Accommodative politics is often the result of expediency, but it holds intrinsic value
For the first time in nearly 25 years, all members of the Union Cabinet are from a single party, the Bharatiya Janata Party. The death of Lok Janshakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan, three weeks after the Shiromani Akali Dal’s Harsimrat Kaur Badal resigned from the Cabinet in protest against legislation that her party sees as anti-farmer, has suddenly created this situation, but it has been in the making for a while. In 2019, the Shiv Sena’s Arvind Sawant resigned from the Cabinet after the party broke with the BJP. In 2014, the BJP won more than half the seats in the Lok Sabha, the first time a single party won a majority since 1984. In 2019, the party increased its tally and is not dependent on any other party for the government’s survival, though it has at least two dozen allies in the NDA. Alliance politics had come to be derided as a sign of instability, indecision and policy paralysis in the dominant discourse of Indian politics before 2014. Conversely, the emergence of a single party’s dominance was welcomed as a new era of stability and decisiveness. The BJP chose to be more triumphalist than gracious in its victory. Decisions of far-reaching consequences such as the changes in the status of Jammu and Kashmir and eligibility of citizenship were made with no inputs from regional political groups, including its own allies.
Involvement of regional and smaller parties will only make governance more robust and inclusive at the national level. The tendency to consider regional forces as a hindrance to a national vision is not the BJP’s creation, though it amplified it. The emergence of regional and communitarian politics is in part a response to the Congress’s failure to be sufficiently sensitive and accommodative of various social and linguistic groups. SAD leader Sukhbir Badal flagged this as a lesson for the BJP — that domination can easily lead to a total collapse. In the case of the BJP, its parliamentary majority itself is concentrated in the north and the west of India, and among particular communities. There is a strong case for the party to be more accommodative towards regions and communities that are not part of its political map. The party has taken some steps such as inducting Nirmala Sitharaman, a Tamil, and V. Muraleedharan, a Malayali, in the Union Council of Ministers though the BJP is not dependent on Tamil Nadu or Kerala for its parliamentary majority. Stability is only enhanced when the stakes are widely distributed in a polity. The situation created by the death of Paswan and the resignation of Ms. Badal opens an opportunity for the BJP to re-examine its approach to regions and social groups. Adequate representation in the Council of Ministers is a necessary condition, and a starting point, towards a more consultative decision-making process that might guarantee more desirable outcomes.