B S Raghavan

Coalition dharma vs Constitutional dharma

B. S. Raghavan | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on March 15, 2012

On collision course.

The UPA finds itself in an incredible mess with the supremo, Ms Mamata Banerjee, of one of its constituents, the Trinamool Congress, peremptorily demanding the sacking of Mr Dinesh Trivedi, her nominee for the post of Railway Minister, within hours of presenting his Ministry's Budget.

By the time this column appears, she would have had her way, with the enormous clout she enjoys politically and numerically.

Mr Trivedi's unforgivable sin, in her eyes, was that he had proposed some modest increases in the passenger fares to bring down the operating ratio and to generate resources for implementing safety measures, network expansion and modernisation.

As one of her loyalists put it, any hike in any kind of levy runs counter to the DNA of the party and simply non est.

The Railway Budget is thus still born, with Mr Trivedi's successor, Mr Mukul Roy, having to go back to the drawing board and redo the sums again.

In the process, the third largest railroad network in the world, spread over some 64,000 km, with 12,000 passenger and 7,000 freight trains each day from as many as 7,083 stations to ferry 23 million travellers and 2.65 million tonnes of goods daily, will be thrown into a state of uncertainty and confusion.


Looking at how unconcerned politicians are about the tremendous harm they cause to the nation by their nasty antics, one is only reminded of the graphic description of the situation in another context by Winston Churchill: Idiot children are playing with match sticks. There is an equally expressive usage in Tamil referring to the heart-rending condition of a beautiful garland in the hands of a troop of monkeys.

The larger issue arising out of the imbroglio has to do with the lack of clarity about the manner in which persons nominated as Ministers in coalition cabinets by their respective parties should conduct themselves.

For instance, in discharging their duties, should they regard as paramount their allegiance to the party and their obligation to work for its advancement or should they keep the interest of the nation, the government and their allotted portfolio as a whole, in that order, always in the forefront?

In short, are they mere agents or full-fledged delegates?

The answer has been provided by the spirited and categorical address to his voters by Edmund Burke on November 3, 1774:

“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion….his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living…Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole.

“You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament.”


In the case of Ministers in India, they take an oath under the Constitution, requiring them to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution and do right to all manner of people without fear or favour, affection or ill will. Thus, once they are appointed, they take on the role of members of the Government with collective responsibility to the legislature. It will be wrong of them, indeed it will be violation of their oath, if they allow themselves to be pushed around by narrow party compulsions.

In fact, even the prescriptive right given to various party leaders in the coalition to specify the portfolios and Ministers of their choice goes against the letter and spirit of the Constitution under which the right belongs to the Prime Minister and him alone. At best, the party leaders could give him a panel which he could take into consideration while making his decision which should be deemed binding.

It is high time the coalition dharma was brought in conformity with the higher dharma of the Constitution.

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Published on March 15, 2012
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