Alliance Dharma: What Reforms Will Work, What Won’t

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After two terms of absolute majority, the Indian electorate has given a fractured mandate to the Narendra Modi-led BJP. The era of coalition politics is back with a bang. Does that also mean an end to the promise of big-ticket reforms?

India’s political landscape has undergone a seismic shift with the recent general elections. The Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which enjoyed an unprecedented absolute majority in two consecutive terms, now finds itself in the throes of coalition politics once more. This new reality brings both challenges and opportunities, particularly concerning the ambitious reforms agenda that has been a hallmark of the Modi administration. The key question now is: can meaningful reforms still be pursued in this coalition era, or will the fractured mandate signal the end of such transformative initiatives?

The Context of Coalition Politics

Coalition governments are not new to India. The country has experienced coalition dynamics extensively in the past, most notably during the 1990s and early 2000s. Coalition politics often necessitates a more cautious and consensus-driven approach to governance. This can slow down the decision-making process, as parties within the coalition may have divergent priorities and ideological stances.

The return of coalition politics implies that the BJP will need to negotiate and collaborate more intensively with its allies to achieve legislative success. This scenario can both dilute the party’s reform agenda and necessitate compromises that can alter the original intent of proposed policies.

Reforms That Will Work

1. *Incremental Economic Reforms*

In a coalition setup, incremental economic reforms are more likely to succeed than sweeping changes. Smaller, targeted reforms that address specific issues can garner broader support. For instance, measures to improve ease of doing business, streamline regulatory frameworks, and enhance digital infrastructure can be pursued without major political friction. These reforms, while less glamorous, can cumulatively have a significant positive impact on the economy.

2. *Agricultural Reforms*

Agriculture remains a critical sector in India, both economically and politically. Reforms aimed at improving agricultural productivity, ensuring fair pricing, and enhancing supply chain efficiencies are likely to find favor across the political spectrum. Initiatives such as better irrigation infrastructure, modernization of farming techniques, and financial support for farmers can be achieved through consensus and are essential for rural development.

3. *Health and Education*

Health and education reforms are generally non-controversial and enjoy widespread public support. Strengthening public healthcare systems, expanding access to quality education, and investing in skill development are crucial areas that can benefit from coalition support. Programs like Ayushman Bharat (health insurance) and the New Education Policy (NEP) have already laid the groundwork and can be further developed with allied cooperation.

4. *Infrastructure Development*

Infrastructure projects often have a unifying appeal, as they promise tangible benefits like improved connectivity, job creation, and economic growth. Investments in roads, railways, ports, and urban infrastructure can be pursued with bipartisan support. These projects not only stimulate the economy but also offer visible outcomes that can be politically advantageous for all coalition partners.

Reforms That Won’t Work

1. *Labor and Land Reforms*

Labor and land reforms have historically been contentious in India, often facing stiff opposition from various political parties and interest groups. Attempts to liberalize labor laws or ease land acquisition processes can encounter significant resistance from allies within a coalition government. These reforms are perceived as threatening to the interests of workers and farmers, core constituencies for many regional parties.

2. *Privatization of Public Sector Enterprises*

The privatization of public sector enterprises (PSEs) is another area where coalition politics can pose significant hurdles. Many regional parties have strong ideological commitments to retaining public control over key industries and services. Privatization efforts, which are seen as reducing state control and potentially leading to job losses, are likely to face opposition from coalition partners with vested interests in these enterprises.

3. *Tax Reforms*

Comprehensive tax reforms, such as a major overhaul of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) system, may be difficult to achieve in a coalition setting. The GST, though a landmark reform, has faced implementation challenges and political pushback. Any attempt to revise the tax structure or rates can become a flashpoint among coalition partners, each looking to protect their constituencies’ interests.

4. *Judicial and Electoral Reforms*

Judicial and electoral reforms, while crucial for long-term governance, are often politically sensitive. Efforts to reform the judiciary, such as changes in the appointment process of judges or structural adjustments in the judicial system, can be seen as encroachments on the independence of the judiciary. Similarly, electoral reforms aimed at curbing electoral malpractices and enhancing transparency may face resistance from political entities that benefit from the status quo.

The Path Forward

Navigating the complexities of coalition politics requires adept political management and strategic foresight. The Modi government, known for its strong leadership style, will need to adapt to a more consultative and inclusive approach to governance. This transition presents an opportunity to foster a more collaborative political environment where diverse voices are heard, and consensus-building becomes a cornerstone of policy-making.

Building Consensus

Building consensus within a coalition government necessitates continuous dialogue and negotiation. Engaging with coalition partners early in the policy formulation process can help in addressing concerns and securing support. Establishing inter-party committees and working groups to deliberate on key reforms can facilitate smoother decision-making and mitigate potential conflicts.

Prioritizing Reforms

Given the constraints of coalition politics, prioritizing reforms that have broad-based support and immediate impact is crucial. Focusing on low-hanging fruits that deliver tangible benefits to the populace can build momentum and create a positive narrative around the government’s reform agenda. Success in these areas can also pave the way for more ambitious reforms in the future.

Leveraging Regional Strengths

Coalition politics often brings together parties with strong regional bases. Leveraging the strengths and expertise of regional allies can lead to more effective and localized implementation of reforms. Tailoring policies to address regional needs and involving local leaders in the execution process can enhance the efficacy and acceptance of reforms.

The return of coalition politics in India signifies a new chapter in the country’s democratic journey. While it presents challenges to the ambitious reform agenda of the Modi government, it also offers an opportunity to create a more inclusive and participatory governance model. By focusing on incremental and widely supported reforms, building consensus, and leveraging regional strengths, meaningful progress can still be achieved. The success of this approach will depend on the ability of the government to adapt and innovate in the face of political complexities, ensuring that the promise of transformative change remains alive in the coalition era.

Disclaimer: The thoughts and opinions stated in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of any entities represented and we recommend referring to more recent and reliable sources for up-to-date information.