Nitish as PM; Rahul as CM

The stunning victory of the JD[U]-BJP alliance in Bihar has the Congress so shell-shocked they are trying to muddy the waters for the NDA alliance that has held so well, and delivered. That is why the silent campaign to project Nitish Kumar as leader of the NDA and a candidate for PM for the next election. But, don’t forget: The Bihar CM has pre-empted them with his own proposal – Rahul as CM!

The subtle subtext is unmistakable even though the temper is measured. The innuendo is about to leave its chrysalis and emerge as the stated opinion. Journalists with an axe to grind are being commissioned with finesse. Television channels with established linkages are beginning to drum up some noise. And all this is only about trying to slip in an envelope under the door suggesting that the Bihar win propels Nitish Kumar to leadership of the NDA.

Now if it wasn’t for the innate sagacity of Mr. Kumar, and in fact the same humility of purpose that I believe allowed him to not only honour the principles of coalition politics with his partner party the BJP and that which makes him immensely likeable to most people in Bihar as the electoral numbers stacked up recently, it would be easy to slip on the lubrication some of our interested friends are trying to spill along his way.

The banana skin treatment is a common technique in politics when you want to roil an established, productive relationship and it is not the first time attempts have been made to do so in the context of the JD[U] BJP combine in Bihar. The stunning results of the recent elections are going to be unnerving for the entire political configuration and this sort of insidious campaign is the least that could be mounted. What is more interesting is however the lack of application of mind by political commentators on the cellular nature of coalition agglomeration, its rules, its innate mechanics and it’s basic template.

Coalition Dharma has many shlokas and one of its undisputed mantras is that the anchor political entity holds the coalition together. In a hub and spoke configuration, it becomes thematically necessary that the largest partner holds the key to the functioning of the wheel. It stands to reason that performance as a unit should place the strongest in precedence within the hierarchy or else there would be anarchy in the ranks.

To suggest therefore that a regional win of an ally endorses the validity of national rule would not only challenge the mandate the ally has received but also open the pool to all kinds of ambitions, justified or not. Imagine the ego-play that would come into play. How would you sift the challenge of one coalition ally from another if both are winners in their states. In effect, why would the acceptability of say an Akali Dal CM as leader of the NDA be less than another coalition partner? The proposition is self defeating. It is like asking if the sum of the parts can be greater than the whole. Worse, that the part is greater than the sum. It does not do anything for either the math of such arrangements or the morality of it. The structural edifice on which coalition politics are built come from a pyramidic design where the party with the largest base provides the foundation for the smaller, and so on and so forth. It would be facile, if not futile to imagine that the smallest unit on top is the basis of that structure.

Conversely, we can find that a double standard is being applied here. Is it conceivable that the Congress would concede leadership to the DMK, for instance? In a party where debate is stunted by a Princeling’s coronation, to suggest any other claimant is blasphemous. And yet the same columnists and political commentators apply a totally different set of rules in the case of the NDA.

Even in the UK, the seamless combination government of the Conservatives and the Lib Dems was achieved without as much as a murmur about the effective leadership of government which, in rerum natura went to the bigger partner – no questions asked, no mention made. Notice the restraint and maturity of the British press and political journalists that there was never a serious attempt to suggest that David Cameron could make way for Nick Clegg.

The international experiences with coalition politics whether in Europe or the more chaotic African states is fundamentally the same and in fact it can be said with reasonable authority that it is only when the operative rules of coalition politics are unmet, the coalition dodders – and prime among that is the cardinal error of handing over leadership of the coalition to a candidate that does not carry the strength of the majority partners in such configurations. The reasons are not difficult to guess. While on the one hand it opens up the possibility of other regional satraps or smaller party chiefs to throw their hat in the ring once the philosophical basis of majoritarianism is challenged, the majority group members too sooner or later revolt if they are given second place in a race they technically lead by numbers.

There are myriad examples that prove that when the principles of power sharing are compromised they end up in shreds. Zimbabwe is a recent example where the decades old rule of Robert Mugabe led Zanu-PF Party is currently sharing power with Morgan Tsvangirai who as leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 2008 actually won the elections but had to settle for a power sharing agreement with Robert Mugabe as president and himself as Prime Minister under abnormal conditions. Not surprisingly, this accommodation is teetering even as the angst is growing. Political observers give the arrangement no more than a few decimals of success and Zimbabwe looks like returning to its old ways under the dictatorial regime of Mugabe and his henchmen. Not surprisingly too, Tsvangirai is having to battle both Mugabe and his terror tactics and the impatience of his own supporters. The impending elections after the two year term of the interim unity-government ends is proving to bring more anxiety than any reparation as was hoped.

Similarly, it can be conceived that some of the difficulties in Iraq in government formation has to do with a similar, if obtuse situation. The power sharing agreement between the Shias, Kurds and Arab Sunnis has floundered only because there was no clear majority for any of their parties and each leader seeks preeminence over the other even as Iraq is without a government since the March 2010 general election.

Even its most strident critics will have to admit that the BJP has a repository of leadership talent that has already carved a national footprint and no amount of gerrymandering can take away that simple perceptional truth. The BJP is the only party that has invested in a second and third line of leadership since the last fifteen years who have the capacity to hold their own nationally and not look to a numbered bungalow for validation of their position. Doubtless that as a counter example, in the UPA the Congress will hold this position, but the truth remains that with every passing day a state passes out of its hands for precisely the reason that it passes into the hands of the NDA – a glass ceiling that allows nobody else to rise.

Fortunately, the BJP-led NDA is still open to the aspirations of its partners and to talent and expertise and inclusion and a religious adherence to the principles of coalition politics that puts good governance, not family, first.

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 This post has appeared under a different headline in The Pioneer of December 4th, 2010.

Image courtesy: Ranjeet Kumar, www.hindu.com

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