UPA-II First Anniversary

Ours is one democracy where head of the country is very less often available to media, so when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh talked to press on Monday about a number of issues, exactly a year after his government was voted back to power following an issueless election, expectations ran high. Singh didn’t have a major achievement to announce but just had an opportunity to make his government’s policies clear on some issues of universal concern and to express his views thereon, a job he in fact evaded.

Like any other coalition regime, the first year of UPA-II can be appraised at two levels: political and governmental.

UPA-II has been more of a disappointment, politically, adding another low to many lows of coalition culture. The way BSP, SP, and RJD backed the UPA during cut motions in the Lok Sabha and the manner in which Prime Minister outrightly defended Telecom Minister A Raja on 2G spectrum scandal describing him spick and span, raises serious doubts about UPA’s integrity. How many times in last six years as prime minister has Singh defended a tainted minister in a press meet? And how many times parties like BSP, SP, RJD – the last two always in the quest of an opportune time to offer support to the government to be part of power lobby – have extended support to the government without no obvious gain? The questions are too ticklish for the Congress.

Congress likes to deny the charge that the government is misusing CBI to bale leaders like Mulayam Singh, Mayawati and Rabri Devi out of corruption cases, but its uneasy equations with a couple of allies as Trinamool, NCP, and DMK spills the bean. Congress has humoured SP, BSP and RJD so that it can easily bargain their support in emergencies like cut motions, on occasions where it has sharp differences with its allies and that it can use its allies-in-waiting to neutralize ever-growing pressure tactics of its tough partners like Trinamool and DMK, though not always with success as A Raja case suggests; DMK cannot envisage any other party leader taking Raja’s place.

In so doing, however, clean governance is the biggest casualty. The outcome of such an arrangement is that the government, on one hand, has to give in to unjust demands of its tough partners and, on the other, similarly humour those who are no part of the government. The UPA’s inability to get A Raja replaced by another DMK leader, one with clean image, as Telecom Minister and its move to help regional leaders (whose influence is otherwise on wane) in disproportionate asset cases indicate that it has greatly compromised on corruption, even without caring for its image, and introduced to us a hitherto unseen face of coalition politics. This also goes on to show the boundary where PM, or, for that matter, Congress has to limit its authority in the UPA.

As for governance, I don’t deny UPA-II has made visible progress on a couple of things, take for instance historical passage of Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha, good economic growth in the wake of recession, improvement of ties with some countries and so forth, but it’s just a drop in the ocean if compared with progress on the issues which have dominated the whole of gone-by year, that is to speak, Maoist violence, engagement with Pakistan, inflation etc.

That government continues to be bemused on Naxalism and lacks pro-activeness to take a lead in the fight is shocking. That’s what this contradictory stand suggests: recognition of Naxalism as ‘biggest internal security threat’ but still asking states to take lead in tackling Maoist violence with Centre supporting from back front. Using ill-equipped, less motivated forces like CRPF and state police against rebels and simultaneously asking them to abjure violence and coming to dialogue table is a failed policy beyond doubt.

The recent violence in Chhattisgarh is a good testimony to the point that to win this war, government needs to follow only one of the two, either crackdown or talks, with absolute clarity of mind and objectivity to achieve result. Maoists, now dangerous ‘armed terrorists’, have to be soon defeated whatever be the way.

The absence of consensus among UPA leaders on the matter is well known and Prime Minister was expected to express his views on tackling the menace so as to make a start to develop consensus at least within the Congress. He would have rather presented a roadmap for an anti-Naxal strategy, to be pursued in the same way as he pursued Indo-US civil nuclear deal during his first tenure. Hasn’t Naxalite violence become so serious a problem as requiring the kind of attention he paid to country’s future energy needs?

India’s engagement with Pakistan is another significant issue about which country is as eager to hear of a clear, consistent policy from the government as Singh is determined to push it through. Maybe, PM doesn’t have a roadmap on anti-Naxal policy, maybe he is unable to convince his coalition partners on the matter, but he has a definite picture on engaging with Islamabad, which he has concealed, giving rise to many apprehensions. His remarks on Monday only served to enhance suspicions about his initiatives.

After all, what does this statement mean: ‘the best possible relations are necessary with Pakistan if India has to realize its full development potential’? That India cannot grow to its full capacity if Islamabad doesn’t so desire, that if India develops good terms with Pakistan there will be no terrorism in India.

It’s hardly a secret that Pakistan resents India for its economic progress and burgeoning influence in the world, something it has wholeheartedly tried to impede for past two decades sponsoring terrorism. While Singh’s remarks are disappointing to an average Indian, they might be mistaken in our western neighbourhood and encourage Pakistani army and terrorists in their sinister designs.

‘The best possible relations’ with Pakistan is a very ambivalent phrase, given the fact that instead of showing signs of flexibility to sort out disputes, Pakistan has played to the gallery, parroting its conventional positions on all outstanding issues throughout the year to provoke similar reaction from Indian side. In this backdrop, prime minister’s ambition to have good terms with our toughest neighbour somehow points to his willingness to give one-sided, serious concessions to Pakistan.

On other concerns as inflation, caste-based census, Afzal Guru’s mercy plea and so on, Singh didn’t say anything even remotely satisfactory. His confidence of checking rising prices by this year end does seem to have a solid basis; he first assured Parliament of caste-count and has now left the decision on the Cabinet; law has shouldered its duty in Afzal Guru case but Singh still wants law to take its own course on his mercy plea which has been pending only political approval, by Delhi government and the Centre.

When Singh denied possibility of his retiring saying there was work to be done, it was a bold statement. However, its spirit is visible nowhere. Not in the issues discussed above.

Hope Singh, during the second year of UPA-II, will succeed in sorting starting problems out.

Saurabh Dharmesh

[Image courtesy: http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/fl2212/images/20050617005500401.jpg]