Making Coalition Politics A Viable Reality

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While India was still emerging from the era of single-party rule, Atal Bihari Vajpayee ushered in the age of coalition politics as Prime Minister, and succeeded while others failed. The 1998 Lok Sabha elections had transformed the BJP into a mainstream party.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee | Alamy
Atal Bihari Vajpayee | Alamy

After failing to secure allies, the first-ever BJP government headed by Vajpayee lasted only 13 days in 1996, but it managed to secure support from smaller parties in 1998. This helped him get a majority to form a coalition government in 1998.

Vajpayee became PM for the second time in March 1998. Due to his image as a moderate leader and his sidelining by L K Advani, who had led the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in Ayodhya, Vajpayee was finally accepted as their leader by the BJP.

After the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992, the BJP needed an image makeover. Reading the writing on the wall, Advani ceded the reigns to Vajpayee in 1995. More importantly, the BJP wanted to underplay and not give up its three most contentious agendas.

Vajpayee with Farooq Abdullah | The INS
Vajpayee with Farooq Abdullah | The INS

These were the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya; abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir; and the establishment of a Uniform Civil Code. But to win over allies, the party decided to put these issues on hold until it acquired a majority of its own.

PM Vajpayee, Defence Minister George Fernandes, and Dr APJ Abdul Kalam at Pokhran | National Herald
PM Vajpayee, Defence Minister George Fernandes, and Dr APJ Abdul Kalam at Pokhran | National Herald

The National Democratic Front was launched by Vajpayee, and within 2 months of his tenure, he stunned the world by conducting five underground nuclear tests in May 1998. These tests earned recognition for India as an emerging nuclear power in Asia.

AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa with Subramanian Swamy | Daily Yo
AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa with Subramanian Swamy | Daily Yo

However, his second stint as PM lasted only 13 months as the government fell in April 1998, when the AIADMK withdrew its support. In response, Vajpayee moved a confidence motion in the Lok Sabha. He lost the motion due to a single vote.

Vajpayee resigned in April 1998. His 13-month tenure is remembered for declaring India a nuclear weapons state, despite US sanctions, and successfully managing coalition politics, something his predecessors had failed at until then.

The Congress took inspiration from the NDA and formed the United Progressive Alliance in 2004, after removing BJP from power. Even though PM Narendra Modi won a majority in 2014 and 2019, the NDA continues to exist, proving that the coalition model is still relevant today.

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