Un-united, non-Progressive Alliance II

Finishing line The last lap of the Congress-led coalition govt could be a bigger challenge
Last Updated 18 May 2013, 18:39 IST

The United Progressive Alliance’s evening bash on May 22 is a eight-year-old legacy, marked by the release of a ‘report card’ each time. Coming Wednesday will see one such celebration at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Race Course residence, with the ever-probing media invited.

This time, however, there will be one major difference. Two senior alliance partners, DMK and Trinamool Congress, will not be represented on the dais unlike the past. Subjectively, the credibility of the scam-tainted ruling coalition is at an all-time low. A massively truncated UPA-II (which began its inning in 2009) is just a pale shadow of UPA-I (2004-09).
The exit of the two regional allies has been a crippling blow to UPA-II. This  massive moral and political setback has left the Congress-led coalition in an NDA-like situation. The BJP-led NDA, which ruled from 1999 to 2004, had attracted many allies, who later quit one by one, including J Jayalalitha of AIADMK, TDP, TMC, National Conference and DMK. Coming to UPA-II, six allies - TMC, TRC, DMK, VCK, MIM and JVM – have deserted it in the last four years  which could cost the Congress dear in coming Lok Sabha elections.

 Among the existing allies, the NCP, which partners the Congress-led government in Maharashtra too, has made it clear the alliance is only till 2014 or whenever the Lok Sabha elections are held. That leaves only Lalu Prasad of RJD as its  major ally, besides the National Conference while speculation is rife that Congress is keen to share bed with JD(U) in Bihar. Says a senior Congress leader: “Lalu is not an enthusiastic supporter. He is there because he has nowhere to go. He has helped Congress but Congress has not helped him.” All this balancing has rendered the UPA a pale shadow of itself. Desertion by friends is the single major difference between UPA-I and II. Having had the Left parties on its side, UPA-I enjoyed immense credibility. But the end of that tenure saw Left leaving in a huff over the India-US nuclear deal.

Weak leadership

UPA-I was generally free from scams or whipping by the Supreme Court (although many say it is the scams of the first term that are surfacing during UPA-II), unlike its second term which is any Opposition leader’s delight as the regime is tossed from one scam to another and crisis after crisis. Resignations by ministers, scam-tainted or otherwise, have been aplenty and difficult to count. Sale of 2G telecom spectrum, Commonwealth Games scandal and coal blocks allocation scam are among the biggest to hit the present regime which were either difficult to shrug off or to defend, with the Apex Court coming down heavily into the bargain. All these in addition to other swindlings such as the Adarsh housing scam in Mumbai. To make things worse, in two cases – 2G and coalgate – the buck stops at the Prime Minister’s door, raising several critical questions  on both the deals.    Rip-offs apart, there were other highly controversial decisions that the present government took. The PM, perhaps the only democratic government head who is media-shy, was the target of attack when S Jaipal Reddy, integrity personified, was removed from Petroleum and Natural Gas Ministry amid allegations that a petrochem giant was behind the axing.

Style of governance itself has come into question under UPA-II and the PM, credited with the third longest term after Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.                                                                The Anna Hazare movement against corruption, country-wide protests against the gang-rape of a 23-year-old student in a moving bus in capital Delhi, beheading of two Indian soldiers on the border by Pakistan, aggressive incursion by the Chinese, torture and subsequent death of Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh in a Pakistani jail, are but a few incidents which directly point to a weak PM, lacking in firm decisions when the country needed them most, and a leadership which could be counted. Nothing of the sort was forthcoming from the prime minister, ridiculed for his silence than praised for his actions, which has rendered him more of a liability than an asset that he was considered during UPA-I. Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati – two regional satraps of Uttar Pradesh – are, indeed, extending outside support but they are seen as being there more for their own good than UPA’s.

Sonia-PM rift

Resignations due to scams and impropriety have become the order of the day. From A Raja and Dayanidhi Maran (both post-2G) to Subodh Kant Sahay (coal block allocation), Pawan Kumar Bansal (bribery in railway appointments, though not directly) and Ashwani Kumar (interference in CBI report on coalgate), the exiting ministers have not just scarred the image of the government but also put it in repeated crises. This, and pulling out of UPA-II by key allies DMK and TMC, have left the UPA government in an unenviable position. Amidst all this, the worst was still to come. The rift between what Congress leader Digvijay Singh called the two power centres – the PM and Congress president Sonia Gandhi – dealt another blow to an already battered UPA as Singh refused to axe Bansal and Kumar, seen as close to him. 

Finally, it took Gandhi to drive down to PM’s residence to demand the resignations on May 9. Two hours later, a reluctant PM asked the duo to put in their papers. 

The UPA-II regime has seen one entire Parliament session – winter session of 2011 - being washed out (by demands to set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee on 2G) as well as the second half of budget session 2013 (due to coalgate). As a result, drafts of key legislation such as Land Acquisition Bill, Food Security Bill and Insurance and Pension Bill are left in a limbo. 

The 2013 budget session has gone down as one of the least productive in Parliament history.

The economic situation is nothing to boast of either. The economic indicators show an alarming decline during UPA-II compared with UPA-I. The economist-PM has been unable to rightly navigate an economy that has slipped from a high growth rate of 9.3 per cent in 2005-06 to 6.5 per cent in 2011-12. The second tenure of UPA witnessed inflation (wholesale price index) skyrocketing from 4.47 per cent in 2005-06 to 8.94 per cent in 2011-12, while agriculture growth declined from 3.96 per cent to 2.5 per cent in the same period. Persistent high food inflation, high current account deficit, trade deficit – not to speak of crony capitalism – too marred PM’s second term in office. 

But then, not all is bad. Poverty estimation showed a decline from 37.2 per cent (2004-05) to 29.8 per cent (2009-10). Perhaps, poor consolation for a government riddled by blunders from the word start. 

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(Published 18 May 2013, 18:36 IST)

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