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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 23, May 25, 2013

Nine Years of UPA Dispensation

Monday 27 May 2013, by SC


Yesterday, that is, on May 22, the UPA II Government completed four years. The UPA dispensation has been in power for nine years now. It ousted the deeply entrenched NDA Government in 2004 when the pollsters had not predicted such an outcome, the comprehensive victory of the latter alliance headed by the BJP in 1999 being still bright in memory. It was the ‘India Shining’ agenda of the NDA that was its undoing despite the fact that a seasoned leader like Atal Behari Vajpayee, then unmatched in the Indian political landscape due to his behavioural qualities and wide experience in parliamentary democracy, was at the helm as the PM. Of course the NDA could not have been dislodged from power without the tireless, back-breaking and strenuous campaign undertaken by Congress President Sonia Gandhi across the country, somewhat reminiscent of her mother-in-law’s campaign-style in 1971 and 1979 in particular. It was Sonia’s campaign which was able to convey the essential message that in social, political and economic terms and ruling coalition could not bring about an “all-inclusive” national development as was projected by the Congress-led alliance. The UPA, in contrast, presented a better picture also because of its post-electoral understanding with the Left (crafted by the late CPM patriarch Harkishan Singh Surjeet) which had till then not forfeited mass confidence in large parts of our landmass.

Five years later when it went to the polls in 2009 the UPA was handicapped by the fact that due to PM Manmohan Singh’s insistence on going ahead with the Indo-US nuclear deal (that did not figure in the Common Minimum Programme based on which the Left parties had extended support to the UPA Government from outside) the Left decided to withdraw support to the Manmohan Singh Government and snap all ties with the UPA. But the pro-poor policies of the UPA I dispensation helped the alliance to win the backing of large segments of the electorate. As was pointed out in these columns in this journal’s May 23, 2009 issue,

The electorate indisputably voted this time for a stable government at the Centre but it was also something more than stability... The vote was for a dispensation which was wedded to help uplift the poor in general. In several States like Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan where the Congress is in power the State governments have conducted in an exemplary manner in this regard by taking bold strides to implement the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) ...and this helped them to reap rich electoral dividends. The farmers’ loan waiver scheme was also a factor that assisted the Congress to win popular support in the rural areas.

The Right to Information Act too played a vital role in this regard.

Between 2009 and 2013 the performance of the Manmohan Singh Government has not only not upto the mark but in fact much below the average. True, as The Times of India has observed,

The UPA is well within its rights to claim credit for policies that have brought tangible relief and succour to the intended beneficiaries: right to information and education, employment and health guarantees for the rural poor, steps to empower women and to make governance more transparent and accountable. It has initiated equally significant measures to transfer subsidies directly to the beneficiaries. But this programme came too late in its tenure to be of much electoral significance.

Nevertheless, there is no gainsaying that it failed to deliver on its promises on one hand and displayed ineptitude in governance in several areas on the other; at the same time a series of scams involving prominent UPA Ministers (who had to thus tender their resignations) badly affected its credibility. Moreover, what is indisputable is that runaway inflation leading to incessant rise in prices of essential articles at one level and mega-scale corruption at the other are two issues that are threatening to cause havoc to the ruling coalition at the Centre at the time of the 2014 general elections. Even if the PM’s personal integrity remains intact, he has been found to be a weak leader in running the government with corrupt Ministers brazenly carrying on their dirty work under his nose. The CBI report, that was changed at the instance of both the Union Law Minister and PMO, has also hit his personal standing. His rift with Sonia Gandhi has been overplayed by the media but there is a strong feeling that neo-liberal reforms piloted by the PM came in direct conflict with the steps taken and sought to be taken (like the food security and land acquisition bills) under the influence of the National Advisory Council headed by the UPA chairperson and Congress President herself.

In four days we shall be observing the 49th death anniversary of our first PM, Jawaharlal Nehru. Five months before his death while addressing the Lok Sabha in December 1963, he had said:

...however rapidly we advance towards the machine age—and we will do so—the fact remains that large numbers of our people are not touched by it and will not be for a considerable time... We should think more of the very poor countrymen of ours and do something to improve their lot as quickly as we can. This problem is troubling me a great deal.

Unless the UPA II Government urgently undertakes people-centric policies to help our teeming millions (as highlighted by Nehru) even at this late stage, it will not be able to stem the rising tide of popular discontent which is determined to vote it out of power. Perhaps it is too late for it to make amends.

May 23 S.C.

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