How stable is India’s new government?

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Lok Sabha members representation
Lok Sabha members representation, by Lok Sabha – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

By Professor Aditya Goenka
Department of Economics, Birmingham Business School

On 4 June 2024 the parliamentary election results were announced for India after a 7 stage elections process held over 44 days. 642 million votes were cast of which 312 million were women. 543 seats were up for grabs. The incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had an outright majority of 303 seats in the outgoing parliament. The contesting parties had largely aligned to two coalitions: the incumbent National Democratic Alliance (NDA), with BJP being the dominant party setting the agenda in the coalition, and the opposing coalition, the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), with the Indian National Congress the leading but not the only significant member. One of the main campaign slogans of the NDA coalition was “400 plus” seats for its coalition. The exit polls released on 1 June seemed to confirm this expectation with projections of 346-400 seats for the NDA coalition.

The outcome was totally unexpected. BJP lost its majority with only 240 seats; NDA’s total number of seats including all alliance partners was 293, far below what was expected. This is a significant drop from the 303 and 282 seats BJP had in the last two Parliaments where it had a majority to form a government on its own without relying on coalition partners. The outgoing Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi had led a polarizing presidential style campaign with the slogan of “Modi ki guarantee (Modi’s guarantee)” as one of the key slogans. In fact, he also said that after his mother’s passing away, he was convinced that he was non-biological and God had sent him on a mission. Modi’s majority in his own constituency more than halved.

The campaign of BJP was run on an anti-minority tone (largely anti-Muslim but also increasingly anti-Christian), an agenda for constitutional change to consolidate the BJP dominance, and economic growth. The economic growth in India has been skewed with economic gains largely concentrated in urban areas, and oligarchs viewed as close to the PM, especially Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani, major winners.

The opposing INDIA coalition did not project any leader as its face and fought the campaign on the issues of unemployment, inflation, crony capitalism, social harmony and justice, and saving the constitution. The election results are largely seen as a repudiation of brand Modi.

Who are the coalition partners – JDU & TDP?

Without a majority on its own, the BJP has had to rely on its coalition partners to form a government. There are two key players in these partners: Nitish Kumar of the JDU, from the state of Bihar, which has 12 seats, and N Chandrababu Naidu of the TDP, from Andhra Pradesh, which has 16 seats. With the support of these partners BJP is in striking distance of the majority cutoff number of 271 seats. Thus, Kumar and Naidu, both seasoned politicians with strong regional bases and with their own agendas, have emerged as pivotal for the formation and continuation of the new NDA government sworn in on 9 June. The future of the government lies in the hand of the three N’s: Narendra, Nitish, and Naidu.

Andhra Pradesh and Bihar were larger states with both being bifurcated into two states, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in 2014 and Bihar and Jharkhand in 2020. The feeling is that in both reorganisations the main economic resources went to the new states. Thus, special economic status which give federal funds and tax breaks to their states is a key concern for both coalition partners. TDP, in fact, left the NDA coalition in 2018 as the promise for special economic status was not granted. State electoral compulsions drove both to join the NDA coalitions.

Nitish Kumar from the state of Bihar in north India is mercurial. He initiated the INDIA coalition but switched to the Modi camp when ostensibly he was blocked from being the head of the opposition coalition. He has a history of being secular with the main support base, the lower castes, whereas the BJP is seen as an upper-caste party. How personal ambitions, secular outlook, lower caste aspirations, and federal breaks for the state of Bihar will fit in with the BJP’s agenda remains to be seen. Bihar has state assembly elections in 2025 and this may motivate remaining a strong alliance partner. If his party does well in the state elections, then things will change as Modi will need him more than the other way around.

A slightly different situation exists for Chandrababu Naidu and the TDP. While he also has a secular outlook, he has also been a partner of the BJP in the past. His focus has always been on the state of Andhra Pradesh. Naidu has a different need for the coalition. The state assembly elections were held simultaneously with the parliamentary elections and the TDP won 135 of the 175 seats. This means Naidu is not only the largest coalitions allies but also very secure in his state. TDP may therefore be able to bargain harder and be an unstable ally of the new Modi government.

How will Modi and the BJP navigate coalition politics?

The biggest question is how Modi and the BJP will navigate the coalition politics. Modi has never had to navigate coalitional politics. His image as a strong man and Vishwaguru (world leader) is what is attractive to his support base. This is a part of his persona. His biographer, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay writes: “There was one observation routinely made by almost everyone interviewed while researching for this book – that Modi did not like to listen to other viewpoints besides his own, that he was authoritarian and did not allow any of his peers to acquire a distinct identity and thereby even remotely pose any threat to him.”

The BJP has used a combination of methods to deal with coalitional allies. On the one hand it has used the threat of law enforcement to get opposition politicians to switch sides, it has also undermined and weakened its coalitional partners. An example is the Eastern state of Orissa where it has displaced its erstwhile ally, BJD. The balancing of coalitional politics will determine how stable the government will be.

In the theory of coalition formation in economics a leading measure of the power of constituent parties in a coalition is the Shapley-Shubik power index. This index, which adds to 1, measures how likely a party is going to be pivotal, that is push the coalition to the desired target of seats. In the case of the NDA coalition, the main constituents with the seats that they have won is given as follows: BJP – 240; TDP – 16, JDU – 12, Shiv Sena – 7, LJP – 5, 3 other parties with 2 seats each and 7 with 1 seat each. The total number of seats of the coalition is 293 and they need to cross 272 seats to form the government. The Shapley-Shubik index of the parties is approximately 0.40, 0.21, 0.13, 0.078, 0.06, 0.02, 0.01 respectively. While BJP is by far the largest coalition partner it has only about 40% of the power while TDP and JDU have 21% and 13% respectively. Thus, the support of these two parties is crucial for the survival of the government.

The allocation of portfolios in the government has been announced and unlike the earlier anticipation, all the significant cabinet positions have gone to the BJP. Minor ministries have been allocated to the partners: TDP the portfolio of Ministry of Civil Aviation and JDU the Ministry of Panchayati Raj (village governance), Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying.

The return to coalitional politics after 10 years is a reassertion of the democracy in India. It should check some of the more muscular aspects of its foreign policy . Examples include alleged plots to assassinate US and Canadian citizens viewed as dissidents by India in their own countries, and abstaining from condemning Russia for the invasion of Ukraine. However, its strategic significance and importance will remain unchanged. On the economic front, policy mistakes such as the demonetisation should be avoided and a move to a more broad-based growth process. Not only is there a challenge from opposition and coalition partners but also a rare rebuke from the mother organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) of which the BJP is the political face. Whether there will be a stable coalition government remains to be seen.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Birmingham.

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