Millennium Post

UPA on the back foot

When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh completed his first year in office in 2005, he gave himself six out of ten marks for his performance. In the successive years he refused to grade himself. For completing the third year of UPA 2, will he be able to award himself pass marks?

The third birthday is on a low key and the mood among the ministers and Congressmen is also despondent. The ordinary Congress worker is worried about his future. This is the time for the Prime Minister and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi to look ahead to take corrective steps as the UPA 2 has already crossed the half way mark and moving fast towards the next elections. As for the performance of the UPA 2, less said the better. It has been a complete failure of the government to show off its achievements because there was not many either at the political or economic front.

What went wrong? From a successful return in 2009, why is the Congress on the back foot? The third year saw the government and the party moving from one crisis to another. For instance, the handling of the Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare agitations brought no credit to the government. Prime Minister had a big opportunity to show his political maneuvering when Sonia Gandhi had gone abroad for her medical treatment but he failed to seize the opportunity.

Secondly, there is no cohesiveness in the cabinet. Ministers, particularly the Congress ministers speak out of turn. The year saw the open fight between Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram on bugging the former's office. There were reports about Defence minister's office being bugged. Jairam Ramesh is on his own trip.  Salman Kurshid, Shriprakash Jaiswal and Beni Prasad Verma were seen as spoiling the Congress chances in UP by their remarks. In short it was a free for all.

Thirdly, crisis management also needs more finesse. The government only showed knee jerk reactions in tackling the crisis. Dealing with the CAG report or the appointment of the CVC or army chief's age row could have been handled much better. All these go to show an ineffective PMO and lack of leadership.

Fourthly, handling the allies required more tact and patience. They have been flexing muscles because of the emergence of strong regional satraps even as the national parties are getting weaker. The centre has to yield on every contentious issue be it the NCTC or land acquisition bill. West Bengal chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is still bargaining for a financial relief package. The Congress and the BJP should not lose sight of the formation of a federal front led by Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa. The acid test will be in finding a consensus candidate for the presidential race.

Fifthly, the bureaucrats have lost faith in the political class. The babus have taken a back seat and are unwilling to take decisions following the harassment of the officials facing the scams. With neither the ministers nor the officials willing to take any view, there is a policy paralysis, which is hurting the country and even investment.

Sixthly, the economy has taken a slide for various reasons. Gone are the days of the government bragging about the 8.5 per cent growth, as it is now expected not to cross 7 percent.  Import bill is going up while the exports are not up to the expectation. Inflation is on the rise and food inflation is also giving concern. Stock market has taken a nosedive and rupee has fallen to the lowest in the past few days. In such a situation what could the government boast about its achievements? No wonder the PMO had to repeatedly urge the ministries to send their report card, which shows that the third year progress report is the worst so far.

Seventhly, on the foreign policy side, not much is happening and things are quiet as the Americans are busy with their own elections.  New Delhi is showing some guts on Iran. Overall, the credit should go to the government for not bungling on any foreign policy issue so far.

Finally, even in Parliament not much can be said to the credit of the government. The way the government yielded to the demands of Anna Hazare and the way now the Lokpal bill is sent to a joint select committee, speaks volumes of the inability of the government to deal with issues.

As far as the Prime Minister is concerned this should have been a happy occasion when he has created a record of ruling the country for eight years. It is no mean achievement for a person from a non-Nehru – Gandhi family in the Congress party. If he wants to retrieve his image now is the time to make efforts.  People want efficiency and not just mere honesty.  

The year has not gone well for the party too which expects action and a big shakeup in the organisation, particularly after the mother – son duo had blamed the lack of organization for the UP poll failure. The ensuing Gujarat elections will be an acid test in this regard. Several PCCs are headless. Ministers are holding charges of states also. Similarly, it is important for AICC General Secretary Rahul Gandhi to gain back the lost ground after the UP Assembly polls in which the Congress lost out. Rahul is taking his time to take over the reins. The biggest advantage for him is that the main opposition party – the BJP – is in disarray and lacks leadership. The party and the government should seize the opportunity as it is time for action or else it will have to watch others moving forward.
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