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HVK Archives: Needed: Marriage Counselors, Not Common Programmes

Needed: Marriage Counselors, Not Common Programmes - The Observer

Arun Shouries ()
March 13, 1998

Title: Needed: Marriage Counselors, Not Common Programmes
Author: Arun Shouries
Publication: The Observer
Date: March 13, 1998

Thirty years of our experience shows that no coalition government
has fallen apart because of disagreements over any issue or
policy. Quite the contrary: Issues have been fabricated to push
partners into a corner, it is in the resulting pushing and
shoving that the government has fallen - another pedestrian
killed in the ,collision of two buses. And Yet the myth, our
common Minimum programme...

The coalition which will work is not one that has a 'Programme'
but one whose members observe some elementary rule of personal
conduct. obvious ones.

Rule 1: Do not talk to each other through the press. portfolios
must be allocated in consultation with allies,' declares one
Partner during a TV discussion as certain a way to get the other
partner's back up as distributing those ministries without taking
counsel with allies. The rule is even more necessary today: TV
seals one's remarks, it conveys them far and wide, it does so

There is a lemma to this rule: No member anywhere down the should
talk to or at a partner through the media. In Delhi the Party
high command of the BJP, of the Congress, say - is trying to
Persuade Chandrababu Naidu: but in Hyderabad, the local leaders
Of the party are still full of the spirited campaign they have
just waged against him, and so they declare, 'We do not need, we
will never seek, we will never accept the help of the TDP the
consequences are immediate.

The same lemma holds for sundry spokesmen of the party in
Delhi: TV channels grab whoever they can get: to convince the
viewer that what they are showing him is significant, they
project this anybody as a heavy- weight of the party. Even when
this nobody is expressing no more than his personal opinion or
guess, it is ascribed by his interviewer, even before the
viewer does so to the party. The consequences are swift.

Rule 2: Desist from making policy declarations unilaterally, and
before they have been decided by the partners as a collective.
Even if the matter is strictly within one's jurisdiction,
policies are best announced in the name of government after
collective decisions have been taken on the subjects.

What is to be done next in regard to iberalisation for
instance, impinges on so many ministries that, were a minister to
tomorrow declare what the next step is going to be, he would
without doubt be treading on the does of several colleagues.

Rule 3 On the other hand, if the other Person does make a
declaration, even a move, do not jump to conclusions about his
motives, even less so about his character.

Don't build a Doomsday forecast On it, If I give in on this,
next he will..... Weigh the statement perse, and deal with that.

Before you react, check with him what exactly he has said. Give
your reaction to him directly, in private. And before you do so,
think of three motives other than the one that struck You first
which might explain why he has said or done what he has.

Similarly, if some development occurs the students' wing of his
party is growing faster, the trade union affiliated to his party
is doing so do not infer some malevolent Conspiracy to over
whelm, your Party's student wing. Improve the functioning of
the latter.

Rule 4: Never but never talk of, or even think of some partners
being the senior and others
the junior partners in the coalition. Recall the TV discussions
about whether BJP rode piggy-back on its awes, or the aides
gained more.

The fact is that alliances are not additive, they are
multiplicative functions: If either is zero, the result is
zero, if the contribution of either is less than one, the result
is lower than it would have been had one of the partners gone by

The media will by its very nature exert to draw you into claiming
more, and then rush to the partner,

'X, General Secretary of Party Y, says that it is Y which
accounts for the success. What is your reaction?'

The only safe position is to internalise the truth that each
partner is equal and indispensable.

Rule 5: Beware of, expose, eliminate tale carriers from your
circle. This is an Indian affliction. The way a person
ingratiates himself with a leader is by feeding him, Do you know,
X was saying that you am completely in the grip of .... ? Sir,
right there in front of everyone he was talking of that plot
which you acquired..... He thereby seeks to insinuate his
loyalty, 'See, I am ever watchful of your interests.'

