The current presidential election has blurred the distinction between the main political alliances in the country and raised questions over the integrity of existing coalitions.  Although one spoke of the death of ideology in a metaphorical sense when the era of bizarre political combinations began at the federal level in 1996, the strange bedfellows we see in the current presidential campaign should prompt us to declare the “sad demise” of ideology in a clinical sense as well.  
Here is a quick recap of some of the strange visuals and sound bites that this presidential campaign has thrown up over the last fortnight: Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, the nominee of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) addressing the media along with Mr.Bal Thackeray, with the latter majestically ensconced in his Singhasan. Needless to say that Mr.Thackeray’s Shiv Sena, which is a constituent of the National  Democratic Alliance (NDA), has been a sworn enemy of the Congress Party for decades because of  its denominational politics; Mr.Purno Sangma, a leader of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which is part of the UPA, breaks away from his party and announces his decision to give Mr.Mukherjee a fight and the NDA readily backs him; Ms.Agatha Sangma, a minister in the UPA government, publicly campaigning for her father, while still in the government which has made Mr.Mukherjee its nominee in the poll; the Left Front stands hopelessly divided with two of its constituents backing the UPA nominee and the other two choosing to stay away; the Janata Dal (United), a key constituent of the NDA, remains in the alliance but announces its support for Mr.Mukherjee; and finally, Ms.Mamata Banerjee, a key constituent of the UPA, who was hobnobbing with non-UPA parties to put up a presidential candidate of her choice, continues to keep everyone guessing on what she will do on election day.      
Things cannot get more bizarre than this. The election of the President is no small event.
If the Shiv Sena and the Janata Dal (U) break ranks with other constituents of the NDA  on an occasion such as this, the NDA as we knew it until now, only exists in name. The attitude of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party is equally intriguing. Though sworn enemies in Uttar Pradesh, they are vying with each other to display their loyalty to the UPA in this campaign. The less said about the Trinamool Congress, the better. Although a part of the UPA, the party has not made one statement until now that will give solace to Mr.Mukherjee. It is also keeping the UPA guessing on what stand it will take on the vice-presidential election as well.   
These developments show that the two main coalitions have become so fragile that they are unable to keep their flock together on an issue as important as the election of the President. If one were to extrapolate these developments to events beyond 2014, it would appear that even a modicum of stability will become difficult at the federal level after the next Lok Sabha election, which could see a further weakening of the two main national parties.  It is therefore imperative to address the issue of protecting the integrity of coalitions before it is too late. This may call for some legal measures, including possibly an amendment to the anti-defection law,  that is the Tenth Schedule in the Constitution. For starters, one could consider the report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (Second ARC), which examined the problem of political   defections and came up with some far-reaching recommendations.
After examining the anti-defection law, which came onto the statute books in 1986 and the amendments made via the 91 Amendment in 2004, the commission said that it was no longer enough to merely prevent defections of individuals from political parties. Initially, the anti-defection law prohibited the “retail trade” of MPs and MLAs, but it permitted party splits provided the break-away group constituted one-third of the legislature party. But, this did not stop defections because every political party in need of extra support in legislatures began splitting rival parties and encouraging wholesale defections. Parliament plugged this loophole with the passage of the Constitution (91 Amendment).  This amendment prohibited party splits and prevented defectors from being rewarded with ministerial berths or other remunerative political posts.
However, now the law needs to catch up with a new situation – defection of political parties from established coalitions. Since the country had entered the coalition era, there is need to protect the integrity of coalitions if we want stable governments. The Second ARC has said that ethics of coalition government takes a beating when parties do not adhere to the coalition dharma. If political parties are primarily driven by opportunism and craving for power “in utter disregard of the common minimum programme and desert the coalition mid-stream, coalition governments become seriously strained”. The commission has therefore said that the opportunistic redrawing of coalitions between elections should be legally prohibited. This prohibition can be imposed through a constitution amendment which says that “if one or more parties in a coalition with a common programme mandated by the electorate either explicitly before the elections or implicitly while forming the government, realign midstream with one or more parties outside the coalition, then members of that party or parties shall have to seek a fresh mandate from the electorate”. This proposal takes the anti-defection law further because it takes into account the problem of mid-stream instability of coalitions when a coalition partner decides to switch sides.
Seen in the context of the confusing alliances that are emerging in the current presidential election, threatening the integrity of all the major coalitions, these suggestions are worthy of consideration. If such a law were to exist today,  it would not be possible for the Shiv Sena or the JD(U) to leave the NDA in the lurch at this juncture, nor could Ms.Mamata Banerjee practice per politics of volatility and perpetually hang the sword of Damocles on the Prime Minister’s head. Such a law would ensure a minimum tenure of five years for all political marriages and ensure stable governments even in the age of coalitions.    
The Second ARC Report also merits immediate attention because of the continued splintering of the polity and the steady decline of the national parties. If the people elect more and more parties, coalition-hopping could become the norm, leading to a permanent crisis of governability . The prime minister of the day will be subject to political blackmail on a daily basis. Therefore, a law to protect the integrity of coalitions may be the need of the hour. This will also upgrade the law of defections and enable it to deal with the new problem of coalition-hopping.