India is in for alliance politics. The Congress by itself has just over half the seats needed for a majority in Parliament. As such, it is dependent (as was the BJP earlier) on a number of smaller parties for support. The problem with coalition politics is that the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. India’s recent history shows that smaller the size of the party, the greater is its greed for power and influence! So, it is entirely possible that a few can hold the country and its policies to ransom whatever be the good intentions of the largest party. That is where phrases like Common Minimum Programme come in. This effectively has the potential to translate to Cannot Make Progress.
What the Congress leadership needs to tell its partners is that they need to take the oath of stability. It should go something like this: By agreeing to support the Congress, we hereby agree that we will not leave the government till the next elections are called in 2009. We promise not to make unreasonable demands for petty gains. We will respect the decisions of the Cabinet and the Prime Minister. We also promise not to make irresponsible statements to the media.
The government and its key decision-makers needs to be assured that it will be in power for the next five years. Only then can we expect some semblance of smart decision-making focused on the long-term. If a minister knows that the next decision made could be the last (because some 5-member collective decides it is not good and threatens to withdraw support), then we will not make the tough decisions that India needs to build on the platform of the past decade.
Businesses, investors and markets need predictability. Uncertainty is the biggest enemy of the finance world. India needs capital for growth, and this capital will only come if there is stability of governance. This is the first assurance that the new government needs to give us and the world. The goal should be to embrace and extend the policies of the past, and not undo them just because they were done by a different government.
The quality of people chosen to govern India will say a lot about what we can expect in the coming years. If the Prime Minister panders to the various factions, then we can expect the worst and a throwback to the past. If, however, the PM courageously picks the right people for the right jobs, then we can be rest assured that there is hope for good, clean governance. The PM needs to choose ministers on the basis of competence. In fact, this will be the first acid test for the PM.
It is not an easy decision. The people coming to power have been without it for many years. There is hunger (for authority) all around. The people selected will mirror the governance we can expect. There are many good and capable people will they be allowed to govern is the question. I realise that what I am asking for is probably not going to happen many of the plum posts will go to the ones whose support is critical for survival. And that is where the leadership skills of the PM come in. There is a difference between forming a government and providing good governance. The coming days will make it clear what we can expect.