Two Years Of UPA-II An Assessment
It was the same time last year when Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh cancelled the first anniversary celebratory dinner of his government, after an Air India Express Boeing 737-800 crashed in Mangalore, killing over a hundred passengers. It cast a long shadow and was seen as a bad omen for a government lurching from one crisis to another in the first year, despite increasing its seat tally from 147 to 206, decreasing the number of its allies in particular jettisoning the troublesome and anti-reformist left parties.
And now, there is another long shadow on the festivities of the UPA completing its second anniversary with DMK MP Kanimozhi arrested and settled in Tihar jail, as her anguished father the DMK Chief M Karunanidhi says he is hurt by the arrest of his daughter and has called a general council of his party to review relations with the Congress and the UPA government.
In the last two years, an already faceless Prime Minister has further lost face as politically his government has been hemmed in by innumerable corruption charges leading to the sacking of his ministers, as well as the arrest of some of them. It’s interesting that some of the more major scams of any Congress government have happened during his stewardship, with ministers having a free hand to run their ministries as they like, while the Prime Minister has continued to look the other way.
Taking the big picture of the UPA government into focus, it reads as the story of a party which rode to power on the back of some excellent schemes in UPA-I, which included NREGA, waiving off farmers’ loans and RTI, but then very soon after being re-elected it lost the way and is now seen as a government living from one crisis to another.
It reads as the story of a government where the most powerful leader Sonia Gandhi has, to an extent, distanced herself from her chosen Prime Minister but finds herself helpless to act, since he has stated categorically that he has a great deal of unfinished business to attend to and would remain in power till the next general election in 2014.
It reads as the story of a young heir to the Nehru-Gandhi family throne who finds that he is not ready for power or to take on responsibility but has been trapped by manipulative Congress managers into handling the affairs of the Youth Congress and the NSUI, seen as a waste of time even at the best of times. So much so that his advice on both party and government matters is ignored many a time. Politically he has neither grown nor shown any signs that he would be the leader which the Congress needs to stage a great comeback as a single-party government.
In the last two years, union ministers have functioned as independent authorities running their own fiefdoms, much to the embarrassment of the government as a whole. If P Chidambaram as the Union Home Minister put the brakes on a Chinese telecom company on grounds of security, then a junior minister like Jairam Ramesh was quick to challenge his own Home Ministry, by issuing a statement from China on how good the telecom company is and why the country needs the Chinese.
So if a Dr Manmohan Singh lauds all things American, then Jairam Ramesh is quick to give a certificate to all things Chinese, in what is seen as the great balancing act. Because of his closeness to Rahul Gandhi, Jairam Ramesh is neither pulled up nor asked for any explanations, say party leaders.
The same appears to be the case with Home Minister P Chidambaram. Despite having red faces in the government on the “most wanted” list, the goof up by the Home Ministry has done little to dent his clout as he was sent to Kolkata at the swearing in of Mamata Banerjee as the representative of the Congress President.
In UPA-II, there is no Common Minimum Programme, no steering committee as it is virtually seen as a Congress government since alliance ministers like Mamata Banerjee and Azhagiri have not been attending GoM meetings as they are preoccupied elsewhere. But despite that the Prime Minister blamed coalition pressures on the poor functioning of his government. Amongst the allies, Sharad Pawar continues to play the agriculture field by exporting items such as rice, wheat, sugar, etc., and then importing them when the prices have increased. A process which hits the aam admi the hardest, but despite a large volume of evidence the Prime Minister has been unable to check Sharad Pawar even as he has been unable to check inflation. So much so that the target of growth rate has decreased from 9.5 per cent to 8 per cent.
UPA-II has been a saga of ministers having to resign one by one. Beginning with the blue-eyed Shashi Tharoor, Ashok Chavan was sacked in Maharashtra, A Raja was sent to Tihar jail where he is still lodged, Commonwealth Games chief Suresh Kalmadi and his entire team were arrested and are still in jail and now it is Kanimozhi.
While the higher judiciary was attacking and pulling up the government on a daily basis, the exit of CVC PJ Thomas came as a personal setback to the Prime Minister who was instrumental in his selection with the backing of the powerful and all-pervasive Malyali lobby in the PMO. The fact that the Prime Minister has chosen to continue with the same set of bureaucrats who have grown roots, developed their own vested interests and have backed and supported favourites is a telling comment on a Prime Minister who has not been able to manage his own PMO, forget the wider political spectrum of the Congress and the allies.
What the Prime Minister has, however, been successful in is the foreign policy front, where having brought in a weak Foreign Minister, SM Krishna he has run the foreign establishment according to his own diktats. In 2009, the heads of all the P5 countries visited India, which was seen as a huge jump for India, after 18 years India became a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, resumed the dialogue process with Pakistan and now he is going to Africa for the first time.
