Some hits and many misses in UPA's second innings

Some hits and many misses in UPA's second innings

One can argue that the UPA has actually completed six years in office. Well, it is true but the pulls and pressures — which tells on the performance — that the Manmohan Singh government faced in the first 5 years of its existence since 2004 is different from what it is experiencing since May, 2009.
For UPA-I, the Left group was like the big brother watching over its shoulders. The Left parties enjoyed power without responsibility — they wielded considerable influence over the government’s policies, but were not accountable as they provided support from outside.

The situation now is different. It is those sharing power within the UPA who seem to be giving endless pinpricks to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his closeknit circle which frames policies and chalks out political action. The Left baggage is not there now but the Trinamool Congress of railway minister Mamata Banerjee and the DMK (through its ministers A Raja and Azhagiri) have ensured that the UPA leadership is not without headaches in its second innings. The government had a hard time defending them (this, of course, not to speak of episodes involving Shashi Tharoor and Jairam Ramesh which considerably embarrassed the government). But then, that’s coalition politics for you.
But what about performance? It has been a mixed bag for the Singh government. After near-five years of non-performance on the home ministry front for UPA, P Chidambaram, who was drafted in in the wake of 26/11 has been pro-active in the functioning of the ministry.  However, the twin massacres — 76 policemen and men from CRPF and the butchering of 35, including security personnel — both in Dantewada in Chhattisgarh, not to speak of the continued violence perpetrated by the Moists in West Bengal, have negated the good work on the policy front.

On the positive side, the implementation of Right to Education should be considered historic as it is set to directly benefit at least one crore children. This coupled with another flagship programme now on the drawing board — food security — will be the next big thing that the UPA plans to gift the nation.

The recent efforts at initiating a dialogue with Pakistan could also be seen as a plus for the government — this considering the fact that the UPA II’s foreign policy action began on a shocking note with the PM raising the ill-advised Baluchistan issue in his talks with his Pakistani counterpart in July, 2009.

The Women’s Reservation Bill was a work half done as it got cleared only in Rajya Sabha with its passage in Lok Sabha seeming impossible, at least for now.

Inflation
One issue that the coalition government has been found wanting is at tackling the inflation. The government failed to contain inflation, including the price rise of food items, during the entire first year. Seen as UPA’s biggest failure, this also brought into question the measures taken by the food ministry — headed by ally NCP’s Sharad Pawar — and finance ministry.

But this has not stopped the government from going ahead with hiking the petro prices in a bid to bridge fiscal deficit. The growth rate continued to be a healthy one and the worldwide recession failed to make a strong impact on the country, thanks mainly to several measures initiated by the finance ministry, mainly the stimulus packages.
How is the decision-making done in this UPA government and who all are involved in it? The power, no doubt, flows from 10, Janpath, the residence of Sonia Gandhi who has a perfect understanding with the PM. The core group — consisting of Sonia, PM, Pranab Mukherjee, Chidambaram, A K Antony and Sonia’s political secretary Ahmed Patel — meets once a week, usually on Fridays, and takes stock of the week’s developments and formulates strategy, be it on the political front or on administration.

The PM and Sonia hold one-to-one meeting before the core group discussion starts. In the day-to-day administration and framing of policies, the PM is aided by his principal secretary TKA Nair on most issues and national security adviser Shivshankar Menon on foreign policy. With the National Advisory Council revived with Sonia as its chairperson, the government will get more active support on the administration front in the form of chalking out of new programmes.

Amongst the biggest plus points for the UPA is the chemistry between the PM and Sonia. The Congress president has been non-interfering in the government work and takes the burden of improving the party base across the country. Over the last six years, there is not a single instance of two being involved in confrontation. Sonia went out of her way to go with Singh on the civil nuclear agreement issue with the US although she was not prepared for the Left exit. Singh, on the other hand, was not too keen on the rural job scheme but agreed to the execution of the scheme which costs the government around Rs 50,000 crore annually.

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