There are two rules in regard to these tale-carriers. First,
never react, even in private, to what he is saying: What you say
in return is certain to be carried back to the Other Person
distorted, exaggerated, often by the same fellow: instead shut
him up, decisively, in front of everyone. shut off his access to

Second when he 'reports' to you that X is saying this, that about
you, ring X up right there and then, right in front of the
carrier: I have Y sitting here with me. he says, you are saying
.... about me: is that so? Three, four such instances, and you
can be sure that you will be rid forever of these bugs.

Rule 6: Do not get into academic discussions. Recall the
question which was put to L K Advani during the campaign: 'Will
you serve as Deputy Prime Minister in a government led by
Vajpayee?' Supposing he answers, 'Yes', someone is sure to
headline the story the next day, 'Advani stakes claim to Deputy
Prime Ministership'. Supposing he says, 'No,' someone is sure to
announce, 'Advani refuses to serve as Deputy Prime Minister under

The other type of discussion into which many will always attempt
to drug coalition partners is exemplified by the three items made
famous by repetition: Article 370, the Common Civil Code, and the
Ram Mandir.

Now, it is obvious that given the configuration of seats in the
two Houses, no one can do much about any of these items. But
media will not let go: There are many in it who are so committed
to 'secularism' that they cannot let a press conference pass
without rubbing the BJP leaders on these matters: And the next
day's stories are predictable if the BJP spokesman repeats the
standard party formulation, the headline, 'BJP back to Ram
Mandir:' if he does not, 'BJP dilutes stand for power.

Often, there is a sub-conscious anxiety: To affirm to oneself
even more than to others that one carries weight Whatever the
impulse, what is no more than an academic matter is made into yet
another live question on which differences are aired. Therefore,
stick to the task at hand.

And as to 'the task at hand', there is Rule 7: Do not waste time
on symbolic gestures. How much time and energy have been spent,
how much din has been created in giving a new name to a city
here, a university there, in changing a few passages in a
textbook. There is a difficulty, of course: These issues, are
ones around which campaigns have been launched in the past,

several persons in the fold have made them the mission of their
lives. Nor is it the case that the old names should be continued.

But, given the situation in which the country is Placed, such
goal are in the fifth order of smalls.

Moreover, when the is otherwise doing an such symbolic actions
add lustre to its standing, in a way they ripen automatically:
but when the government is performing indifferently, people
conclude that the government is diverting them with these
peripherals and neglecting their real needs.

These matters are, therefore, best left to others, they are best
deferred till the quality of governance has been established in
the people's minds through excellence in other areas Rule 8:
Never but never deal with any one outside the coalition except
with the fullest knowledge prior and post of partners in the

This is specially so in India where so many have walked out on so
many so many times that few trust another, and where so many are
around whose entire politics consists in fomenting suspicion
among colleagues.

Rule 9: The job at hand is to run an entire government, not to
meet the needs of individuals. We are a billion, each with a
pressing need. A bunch in government which spends its time
hearing their woes, and doing good to them will have no time for

The job is to create the conditions in which those individuals
can help themselves, it is to strengthen institutions and
processes by which their needs will be attended to by the system.

The member who spends his time assuaging the needs of individuals
will eventually bring the coalition a bad name - for the tasks
that ought to have been attended to will remain neglected, and,
all his effort notwithstanding, the individuals he would have
been able to help will be minuscule m relation to the total
population. Correspondingly, followers who crowd around their
particular leaders to get a job, a phone connection just as
surely doom the government as a whole. So, educate the

Rule 10: The coalition would have been formed by persons from
different groups coming together, but once it has been formed,
they must work as members of one team Rahim preeti sarahiye,
mile rang doon Jyon jardi hardi tajaye, tajaye safedi choon: the
love Rahim treasures the blender of two colours, the haldi
sheds its yellowness and lime its whiteness.

Rule 11: The most important rule: An partners must believe that,
far more important than which of them prevails over any
particular issue, is that the partnership endure.

And that whether it will do so is going to be depend on these
personal traits of the leading partners, on the way they conduct
themselves, and not on what has been written up in some 'Common

It is for this reason that our coalitions need marriage
counselors, cognitive therapists, management experts far more
than they need ideologues and drafters of programmes.

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