What is Coalition Government, Meaning, Definition, Coalition Government in India

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Coalition government is a practice where a number of political parties join hands or form an alliance to run the government. Coalition politics is possible when the constituent political parties have some sort of commonality in their ideology. The concept of coalition politics in India is suitable because of its geographical diversity in terms of different physical regions, large population, diversity in culture and aspirations etc. In the Indian context , the concept of coalition politics started in late 1970s, but came into existence in late 1980s. Indian political parties have fragmented over years on the issue of ideology. Therefore, theorising the coalition politics essentially underlines the plurality, vastness and complexity of India.

Need of Coalition Government

In a parliamentary democracy, it is assumed that the political party with majority would form the government and the rest would function as opposition. However, in a parliamentary system which allows for multi-party democracy, the problem arises when no political party is able to stake claim because of lack of majority numbers. It is then that political parties cobble up a coalition to stake claim for forming a government. When political parties came to this reality they also started forming coalition or alliance before election process. With mutual consent, they would contest only a limited number of seats. Therefore, the concept of coalition evolved with every passing year.

Coalition Government in Pre-Independence Era

India’s engagement with coalition government came in 1937, in the pre-independence era. Jinnah appealed to Congress to form a coalition in Uttar Pradesh, but it did not materialise. However, coalition government became a reality in Punjab and NWFP (North-West Frontier Province) when Congress made an alliance with regional parties. At the national level in 1947 the interim government under the stewardship of Nehru was the first coalition among Congress, Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha and many others.

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Coalition Government in Post -Independence Era

In the post independence era, the face of Indian politics changed in 1969. At this time, certain members of Congress withdrew support and congress became a minority government but with the support of Communist Party of India (CPI) and Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) from outside the Congress Government survived the scare.

However, the 1967 election was a major watershed in the Indian politics. Causes such as intra-party factionalism, conflicts, defections, secession led to the demise of Congress in many states. The Congress rule remained intact at the centre till 1977. However, Janata Party came at the helm in 1977. Technically, it cannot be said to be a coalition government, but the way it made its exit was typical of a coalition party. Various aspiring leaders and factions in the party pulled the amorphous grouping apart. In its true sense, political commentators mark the year 1989 as the advent of coalition politics.


In 1989, a coalition of National Front under the leadership of VP Singh was formed. The government was supported by BJP, CPI, CPI(M) from outside. The coalition survived only for 11 months as the constituent parties parted ways on the issue of ideology. Another short lived coalition came immediately after when Chandra Shekhar formed government with the support of Congress, AIADMK, BSP etc. The coalition dissolved over the issue of government doing surveillance of Rajiv Gandhi. Another coalition government at the centre came up when HD Deve Gowda formed government of United Front. A group of political parties had the support of Congress, SP, DMK, etc. The Congress withdrew support on the issue of lack of communication between the coalition and Congress.

Next coalition came under the Prime Ministership of Inder Kumar Gujaral. The coalition survived only for 11 months after INC withdrew support. The next coalition was led by AB Vajpayee in 1998-99. BJP led coalition was supported by AIADMK, BJP, Akali Dal etc. Since, BJP was unable to fulfil demands of AIADMK, the government fell down. With AIADMK opting out of coalition this led to a vote of no confidence motion in Parliament that government lost by one vote (272-273), leading to fresh election in 1999. The next coalition was the most successful experiment of Indian politics. The National Democratic Alliance survived for 6 years under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The constituents were BJP, AIADMK, TDP, TMC etc. Since 1999, all the governments formed were coalition government including the governments formed during 2004, 2009 in general election under the leadership of Dr Manmohan Singh and United Progressive Alliance.

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Reasons For Coalition Government in India

For three decades, until 2014, Indian voters refused to give any single largest political party a majority in Parliament. It was also the era of transition of the Indian economy. The country opened up, reformed and lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. It is noteworthy to mention that the previous United Progressive Alliance government had trouble from left parties who held out on key legislative issues. The single rate Goods and Services Tax (GST) although introduced by the UPA government never found enough support to get validation. In most of these cases, the unholy nexus is fructified out of the greed of power and not as a convergence of ideology. There are several reasons for coalition politics. One of them is the inability of national parties to represent regional aspirations. Also they are not able to truly represent the diversity of India. Another reason is lack of leadership. Post independence, the leadership commanded respect and trust. People started identifying themselves with regional leaders. Also, the Mandal politics gave rise to caste

based political parties. Moreover, political parties with religious identity also existed in India. These factors created a mass base in different parts of India. This also gave rise to regional political parties.

Positive and Negative Aspects of Coalition Government in India

Coalition government has its own inherent merits and demerits. When coalition governments are formed, several advantages are witnessed which include

• Better representation of diverse ideas.
• Serve the nation or state well.
• In a coalition government that includes regional party, the regional demands are met adequately.
• The system becomes more democratic and power concentration comes under check. . Voters have more than one choice.
On the other hand, it also has its negative effects which include
• Defection takes place after election gets over.
• Parties resort to unethical means, offer critical government ministries in exchange for support. Sometimes, the ministers’ merit is not a accordance with the demand of ministry.
• It gives rise to money and muscle politics,
• As cobbling up a coalition requires these factors. Many times it has been seen that parties withdraw support when some unreasonable demands are not met.

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Indian politics has therefore made a full fledged foray into the world of coalitions. Therefore, Hung Parliament and Hung Assembly has become a norm. However, coalition governments can truly represent the aspirations of citizens. To resolve the problem of legislators switching parties for political gains, the Parliament passed the 52nd Amendment in 1985, laying down the process by which legislators may be disqualified on grounds of defection. It will be a successful experiment when a coalition is formed on ideological congruity and not for vested interests. But coalition government concept has a long way to cover. With the increasing role of regional parties, the experiment will become more challenging.

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