruled the country for a decade.
His former cabinet colleague and nemesis, V.P. Singh, replaced Rajiv. Singh headed what he called the National Front, but turned out to be a notional front. In any case, the front’s strength was so limited that it needed the support of two opposite poles of the political spectrum, the BJP and the Communists, to survive. Within 11 months, however, Singh’s government fell because of his unilateral decision to enforce the Mandal report recommending 27 per cent reservations for OBCs. With Rajiv’s patronage, the former Young Turk, Chandra Shekhar, became prime minister but lasted only 120 days.
After Rajiv’s assassination in the midst of the 1991 general election, P.V. Narasimha Rao ran a minority Congress government for the full five years, though the means he used made him the first former PM to be dragged to a court of law on criminal charges. No wonder, the Congress was defeated in the 1996 polls (though it retained continued…