Scams and scandals mark two years of UPA-II
Unable to move ahead on economic reforms and with almost every big scam in its pocket, the UPA government-II–headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh–has completed two years in office. And for Singh it has been anything but a joy ride. Hopping and skipping from one problem to another in the last over eight months, is as exciting as it gets for him. The only relief was the recent results of the Assembly elections. The party retained its government in Assam, managed to wrest one in Kerala and was in a happy position in West Bengal.
From 2G scam to Commonwealth Games scandal to the Adarsh Housing row to the PJ Thomas affair, the party hasn’t had such a harrowing time in the last few months. The issue of price rise continued to confront the PM with the government appearing helpless. Topping all these was the controversy over the “most wanted” list of fugitives sent to Pakistan adding further embarrassment to the government.
In the 2G spectrum allocation scam the Supreme Court was prompted to pull up the PM, asking him why no action was taken against the then Telecom Minister A Raja, despite several indicators pointing to a looming scam ahead.
Apart from Raja, Congress MP Suresh Kalmadi, charged with irregularities in the conduct of CWG and DMK MP Kanimozhi (also involved in the 2G scam), have also landed in Tihar jail–not a good advertisement for the government. Singh asserted that the guilty in scams would be punished through due process of law, and steps would be taken to prevent them in future. The PM along with the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi released “Government of the UPA: Report to the People”, against the backdrop of corruption denting its image over the past several months. In her brief remarks in the report, Sonia Gandhi said: “We will take the issue of corruption head on and demonstrate, through actions, and not words, that we mean what we say.”
“The developments have caused many concerned citizens to worry about the state of governance and the pervasiveness of corruption. These are legitimate concerns and the UPA government is determined to take corrective action,” the Prime Minister said in the report, which was released at a function at his residence to mark the second anniversary of UPA-II.
The report covers many specific sectors such as economic situation, agriculture, rural development, education, external and internal challenges, railways and environmental issues. Referring to the economic situation, the Prime Minister said that the country witnessed an unprecedented 8.5 per cent growth from 2004-05 to 2010-11, despite severe global financial crisis in this period.
The report noted that except for an attack on foreign tourists in Delhi and a low-intensity bomb blast in Varanasi, there was no major terrorist incident in 2010-11. Dwelling on the internal security measures taken by the government, the report said that the National Investigation Agency had now been fully operationalised, with headquarters in Delhi and branch offices in Cyberabad and Guwahati.
However, the BJP dismissed the report, saying it was not even worth the paper it was written on as the government had failed to fulfil its promises on checking price rise and corruption. Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj was also critical of the report released by the government. “Price rise, corruption and incompetence are the USPs of UPA government. The report card deserves only one remark ‘failed’,” Swaraj tweeted on Twitter.
Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley said that the UPA-II had been a “nightmare” and alleged that the credibility of this government had hit “rock-bottom”. He stated that Time magazine had listed the 2G spectrum scam as the second biggest scam of all time, after the Watergate scandal.
By Tulika Rattan
What has brought cheer to the Congress is that despite the continuous hiccups, including the hammering the government got in Parliament over corruption with an entire session being wiped out and the constant stream of scandals, the party has performed credibly in three out of the five state assemblies and one Union Territory where elections were held. While there was no BJP in these states, the real test for the Congress will come in those state assemblies where it is pitted against the BJP—like Punjab and Uttarakhand in the next round.
While Sonia Gandhi has allowed the process of drift and delayed decision-making to be the signature tune of her style of governance, the Prime Minister has remained a captive in the hands of bureaucrats (with whom he is comfortable), a strong perception that he has allowed pro-US politicians and bureaucrats to dominate his government and a serious charge that for the sake of keeping his government alive and kicking he has allowed corrupt ministers a free run, even as non-performers and inept ministers have not been sacked.
It’s a government which has not been able to send a strong message of either governance, development, of breaking new ground or of taking out-of-the-box initiatives. It’s a government which is looking old and tired, as was witnessed during the Anna Hazare tirade on corruption when ministers failed to stem the tirade or seize the initiative as it became clear that the government had failed to use its skills to persuade the media of its point of view.
DODGY TWO YEARS OF UPA RULE
Manmohan Singh in his report card mentioned that there was economic growth of 8 per cent. It is a good sign if it is sustained and increased. Unfortunately, 2010-2011 has been a period of all-round exposure of the Congress and its associates, both at the union and at state levels. The PM and the Home Minister have been totally exposed in the appointment of CVC, the appointment has been declared invalid by the Supreme Court. The alleged insistence of Kanimozhi in the appointment of A Raja as Telecom Minister, who is the kingpin in the 2G scam and the transfer of money towards Kalinga TV, and later on arrest of both have not only exposed DMK but also Congress. The alleged corruption of Suresh Kalmadi in CWG scam and later on his arrest has put the country to shame.
