Sunday, June 17, 2012

3 Years of UPA2 Government: Crucial Political, Economic Policies Remain in State of Drift

The Congress-led UPA2 (United Progressive Alliance) Government completed three inglorious years in office in May 2012. Given the fact that it has all but abandoned the governance of the country, constantly harangued by allies and put on the mat by the Opposition, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s regime must consider it a miracle that it is still in power. The past three years of the government have been marked by a complete paralysis in decision-making and an erosion of stature of the prime minister. Crucial political and economic policies have remained in a state of drift because there is no leadership at the top. As Prime Minister, Singh should have been directing the battle to revive the government, but he is found nowhere in the front. That is because he now leads the government only in name, and his Ministers and allies know it well.

The prime minister is in charge of neither the political agenda of the country nor its economic agenda. In other words, he is a lame-duck prime minister biding his time before he is ousted by the electorate or replaced by his party’s high command led by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Meanwhile, everyone in the UPA Government and outside is having fun at his cost. But the headless government’s continuance is not a matter of amusement for the country, which is paying a heavy price for Singh’s pusillanimity and inaction.

Political Front
On the political front, allies are regularly issuing threats and arm-twisting the government because the Congress as a party and Singh as the prime minister have failed to reach out to their partners or allay their apprehensions on several contentious issues. The growing lack of trust between the Congress and its partners in the UPA Government — not to mention the widening divide between the government and the Opposition — has led to key decisions being either kept on hold or rolled back. Many of these decisions which have become victims of the government’s incompetence relate to the economic well-being of the people and their security. 

No amount of chest-thumping by the UPA and its acolytes over its imagined achievements is going to change the reality that the Congress-led government has failed in every way that a government possibly can. Most importantly, the government has lost the people’s trust, which is clearly evident in the results of the recently held election to five States. UPA2 is on life-support — alive but not living.

Unattended Issues

However, as Congressmen across the board will tell you, there is no real sustained debate — or at any rate, any formal putting of heads together in party fora — on how to achieve all this. The big issues, freedom of expression versus community sentiments, market versus control, etc are never thrashed out to evolve a party view.
A senior party functionary pointed out that even the A.K. Antony Report, which analyzed the Congress' performance in recent Assembly elections to five States, including U.P., will be seen only by the Core Group (whose members include Singh, Sonia Gandhi, Pranab Mukherjee, P. Chidambaram, and A.K. Antony, and Sonia Gandhi's Political Secretary, Ahmed Patel) that meets once a week.
As for the Congress Working Committee (CWC), a more representative body, it seldom meets. It is little wonder then that the Congress is now a party where senior functionaries and ministers themselves scramble for information, where intrigue replaced any world view as ideology a long time ago, and ginger groups are a thing of the hoary past.

Optimism and Reality 

It was an acknowledgment that Dr. Singh had played a stellar role in the party's spectacular victory, drawing in support not just from middle class metropolitan living rooms but rural India as well: across Uttar Pradesh, I recall voters — cutting across caste and religious lines — saying they hoped the UPA, under Singh, would return to power and steer the country through the global economic meltdown.

But three years later, as the UPA readies itself to celebrate its eighth anniversary in power, the government and its Prime Minister have lost their sheen, swamped by a slew of financial scandals, the ham-handed response to the Anna Hazare campaign and rising prices. Congressmen, not Opposition leaders, are beginning to ask whether the Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh partnership has run out of steam, and whether this unique power-sharing arrangement has led to ambivalence on policy issues, crippling effective decision-making. Finally, they are even asking whether the government needs a new face to lead it to the general elections scheduled just two years away, in 2014.

Pranab Factor 

That face could have been Rahul Gandhi, the Congress yuvraj, but his own lack of enthusiasm for taking on the job at this stage, compounded by the party's disastrous showing in the recent Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh has ensured that he will not be taking over the reins, anytime soon. It could have been Sonia Gandhi, but she made it clear in 2004, when the position was hers, that she was not going to take it. It could also have been the party's troubleshooter, its one man brains trust, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. But most senior functionaries and ministers rule out that possibility even though a majority agrees that of those available and no Gandhi willing, he would be the popular choice in the party for Prime Minister.

Of course, the finance minister's name is currently in circulation for another job — that of the next President, and he is certainly emerging as the Opposition's popular choice for a consensus First Citizen.

NCERT Textbook Issue 

Neither is there any system in the party that can respond to the challenges of the times. The recent NCERT textbook controversy, a cabinet minister stresses, should have evoked a considered response from the party: “Textbooks,” he said, “play a key role in a democracy. The response to the objections to the Ambedkar cartoon should not have been left to the HRD ministry.” If there is no serious internal debate, the minister said, people in the party are unlikely to own decisions: the problem with allowing Foreign Direct Investment in retail, he said, is not the opposition of allies or other parties: “We ourselves haven't made up our minds, so we talk of evolving a consensus.”

Eliminating Terrorism
The Congress-led government should not demonstrate softness in approach toward terror attacks. Unfortunately, that is what the UPA has been showing all these years. Its leaders speak in different voices on the growing terrorism menace.

How long will the current state of affairs continue? After every major terrorist incident, the instinctive response of the government is to constitute a committee or form a new investigative body on top of the existing, inefficient anti-terror set-up. In the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, the government realized the need for a central investigating agency to combat terrorism. As a result, with the unanimous support of all political parties the National Investigation Agency (NIA) was created. However, this agency has proved ineffective in preventing terror attacks and tracking down terrorists in the country. The 2011 serial blasts in Mumbai followed by the Delhi High Court blasts and the German Bakery bombing in Pune the previous year could neither be prevented and nor were they properly investigated. The NIA was also accused of allegedly offering bribes to name RSS members in the Ajmer blasts case.

The UPA Government wants to create another anti-terror organization called the National Counter-Terrorism Centre. It is time the government realized that bad policing cannot be supplemented with more policing. The need of the hour is to improve coordination between investigative agencies and state governments, create a more comprehensive database of suspected terrorists and streamline the anti-terror operations, rather than encroach upon the powers of the States.

The current state of affairs makes it amply clear that these extremists have no concern for development and they intend to usurp power by first dominating the countryside and then moving toward the cities. And, hence, the soft approach being taken by the government makes India an even easier target. We cannot afford being the soft state that we are. Merely pumping funds into development is not the solution to the Maoist menace. Similarly, removing or diluting the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Jammu and Kashmir would severely hamper the capabilities and morale of the Army.

The country is in dire need of a more nuanced approach to dealing with issues of national security. Mere half-baked policies will not succeed. Our security will continue to be compromised so long as this UPA Government tries to politicize and pressure the stakeholders in the crucial decision-making process.

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