New Delhi, May 22 (IANS) The United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-II government completed three years in office Tuesday amid charges of policy paralysis and key initiatives remaining mired in fractious coalition politics.
There have been some positives. In the last three years, there have been no big terror incidents, relations with Pakistan have looked ahead and foodgrain production has touched a record 250 million tonnes.
But those have been the very thin silver lining in the proverbial black cloud of corruption, government inaction and unending economic woes with the common person forced to cut back on essentials as prices rise steeply.
As the helmsman, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh continues to get flak for being non-communicative and fighting the perception that he’s ceding space to the Congress’ preferred man, Rahul Gandhi.
Despite the backing of 300 plus seats in the lok Sabha, the UPA-II, experts point out, appears to be in a state of drift, with its constituents sparring with each other over much-touted initiatives like the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC).
A spate of scams, including the 2G spectrum allocation scandal and the various allegations of graft associated with the 2010 Commonwealth Games, continues to haunt the UPA-II.
A combative opposition has hurled charges against Home Minister P. Chidambaram over his alleged role in the 2G spectrum case and an assertive civil society, led by Anna Hazare, is trying hard to pin down the government over corruption.
The economy is in a dismal shape, with the rupee plunging to an all-time low of Rs.55.13 (as of Tuesday afternoon); inflation is soaring and manufacturing has declined.
“There is a general sense of disappointment at the performance of UPA-II. Electorally, it did much better than the UPA-I but there does not seem to be political will to take tough decisions,” S. Nihal Singh, veteran political commentator, told IANS.
He noted that some stellar initiatives like the NCTC and the lokpal (ombudsman) bill seemed to be going nowhere. Signature legislations in a limbo include the food security bill, the lokpal bill and the land acquisition bill.
N. Bhaskar Rao, a political analyst, was also unsparing in his critique of the UPA-II. “There is nothing to celebrate it’s time for serious introspection, course correction and new initiatives if the UPA-II wants to be re-elected.”
Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has played the role of the opposition rather than an ally, forcing the government to backtrack on important initiatives like the FDI in multi-brand retail.
On the positive side, the very fact that the government, despite sparring partners, looks set to survive its full term is no mean achievement as it has spared the country bouts of political instability.
In a major step targeting the poor, the government also unveiled a reformed package of Mamatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) that promises to uplift millions of people.
In the area of foreign policy, the UPA-II has done relatively better and shown some vision in reviving the dialogue process with Pakistan and transforming a once-difficult relationship with Bangladesh.
One source of solace for the UPA-II seems to be the disarray in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“It’s plus point is that the BJP is not in a healthy shape either. So by default, it can still get re-elected,” said Nihal Singh.
But the disappointments run deep.
The UPA-II performed dismally in four of five states that went to the polls earlier this year, retaining Manipur but losing Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Punjab and barely scraping through in Uttarakhand.
Predictably, Congress spin doctors do not share this sense of gloom and doom.
“Whether it is allegation of corruption against a few ministers or challenges on the economic front, the government has tackled them boldly,” Congress leader Shakeel Ahmed told IANS.
Earlier this month, Sonia Gandhi asked party leaders to aggressively portray the UPA government’s achievements.
But will messaging be enough in the absence of concrete achievements and bold course-correction measuresIJ With two years to go, the UPA-II has still time to reverse the downslide in its image and credibility.