Fifty years ago, on November 1, 1969 Communist Party of India (CPI) leader C Achutha Menon took over as Chief Minister of Kerala, leading a ramshackle coalition of a few political parties which did not enjoy majority support in the state legislature. It was an experiment that was predicted to be doomed, but eventually it turned out to be a political miracle. Despite the prophecies of doomsayers, Achutha Menon government went on to complete its full term for the first time for an administration in the state and then went on to win reelection, something which no other government has been able to pull off either before or after it.
The Achutha Menon government came out of sheer desperation on the part of the people and the political parties that took up the experiment. The incumbent chief minister was not even a member of the State legislature at the time of his oath-taking as Achutha Menon was serving as a Rajya Sabha member when he was persuaded to take over in Kerala by the coalition of a few minor parties following the collapse of the seven-party coalition government led by Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader EMS Namboodiripad which took power in 1967.
Looking back, it is now safe to conclude that the success of Achutha Menon lay in his ability to take the right lessons from the collapse of the predecessor government owing to its own internal squabbles. The most important lesson here has since come to be known as ‘coalition dharma’, or the best practices that would help sustain a coalition of parties with different agendas, interests and objectives. These lessons and the experiences generated by the Achutha Menon government later became the yardstick for successful coalition building not only at the state level but even elsewhere.