Problems Of Administration In Coalition Regimes – Paper II

Problems Of Administration In Coalition Regimes

India’s Parliamentary system is based on the British model which is primarily suited to a two-party system. This model has failed to deal with the situation created by the multiplicity of political groups. Consequently, there have been hung legislatures at the Union and the State level. This has led to an era of ‘coalitions’ where many groups come together to join hands on a common platform by sinking their broad differences and form a majority in the House. Such a combination leads to a hybrid’ which exhibits unique characteristics. Read on to know about challenges in administration, coalition government advantages and disadvantages, and problems of administration in coalition regimes.

What are the important questions raised by the coalitional politics of India to the behaviour of the Indian bureaucracy?

Bureaucracy in a democracy is exposed to three kinds of political activities :

a) Bureaucrats have their political views and opinions, and informally discuss political issues, parties, and personalities among peer groups,

b) Intrabureaucratic politics revolves around promotions, transfers, and other advantages. Factions in bureaucracy try to get support from political leaders, and in the process develop political alignments.

c) Bureaucrats are involved in all important governmental decisions, and all important decisions are political decisions. Ministers want decisions in party interest. Civil servants are asked to evolve policies and programs which may bring to the party and more support to the party members.

The bureaucracy is not immune from politics and political pressures. How are they going to behave during the period of the political instability of heterogeneous coalition cabinets? How are they going to function in the climate of inter-party conflicts of the coalition partners? If political leaders are busy with questions concerning their survival who will provide the administrative leadership? Will civil servants be acting on their own? When parties are weak, divided, getting fragmented, who will articulate public demands and interests? Will bureaucracy do the work of the articulation of interests and the resolving of public conflicts? Political parties act as channels of communication between the public and bureaucracy, but when they are engaged in the politics of cabinet-forming and cabinet-toppling (as happened from 1967 to 1969 in some of the states), how will they act as the link between the people and the bureaucracy? Will weak cabinets lead to powerful bureaucracy in India? If so, in what direction and for what purposes will power be exercised by the bureaucracy?

The whole mechanism of parliamentary control over bureaucracy depends on the strength of the party system in the country. The mechanism of parliamentary control as devised in India will not achieve its objectives if the bureaucracy is immune from cabinet control. Parliamentary control over bureaucracy is dependent on the minister’s control over his department. But a minister whose political future is uncertain, who is not sure about tomorrow, can hardly be the instrument for controlling bureaucracy.

Control Over Bureaucracy

Control over bureaucracy in a democracy means that the people’s wishes be respected as expressed through the representatives of the people,

For proper control over the bureaucracy, a well-organized and well-developed party system is essential. Otherwise, India should be prepared for arbitrary rule of bureaucracy or status quo behaviour of bureaucracy. In the absence of an effective party government, bureaucracy can seize the initiative and exercise effective power in the country. Or in the absence of political leadership, bureaucracy also starts playing safe and exercising the cautious role of implementing rules and procedures. Politics and parties have a direct impact on the working of bureaucracy in the country. That a weak and fragmented party system is dysfunctional to the political system goes without saying.

The authority of the minister over his department does not rest solely on the legal or constitutional system of the country. He derives his authority from his political position. If a Prime Minister is very strong, politically the unquestioned leader of his party, and gives full support to his colleagues

in the cabinet, his ministerial control over the civil service can prove effective. Thus, the first prerequisite for the effective political control of bureaucracy is the political strength of the leader or head of government. If the Prime Minister is the leader of an uneasy. a coalition of diverse and antagonistic parties, he may not be able to provide strong and effective leadership, and the result of such a situation may be a weakening of political control over the bureaucracy. A Prime Minister of a coalition of parties may have to spend more time settling inter-party disputes. If a Prime Minister is. unsure about his maintenance of power, and is struggling for survival, he cannot provide effective leadership to public administration. A camel may have a weak Prime Minister but some strong and able ministers. It is also possible that a strong Prime Minister may have certain weaklings in his cabinet.

Our concern is what the ultimate political system, in a parliamentary democratic system of cabinet government, is congenial to the exercise of effective political control over the bureaucracy. Further, a minister’s capacity to be effective vis-a-vis bureaucracy depends upon his relationship with the Prime Minister and his position in the party. If a minister has a strong base in the party, and if he enjoys full confidence in them on he has the requisite political strength to deal with bureaucracy. No doubt, a minister’s abilities are a very important factor in his dealings with the civil service, but his abilities alone will not cut much ice if he lacks political strength. In the department civil servants are aware of their minister’s standing in the party, and his relationship with the Prime Minister. If a minister is a political non-entity, his abilities may not prove a great enough asset to him in his dealing with the civil service. Civil servants in a department realize that a politically strong minister can be excellent protection against hostile criticism, and can also help them in “climbing up.” Civil servants are always manoeuvring for jobs in an important. ministry, and with an important minister. To sum up, a minister’s control over the bureaucracy is dependent upon his political strength, which in itself depends on the strength of the party system in a democratic country.

