Every coalition government, especially if it was a post election alliance, has its fair share of political drama, frequent controversies and periodic convulsions. The Congress- JDS coalition headed by Kumaaraswamy in Karnataka is no exception.
The latest has been the war of words between the Chief Minister and his Congress predecessor on the new coalition government presenting a full fledged budget. While the Chief Minister is very keen on presenting a new budget, especially to give expression to some of his parties electoral promises, he has cleverly side stepped the state leadership of the Congress and secured the consent of the Congress President for the same.
The state leadership of the Congress continues to raise questions on the need for a separate budget especially when the previous was endorsed by the Assembly and the ruling party then is a key partner. The controversy merits detailed scrutiny in the light of many claims and counter claims made by the different political actors in the unfolding drama.
In the recent past, it has become politically prudent and increasingly fashionable for governments voted to power after an election to formulate a new budget and present the same to the Assembly even if the previous government had got the budget for the current financial year already approved by the outgoing legislative assembly.
Many governments that were reaching the end of their term often preferred to present an interim budget leaving the government that would assume power after the elections the freedom to present a full fledged budget. Thus going by this precedent, Chief Minister Kumaraswamy my be well within his right to want to present a full fledged budget. Yet a few caveats need to be added.
Firstly, one would need to seriously consider the argument being made by the Chief Minister that the previous budget was approved by an Assembly of which over 100 members were defeated/not re-elected and the new House consists of at least 100 new members. Thus, he has asserted that his government must present a new budget to reflect the aspirations of the newly constituted legislative assembly. If this argument were to be valid, serious question marks would be raised on the whole question of continuity and stability on governance.
Using the same logic, every new Assembly could make the claim that all decision in the past must be reviewed only on the express ground that the composition of the House has undergone change. Thus, the very foundations of democratic governance are being challenged. While there is merit in the argument of review of a previous governments policies, priorities and programmes on the ground that the philosophical focus and thrust is different or there are patently visible anomalies or controversies surrounding certain previous decisions, a blanket review simply because of the changed composition of the legislature would indeed be sending a wrong message.
Secondly, in a coalition government, the basis of governance and policy making is a Common Programme of Action (one is consciously not using the word Minimum Programme as that indicates a minimalist approach to what needs to be done) arrived at between the partners in government.
More recently, Germany saw the formation of a new coalition taking several months as the alliance partners had to agree first on an agenda for the new government. Would it be prudent to present a budget prior to the formal declaration of such an Agenda for Governance as outlined by the coalition partners. This Agenda should verily form the basis of the budget priorities. In the absence of such a formal document, the presentation of the budget would be like placing the cart before the horse.
It is now clear why the Chief Minister was keen that his party retains the Finance portfolio. In past coalitions (including the previous Congress-JDS coalition headed by Dharam Singh) the Finance portfolio has often gone to the other party in the coalition from which the Chief Minister does not hail. It also the question as to whether an important policy statement like the budget should reflect the collective will of the Council of Ministers or have the selective imprint of the Minister heading the Finance portfolio. Especially in coalition governments, the strength of the government lies in taking all segments along rather than working in splendid isolation.
(Dr Sandeep Shastri is a leading political scientist and Pro Vice Chancellor, Jain University)
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