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Millennium Post

No one cheers for Manmohan

When he took over in 2009 as prime minister for the second time, Manmohan Singh would not have dreamt that there would be demand for his ouster. Even his well-wishers wonder why he is sticking to the chair when all the credibility is lost. As his government enters its ninth year next week it should have been a joyous occasion, but it is not so.

He gave himself six out of 10 in 2005 after completing one year but Singh would be the first to admit that today it will not cross four.

Singh had been a successful finance minister and prime minister for the past nine years, a record for a non Nehru-Gandhi family member to do so. But there are no cheers in the government or the party as the year 2012-2013 is perhaps the worst for the UPA-II. That is why the government has come up with this ‘Bharat Nirman’ ad blitz showcasing its achievements of nine years and not just 2012-2013. The ad negates the reality in every area, including stability, performance and growth as of today, although it was true during the UPA-I. This is similar to the  ‘India Shining’ campaign of the NDA’s failed attempt in 2004. So much waste of taxpayer’s money!

The reality is that the UPA-II has been living through a nightmarish experience for the past four years. Two of its valuable allies – the TMC and the DMK – have quit the coalition reducing it to a minority. The UPA is surviving on the crutches of the SP and the BSP. The Congress has not been able to manage its allies well.   

A silver lining is that the UPA-II’s fifth year has began well with a landslide victory in Karnataka, but this euphoria may not last long as the second round of Assembly elections are scheduled to take place later in the year in Rajasthan, Delhi (two Congress-ruled states) as well as Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand (BJP-ruled states). The predictions are not looking good for the Congress as it may lose Rajasthan and the BJP may retain Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh. Delhi is a possibility for Congress, however.

Look at the economy.  There is nothing much to cheer for, with inflation and price rise hitting the roof. The foreign exchange reserves are a concern because of the higher imports and loss in exports in 2012-2013. Despite the hype on the FDI in retail, not much investment has come so far. The manufacturing is not doing well and as for the agriculture, the less said the better. The GDP growth rate has come down to five per cent. The rupee-dollar rate is also causing concern. Second generation reforms are languishing.

Hit by a series of scams, the governance is the worst hit with no bureaucrat willing to stick his neck out. There is a policy paralysis, which has frozen the administration. There is no leadership and the government lacks cohesiveness and the cabinet has at least 11 posts vacant.

As for the foreign policy, the government has come out as weak-kneed on several issues. The DMK withdrew its support on the Sri Lankan policy for not paying heed to the Tamils in Lanka. A diplomatic row escalated into a standoff in March on the Italian marine trial, resulting in an international embarrassment. The New Year began with the news of beheading of two Indian soldiers after a series of skirmishes along the line of control in Kashmir. This month, the government was caught napping on the Ladakh region when China intruded into Indian territory. Then came the brutal beating of Sarabjit Singh, who was finally flown down to India in a body bag after two decades. The confrontation with the opposition has frozen Parliament functioning with the result legislative business including important bills is stuck. Even the budget was passed without debate. Both the opposition as well as the government seems to have abdicated their legislative responsibilities by resorting to Parliament paralysis. Above all, what is worrying is the growing show of public anger, be it on the Delhi gang rape or the Sikh riots judgement freeing Congress leader Sajjan Kumar or the child gang rape case. It all began with the Anna Hazare movement against corruption but the seeds of public unrest are sprouting now. The party and the government have lost connect with the people.

Despite all these, the UPA-II has survived and may complete its full term because no party wants to bring down the government. The Congress will take credit for ruling the country for the past nine years, but knows it is an uphill task to come back to power for the third time without proper arithmetic.  It is hoping that a fractured opposition may help Congress look better. The UPA has divided the opposition on most issues. The advantage for the Congress is that it if is bad, the BJP is worse with no leadership and the third alternative is yet to emerge.

The major challenge for the Congress is an image makeover. It should attempt a thorough reshuffle in the party and the government. The second is to build the party and promote younger leadership.

The third is to keep the UPA flock together and also to look for new allies. The fourth and most important is to reconnect with people. These are stupendous tasks and the party and the government should walk hand in hand.

Singh gets no help from the party as all the credit is given to Congress President Sonia Gandhi while all the discredit goes to the prime minister. In short, when the time comes, Singh will be the fall guy but the TINA (there is no alternative) factor and Rahul’s reluctance to take over helps Singh to remain in his seat. IPA
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