Impact of the Fourth General Elections 1967

The Fourth General elections of 1967 shattered the twenty years’ monopoly of power enjoyed by the Congress Party. At the same time, the Indian voters did not give any clear verdict in favour of any viable national alternative to the Congress Party rule. Due to the absence of any such alternative, all sorts of alliances and coalitions were forged by the opposition parties to replace the Congress Party for forming governments in the various states of India. These coalition governments which emerged on the Indian scene as an alternative to the Congress Party rule were short-lived. Personal antagonisms of the coalition leaders, programmatic contradictions and conflicts, lack of experience to manage in a responsible manner affair of the government (a task to which they were new), and individual party ambitions led to serious clashes and conflicts among the coalition partners resulting in the dissolution of legislatures and holding of new elections in Bihar, West Bengal, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. Even after these “mini general elections of 1969,” the political situation remained as confused as at the time of the general elections of 1967. In some of these States, again, the voters gave no verdict either in favour of the Congress or in favour of any other political party. Again much time was spent in for going coalitions that experienced the same stresses and strains as their short-lived predecessors. Besides this, the inter-party tensions and conflicts among coalition partners became so acute that in Kerala in 1969 some of the coalition partners withdrew their support and formed an alternative government without the Communist Party of India (Marxist) which was a major partner in the coalition. In less than a year of the working of West Bengal Coalition government, the Chief Minister of the State, Ajoy Mukherjee, went on a fast against his government whom he described as “barbarous and indecent.” Moreover, the CPI (M), a member of the West-Bengal coalition government, took the stand that the Chief Minister of a coalition government is not first among equals; he is equal among equals, and he has no supervisory role in the functioning of other government departments. Its meaning is that in a coalition government all partners are equals running of a department is the responsibility of the minister concerned, and the Chief Minister has no right to interfere in the internal matters of a department. Thus, rivals in politics found it difficult to arrive at a working relationship to run a coalition government.

While inter-party rivalries led to drift and directionlessness in the coalition governments in the various States, intra-party rivalries led to disintegration and fragmentation of the political parties in the country. Groups and factions within a party raised banners of revolt against either the leadership or the party policies and announced the formation of a separate party. All canons of party organization were thrown to the wind by the factions in the Congress Party, the Communist parties, and the Samyukta Socialist Party. The impact of the erosion of party discipline was felt not only in the States but also at the centre where the Congress Party government was reduced from a majority to a minority government in 1969 when its 62 members of the Lower House walked out of it.

Thus, disintegration and proliferation of parties have made all Indian political parties regional, resulting in a coalition as a model of government both at the centre and in the States (some States being exceptions to this rule for the present). Since all political parties have a regional base (or character), and also since some purely regional parties are emerging very powerful like the DMK, Akali Dal, and the Telugu Desam the central cabinet will always be a coalition • cabinet for quite some time to come. Another important facet of the emerging political pattern of India is that the coalition at the centre will have to depend either on the extreme left or on the extreme rightist parties. In a conflict-ridden society, where consensus on fundamentals is absent, centrist parties will be challenged by extremist political parties. With extremist parties playing quite an important role in Indian politics, the coalition governments will always be under stress and strain. Any compromise arrived at by the “Coalition cabinets” will be challenged and may disintegrate the coalition. An alternative to a coalition government can be a minority party government. In our model, it hardly makes a difference. A one-party majority government can face public pressures-both of the extreme left and right better than coalition or minority governments. Thus, coalition governments in India will be unstable and short-lived. This can be surmised based on experiments with coalitions at the State and Central levels in India. Worst than this will be the situation where coalition governments may seek survival in maintaining the status quo. India needs not only stable governments but strong governments with programs of social and economic development of the country. If the poverty of centuries has to be wiped out, modernization and industrialization of the country have to be accelerated, the need is for socially conscious cabinets and not of status quo cabinets. Will it be possible to get such governments in a coalition system? If the coalition experiment in the Indian States is any guide, the coalition partners were so busy in manoeuvring individual party interests that the survival of such governments always remained a question mark. And when coalitions collapsed under the weight of their contradictions and rivalries, no one was surprised. If this drama of instability is repeated at the centre, if the Prime Minister is relegated to the position of “equal among equals,” if parties are busy in manoeuvring to keep themselves in power or to dislodge the coalition from power, India enters into an era of weak central governments.