If Shanglu Committee report is accepted, the Chief Minister of Delhi would be exposed. The statement of P Chidambaram, in which he says that India without North India is excellent (WikiLeaks), shows the inner feeling of the Home Minister towards the people of North India. The non-seriousness of P Chidambaram in sending a wrong list of terrorists in Pakistan exposes his careless attitude towards his duties as a Home Minister. WikiLeaks gives a factual story, though one may not agree to its interpretation, naming “saffron” terrorism as an insult to our culture. One could call it “terrorism” but “saffron” is connected with Indian culture—suffis, religious leaders, sadhus and sants and Ancient Indian, Medieval and Modern Hindu kings.
These have been morally cases of corruption, nepotism, misuse of office and misinterpretation of rules. The office of the Governor was placed in the Indian Constitution to have coordination between the centre and the states. The role of the Governors like Buta Singh in Bihar had put a lot of strains on the Indian Federal Structure. The operation of federal system started decaying when the Governor of Karnataka, Hansraj Bhardwaj started playing with the Constitution because of his ego. Karnataka is the first state in South India where BJP could get a mandate and form the government.
Earlier it was a coalition government of BJP and JD(S). Both ruled for half of the term. But the JD(S) wanted to rule single-handedly. In the elections which ensued, the BJP got a massive victory and formed the government. It was an irritant both for the Congress and JD(S). The Congress party made HR Bhardwaj as the Governor of the state. Earlier, he was Law Minister. As a Union Law Minister he had been instrumental in the appointment of judges, both in the High Court and the Supreme Court. He, like Shinde, Krishna and Vilasrao Deshmukh, always wanted to remain in active power politics but did not have the guts to tell the Congress high command. His game plan was to finish the BJP government in Karnataka and go back to active politics. When all the plans failed against the Chief Minister, he felt upset.
In the vote of confidence (which was held twice within a week) 16 MLAs were suspended and expelled by the speaker under Anti-Defection Law. These MLAs could not get any relief from the High Court but could get the order of the Speaker reversed by the Supreme Court. This provided an opportunity for the Governor to send a report that the mandate taken by Yeddyurappa was illegal, since the expulsion has proved to be illegal and the government should be dismissed. Little realising that even the Bihar government was not restored after judgement. He also took no notice of the fact that BJP government enjoys majority, since all the expelled MLAs are with the party and the government. The third fact ignored was that the Governor needs to check the majority on the floor of the House. He wanted to see not the present majority but the majority of October 6, along with the present position and then expelled MLAs before the President, the Prime Minister and the Home Minister—as NTR had done when Ramlal was the Governor of Andhra Pradesh. The Governor did not even summon the assembly, as was requested by the government.
The Union Government has again not accepted the recommendations of the Governor in dismissing the government only because it is sure that it would not be accepted by the Rajya Sabha, where it does not carry majority. Yet the Union Government has not reprimanded HR Bhardwaj.
The report card of two years of UPA is shady. It is so on political grounds because it tried to destabilise the non-Congress governments and continued its trucks with corrupt governments of DMK and BSP. It has not been able to stabilise the price index, rather it has increased the rates of petroleum eight times within two years. Where would the aam admi go? It made a wrong appointment of CVC but showed no signs of taking constitutional responsibility. It had to prepare Anti-Corruption Act under the pressure of public and press. The government did not take proper action on Shanglu Committee Report, 2G and Adarsh Housing scams until the Opposition, public and press pressurised it. If I were to give it marks, I would give it less than even 30 per cent.
By Prof RN Pal
The fact that little or no accountability is fixed in either the UPA or the Congress party even on matters of international embarrassment like the Most Wanted or that a GoM, is constituted to sell the government’s view point to the media but fails to take off and has only had one briefing in the last ten days, speaks volumes of the manner in which the government has handled critical and sensitive subjects.
In the last one year, the mood in the Congress and the government has become one of gloom, said a senior party leader. He admitted that Lok Sabha MPs were worried about whether they would be able to win in this atmosphere but were not sure whether Sonia Gandhi would be able to retrieve the situation by acting decisively and in time. According to a senior minister, the reading of the political situation was that with just three years to go for the next general election, the time had come for her to act and bring in a new leadership in the government. But whether she would, is the hotly-debated million-dollar question in both the party and the government.
By Renu Mittal