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Sociology of coalition politics in India

By Shamsher Alam

As we are heading towards the general election in 2019, the political parties have been trying to make an alliance to dethrone the present BJP-led regime at the center. This can be substantiated by the fact that various political leaders ranging from Mamata Banerjee to Mayawati to Akhilesh to Sonia were present in Karnataka during HD Kumaraswamy’s oath-taking ceremony. In a more recent statement on his European tour, the Congress president, Rahul Gandhi, said that if the Congress, BSP, and SP form an alliance and if there is an alliance in Bihar, then the BJP is not going to win the next general election. Such gatherings and statements give a sign of political alliance between the opposition parties to defeat the BJP and its alliance at the center.

However, we may ask some questions through the sociological lens in the context of coalition politics: 1) Could coalition politics substantiate and strengthen social harmony or is it just about throwing out another set of political parties? 2) Could coalition politics eradicate the existing social rivalries between various social, cultural, and religious groups? 3) Is coalition only about arithmetic or does it have some chemistry in its approach? If these questions can be answered by alliance politics, then such a politics can become the harbinger of social harmony and social justice, defeating communal and divisive forces.

To reflect on the question of social harmony, it can be said that there are two kinds of social harmonies: first, the harmony between the religious groups; second, the intra-religious harmony, the harmony among the castes, particularly the Hindu castes. To elucidate the first, it can be argued that religious harmony between the Hindus and Muslims is an inevitable factor not only for the maintenance of the peace and tranquility but also for the progress and development of the society. However, the prevailing situation in the country represents another picture. The regular attacks on Muslims in the name of cow protection by the cow vigilantes show a completely different form of social disharmony. The attacks on Mohammad Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan, and Rakbar Khan raise serious concerns about social harmony, acceptance, and tolerance. The chanting of ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ has become a proof of patriotism and nationalistic feeling. Muslims are being forced to chant the same. The suspicion towards Muslims’ patriotism creates an atmosphere of intense distrust. To compound matters, the state machinery often dilutes the cases of such atrocities against Muslims. In a recent example in UP, the police changed the murder of a Muslims man in the name of cow into an incident of mere road rage. An investigation carried out by NDTV exposed the role of the state agency and forced it to reinvestigate the same incident.

It can be argued that if coalition politics is able to prevent such heinous crimes and hate politics, able to strengthen and restore communal harmony in society, able to eradicate the existing social rivalries between various socio-religious groups, such coalition can contribute to a just and harmonious society.

The second aspect of social disharmony is in the form of caste violence. In Indian politics and democracy, caste and religion often become deciding factors in winning elections. Despite the important role that caste plays in shoring up the fortunes of political parties, Dalits are attacked on a regular basis. From the attack on Dalits in Una to the recent example of Kasganj in UP, where a Dalit boy fought to pass his marriage procession through an upper caste village while sitting on a mare, the upper-caste dominance asserts itself as a feudal vestige. There have been numerous examples of Dalits being denied entry into a temple even today.

Recently, Akhilesh Yadav announced that he will build a grand city in the name of Lord Vishnu and a spectacular temple after Cambodia’s sprawling Angkor Wat, if his party were to come to power. Is Yadav attempting to capture the Hindu vote or counter the Ram Temple? However, he misses the opportunity to understand the sociology of temple-going, where Dalits are denied entry. Would he ensure Dalits’ entry into the temple and their role as officiating priests? Instead of announcing the construction of a new temple, he should have focused on the modalities of providing employment and jobs, if he comes to power. At this juncture, it is worth asking if the proposed coalition between the SP, BSP, and other political parties would be able to stop such caste-based violence upon the Dalits. Would the alliance be able to ensure social harmony between unequal social groups in terms of vertical differentiation? Would the alliance be able to ensure the entry of Dalits into the temple? If these questions could be answered by the proposed coalition, such a politics will be successful in restoring communal and social harmony in the society. Otherwise it is just a tactic to capture power.

To sum up, if the coalition is only for capturing power without ensuring the safety, security, development, and rights of vulnerable sections of the society, then it is unjust and only an arithmetical approach to achieve power. Further, if such a coalition is unable to uphold democratic values, it will fail to achieve its goal of becoming an alternative to communal and hate politics. In the absence of these values, a coalition is just a number game or arithmetic, an anxious attempt to win power by those people who are out of power.

Shamsher Alam, Ph.D. Scholar, Center for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.


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