Sociology of India’s coalition politics

Elections in India are like wars where you can’t afford to loose even a single battle. In American politics while there are obvious connections between economics and politics, In India the connections are more lopsided towards social factors.

Ruchir Sharma while quoting one of the MLA writes – winning elections in India is like fighting a battery of six tests with a minimum passing mark on each. You can’t rely on just one factor — if you don’t do enough welfarism, you will lose; you have to get the caste arithmetic and religious politics right; or some huge allegation of corruption hits you.

Thus having a perfect alliance that can sail through the required sociological mix of time becomes keystone to victory in India. Coalition politics in India can be tracked back to pre-independence days. Congress  itself was a social and political coalition voicing the voice of many within one umbrella organization. In this article lets glance through the sociological lens of coalition politics, while we let prime time debates take care of the political proliferation attached to it.

The Social Psychological Approach to Coalition in India

Coalition in India has largely been driven on the lines of minimum resource theory or minimum power theory– where each actor might have minimal resources at stake, coming together it becomes sufficient to win. For instance Shivsena and BJP have a history of successful coalition in Maharashtra based on minimum resource theory as the come together and negotiate for a winning formula.

Another approach that has held sufficient expression in India coalition is Anti competition theory. It believes that attitudes about competition and bargaining, personality differences and other factors may lead the players to form coalitions larger than minimum size. It holds that coalitions will be formed along the lines of least resistance, i.e. between those partners for whom exists the most obvious and unambiguous solution to the problem of dividing the relative share of the pay off. For instance Congress forged UPA alliance in 2004 based on a common minimum program (line of least resistance) to hit the bull’s eye.

However the current Mahagathbandhan fails to fit in these sociological approaches to coalition. There is no defined line of minimum resistance yet. Moreover they fail to meet the conjecture of pooling minimum resources as coalition within coalitions are being formed which shows lack of any game theory based resource optimization principle. AAP holds rising hand of Congress in National exhibition of togetherness in West Bengal, yet it fails to form an alliance in Delhi. Despite supporting Congress’s stand, SP and BSP are not with Congress in Uttar Pradesh. Mahagathbandhan is rather a random choice coalition – where parties are coming together sharing their expression to oppose the incumbent yet they fail to find a suitable table of negotiation to forge concrete coalition. Thus the right question to ask here is what exactly explains the making of Mahagathbandhan ?

The making of Mahagathbandhan 

Weber while defining ideal type of authority, did put authentic regard to charisma. Charismatic authority has remained since ages the central theme of electoral politics in India.Coalition can be an outcome of charisma as well as lack of charisma. For instance it was Charisma of Jay Prakash Narayan post emergency or Bajpayee in the recent past that was able to forge a political coalition despite the objective ideological differences. On the other hand, today it is the lack of Charismatic Authority in the opposition that is one of the core essential which has brought leaders across the party come together. Thus Charismatic leaders of past having lost their essence, have come together randomly.

The making of Mahagathbandhan can also be explained as an outcome of consensus failure among the consensually united elites. If we rely upon the political sociology of elite theory as propounded by Pareto or C Write Mills – Political powers remain contained and are shared among elites ( lions replacing foxes- one type of elite replacing other type). One type of elite replace other type based on unsaid consensus which define the timing of replacement. For instance the ever bright economics of 2009 ensured that there was an unsaid consensus built among elites for UPA I to continue as UPA II. The old consensus was replaced by a new consensus in 2014 forging ways for NDA. As a matter of  fact it resembles that the unsaid consensus is favoring the incumbent elites to continue. Thus the Elites out of power in their pursuance to displace elites in power before their actual time has come, are breaking the unsaid consensus of ground reality.

In such a scenario, coalition becomes most effective means to displace the power elites before their actual time has come in a FPTP system where one just need to clinch 30% of vote share. Coalition is a mechanism through which caste,class, religious cleavages, regional or territorial based identities are put in a cohesive framework even in the absence of shared ideologies. And if forged rightly with calculated optimization, coalition has potential to replace the incumbent elites before their actual time has come. However Mahagathbandhan is yet to strike such a balance. Having said that, we also need to deliberate upon the functional perspective of coalition.

Is coalition politics functional for India ? 

The functionality of coalition rests on a very basic argument -i.e whether coalition is merely an arithmetic ploy or there exist some chemistry also. If a coalition is able to strike the sense of chemistry, it surely becomes a flag bearer of multiplicity and inclusiveness. It could substantiate and strengthen the social harmony. It can diffuse the polar lines of socio- religious cleavages and eradicate the rivalries. But for all these we need a condensed chemistry out of sublimed mathematics.

While it is too early to comment on the mathematics of Mahagathbandhan, it surely fails to find its chemistry right. The only dysfunctional chemistry it has forged is the consensus for  ANYTHING BUT MODI – which in itself is not a consensus at all. Thus it has miles to go to be able to project itself as harbinger of social harmony and social justice, defeating communal and divisive forces.


Until next time,


n.b this blog also appeared here Hashtag Social

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