The Indian democratic system depends on the effective leadership of the Prime Minister, but coalition governments may be leaderless governments. In our system we expect the minister to provide leadership to his department and exercise effective control over the bureaucracy. But can a minister, who is not sure how long he will remain in the cabinet, exercise effective control over the bureaucracy? Parliament, the public and the Press look to the minister for providing policy initiatives to his department, for ensuring that the policies are being rightly implemented, for correcting the erring civil servants and ensuring clean administration to the country. If coalition cabinets are busy manoeuvring their survival, where is the time for the minister to guide them. direct and control his department or bureaucracy? There are numerous illustrations at the State level to prove the contention that when the survival of the cabinet is not assured, ministers have to get involved more in party issues than in supervising their departments.

Bureaucracy In A Situation Of Cabinet Instability

The question is what happens to the bureaucracy in a situation of cabinet instability, Does bureaucracy exercise more powers in the cloak of ministerial responsibility? Is bureaucracy happy with such a situation? Ministers have less time now to interfere in departmental affairs, which are left to the bureaucracy to look after. Is it a healthy situation where the minister signs on the dotted line and accepts the policy advice of the civil servants? Bureaucracy as a group may be happy with such a political situation. Their power is bound to increase in the absence of effective checks by the minister. But from the point of view of a democratic political system, it is unfortunate that bureaucracy is allowed to make decisions with the minister’s merest formal approval. The form of democracy will be maintained but not its substance or spirit. The substance or spirit of a democratic government is that the supremacy of the minister in the real sense of the word should be maintained in decision-making. The minister should take full staff advice, but ultimately he should himself take the decision. Experts have to play an important role in administrative decision-making. All policy-making in administration needs active advice and collaboration of the civil service. But a minister has a final and real power of veto. Will he be exercising this real veto over his departmental advice when he is busy in inter-party fights in a coalition cabinet? India is going to face a very serious situation in the years to come, and it is worthwhile to examine the postulates underlying the minister-civil service relationship in the context of the changing political SCC country. It needs no assertion that bureaucracy should be under democratic control. Coalition cabinets may not be able to provide effective control over the bureaucracy. Hence, some alternative institutional arrangements have to be made to keep a proper balance of relationship of power between the minister and the bureaucracy.

Scope Of Coalition Administration

Keeping in mind that India is going to enter the phase of the coalition and unstable cabinets both at the Centre and in the States, a few suggestions are being advanced to keep the administration efficient and properly accountable. It must be said at the outset that at all the assumptions which underlie that Indian bureaucracy is false; or at best, they are a priori beliefs and not validated facts. In India, the myth of the infallibility of the generalist’ civil service has been unmistakably exploded many a time, but no action has been taken to reorganize the bureaucratic structure. In the Life Insurance Corporation Inquiry, both Justice Chagla and Vivian Bose Boards observed in unambiguous language that G.R. Kamat, ICS, failed to perform proper functions of the Chairman of the Life Insurance Corporation because he was new to the job and had no experience of the ways of the functioning of the stock exchange market. The basic issue is not of one ICS but the whole elite class of the higher civil service. They are not competent to manage complex economic, commercial, industrial and banking institutions owned and controlled by the State in India. Specially trained personnel, and not the generalist IAS, are needed to manage the complex activities undertaken by the modern globalised market economy.

Behind the supremacy of the generalist is the assumption of the anonymity and neutrality of the civil service in India. In a democracy, bureaucracy is neither neutral nor anonymous. Every articulate citizen knows who is the decision-maker. Mundhra’s representative in Delhi, Sodhani, was in continuous contact with H.M. Patel. Mundhra was writing letters to Patel. He was meeting Patel with requests for favours. All industrial houses have their contact men in Delhi who frequently meet the appropriate and concerned civil servants. The powers that be are well-known. Hundreds and thousands of civil servants in the Secretariats and field offices are issuing licenses, approving contracts and giving orders on crucial public issues. Are they anonymous

As far as neutrality of the civil service is concerned, it may be possible in a ‘consensus-based society like that of Britain where agreement on fundamentals exists and clashes and conflicts of interest are resolved within the system. In a conflict-ridden society, where forces of the extreme right and extreme left are trying to pull their weight to demolish the system, how can one believe that highly educated civil servants are neutral and will service every political party faithfully, fairly, and impartially?

Check out public administration notes in detail.

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