With the completion of four years in power and nine years as a political alliance that has functioned through several ups and down, the UPA government is clearly at crossroads now. While longevity is certainly one of the achievements of the Manmohan Singh-led regime, it has floundered on more occasions than it would have liked, with corruption being the biggest drawback in an otherwise mixed performance. Four years ago, when in 2009, the Congress-led UPA swung back to power under the aegis of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, the taints now spoiling their public personas would be unfathomable, with the duo considered even a few years back virtually incorruptible. Despite the cash-for-votes scam of 2008, UPA government in its first tenure from 2004-2009 had enough going for itself, particularly in the RTI Act (2005), MNREGA (2005), farmer loans and other landmark feats that were deemed pro-poor, pro-reform and generally populist but effective. Manmohan Singh was rightly hailed as the King, and despite the political Cassandras’ foretelling doom, 2009 proved to be a lucky year for the coalition. Yet, UPA-II has been a long innings of exposés and unspooling of a huge wool ball of corrupt politicians hobnobbing with bookies, corporate honchos, underworld dons, senior officials in the judiciary and police force, commanders in the defence forces and others peopling avenues of lucrative profit-making. Despite watershed deeds such as Food Security bill, Land Acquisition bill, and even FDI in multi-brand retail, UPA-II’s tenure has been forever stamped by the indelible stigma of endless scams and swindles.
From the 2G spectrum scam to Commonwealth Games swindle, from coalgate to railgate to choppergate, from mining scams to fatal gang rapes, from police brutality to political nonchalance and apathy, UPA-II has been mired in more muck than it could shake off. Despite trying to come across as ‘tough on terror’ with the two clandestine executions of Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru within months of each other, there have been a spate of terrorist attacks. Though the UPA-II could brush off the Anna Hazare movement as mere brouhaha over an ideology that has had its day, it could not dismiss the mass uprising that gripped the national capital in the wake of the mortal 16 December gang rape. In hindsight, UPA-II’s successes have been far overshadowed by the slew of failures, though it must be granted that the government has shown tact in handling the series of crises afflicting it, be it the quitting of two key allies in TMC and DMK, making the government vulnerable to recalcitrant coalition demands, to being able to hold its turf in the face of boiling opposition. While it bodes well that the Congress has managed to oust BJP governments in Uttarkhand, HP and Karnataka, but it redresses the banes of corruption, inflation and ensures women’s safety, a third term will remain a distant dream.