Functioning under a Coalition Government

Coalition government is a cabinet of a parliamentary government in which several parties cooperate. Coalition governments are usually formed as no party can individually achieve a majority in the parliament. However, a coalition government may also be created in a time of national difficulty or crisis. If a coalition collapses, a confidence vote is held or a motion of no confidence is taken.

The 1967 elections also initiated the dual era of short-lived coalition govemments and politics of defection. However, the elections broke Congress’s monopoly of power in the states. Congress was replaced not by a single party in any of the states but by a multiplicity of parties and groups and independents. Coalition governments were formed in all opposition-ruled states except in Tamil Nadu. In Punjab, Bihar and U.P., opposition governments included Swatantra, Jan Sangh, BKD, Socialists and CPI. Though CPM did not join these governments, it, too, actively supported them.

Congress too formed coalition governments in some of the states where it had been reduced to a minority, allying with independents and breakaway groups from the opposition parties. Except the DMK government in Tamil Naau and the Swatantra-led government in Orissa, the coalition governments in all the other states, whether formed by Congress or the opposition, proved to be highly unstable and could not stay in power for long. All the coalition governments suffered from constant tensions and internal strains because of the heterogeneity of the partners. These governments would get formed, break up as a result of changing loyalties of MLAs and then are re-formed again.

Parties, including Congress, would topple existing governments, change partners and form new governments. In between governments, a state would sometimes undergo a period of President’s Rule or even mid-term polls, which seldom changed the pattern of seats in the assembly. Thus, from the 1967 general elections to the end of 1970, Bihar had seven governments, U.P. four, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and West Bengal three each and Kerala two governmental changes, with a total of eight spells of President’s Rule in the seven states.

The other important feature of the coalition governments of the period was the beginning of the politics of defection. Many of the governmental changes in the northern states were the result of defections or floor crossings by individual legislators, both party members and independents. Corrupt legislators indulged in horse-trading and freely changed sides, attracted mainly by lure of office or money. In Haryana, where the defection phenomenon was first initiated, defecting legislators began to be called Ay a Ram and Goya Ram (in-coming Ram and out-going Ram). Consequently, except in the case of the two Communist parties and Jan Sangh, party discipline tended to break down. Between 1967 and 1970, nearly 800 assembly members crossed the floor, and nearly 155 of them were rewarded with ministerial offices.

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