The Maha Vikas Agadhi (MVA) government of three political parties – Shiv Sena, NCP, and the Congress – formed in Maharashtra hopes to hold together on a non-controversial Common Minimum Programme (CMP) for five years without reference to their pre-election manifestos, promises, or propaganda or even their foundational ideology. In this era of electoral alliances, seat sharing, and coalition governments, CMP has become the mantra binding disparate groups and even bitter enemies together to give a government to the people – their voters.
The CMP is the document outlining minimum objectives of a coalition government. The MVA being a post-poll alliance, the CMP is a post-poll offer to the electorate different from the documents presented during election. People have to accept it as they have no say in the formation of coalitions.
Consequently, what they have voted for and what they get even from the same person or party may differ — a gift of coalition politics. Two coordination committees will be formed – one for coordination within the State cabinet and the other for coordination among alliance partners.
The alliance, of course, is made at State level and that too for running State government. Therefore, to raise issues pertaining to national politics or affairs outside Maharashtra and seek their common stand is not consistent with the politics of alliances going on in India. The partners are obviously free to hold their independent views on national issues before Parliament or decisions of the Central government. It is a convenient arrangement to convert rivals as friends and vice versa in politics.
And so, Shiv Sena, if it wants, can very well go with the BJP on Kashmir issue opposing the stand of the Congress without affecting the Maha Vikas Agadhi. Whether it can happen in reality is to be watched. The answer depends on the relative importance of the alliance to the partners.
The Maha Vikas Agadhi took more than three weeks to come into being. Not all causes of the delay have come in the open. All that we know is that the question of Chief Ministership and share of ministerial posts took much longer time than agreement on common programme, that is, tasks to be taken up. Understandable – as beneath the coalition lies the seat of CM.
In fact, CM post itself in this election is the primary item in the CMP – the topmost like the symbol for Lord Ganesh with which the orthodox start any work or begin writing anything.
The NCP and the Congress started with two conditions to Shiv Sena — one, its exit from the NDA government at the Centre, and the other a common minimum programme “in the interest of the people”. Both were accepted unconditionally by the Sena which confirms its junior position in the coalition with largest number of seats. In coalition governments, the party of the CM or PM is not always the leader having deciding powers and the CMP is not its programme.
The document of the CMP fixes the focus of the ruling alliance on farmers’ issues, unemployment, health, industry, social justice, women, education, urban development, tourism, and art and culture. Under each of them, several items in the State List in the Seventh schedule may be mentioned making it a futile exercise to find missing areas. Urban development, for instance, is assumed to include all types of infrastructure, transport and communication, flood control, etc.
Farmers’ distress gets top attention in the CMP which speaks of immediate assistance to those affected by premature rain and flood and an ambitious plan of immediate loan waiver, crop insurance, remunerative prices for farm produce, sustainable water system for drought affected areas.
Fellowship for educated unemployed youth and 80 per cent reservation in jobs for local/domicile youth, free education to girls from economically weaker sections, education loan without interest to all children of farm labourers and socially weaker sections, one rupee clinics at taluka level, super-speciality hospitals in every district are major programmes in the CMP. A vague promise is made to extend all possible concessions to attract investments and necessary policy reforms in technology sector for promotion of industry, and special facilities for growth of tourism.
A CMP intended to bring together two or more political parties and not for the consumption of voters to draw support need not commit the government to definite and detailed programme. It has no sanctity. It is, therefore, natural for the partners to draft a document as a formality with ambitious programmes while bestowing wholehearted attention on more important items for the participants as the common minimum to start with like distribution of posts.
In this context of real politics, readers should not miss the preamble of the document which states, “The alliance partners commit to uphold the secular values enshrined in the Constitution. On the contentious issue of national importance especially having repercussions/consequences on the secular fabric of the nation, Shiv Sena, NCP, and the Congress will take a joint view after holding consultations and arriving at a consensus”.
Critics are quick to catch this as something inconsistent with Bal Thackeray’s anti-secular stand and Shiv Sena’s dogmatic adherence to its “Hindutva” culture. Many leaders of the party were against the words “secular” and “socialist” in the Preamble of the Constitution.
The partners of the Maha Vikas Agadhi have already started asserting their freedom to hold on to their ideologies which makes it clear that the alliance is limited to some programmes. The CM, Uddhav Thackeray has stated that, “I am still with the ideology of Hindutva which cannot be separated from me”, and emphatically asserted that, “I have been following my Hindutva yesterday, today, and will continue to do so in future as well”.
In Britain, allies join to pool ideas as Conservatives and Liberals as coalition was preferred to minority government. When David Cameroon and Nick Clegg joined hands, it was under conviction that the days of big government were over and that “centralization and top-down control” was a failure. Their joint statement pointed to the need to “disperse power more widely in Britain” and said, “It is our ambition to distribute power and opportunity to people rather than hoarding authority within government. That way, we can build the free, fair, and responsible society we want to see”.
Their agreement was not adoption merely of policies where they previously overlapped. It was a combination of “best ideas and attitudes” of their parties to frame a programme for government “more radical and comprehensive” than their individual manifestos.
In the coalition government formed in Maharashtra, Shiv Sena has taken a big risk whereas no risk is involved in the case of the NCP and the Congress which were defeated in the polls. It has to show to the people that its decision to sever ties with the BJP is for the good of the people in the short and long run.
For all the three, the CMP is an attractive programme to get a hero’s welcome. But, what about issues untouched in the CMP? Will the master tame the players in this circus?
The author is Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi