UPA 2: So far, How Good?
This article originally appeared in centreright.in. CRI content has now been subsumed in swarajyamag.com. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of swarajyamag.com

22nd May. 2009. Manmohan Singh was sworn in as Prime Minister of India for a second term. For the first time in the history of India, a Prime Minister outside the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty was sworn in for a second successive term. The 2009 General Elections, we were told, was a resounding reaffirmation of the faith that people of India had on Manmohan Singh and his team. Small detals like how the unprecedented venality, loot and dubious electoral strategies  helped UPA win a rich haul in TN/AP was ignored. We were also told that it was a tribute to the ‘division of labour’ model in which Sonia Gandhi exercised complete control over the party machinery to facilitate Manmohan Singh to allegedely focus on governance. Since 2009, several issues have come to fore which UPA 1.0 did manage to camouflage well, not without generous dose of help from huge section of pliant media. Agitations, corruption charges, scandals, scams, terror attacks, naxal attacks, inter-state issues, drought situations, wheeling-dealing, foreign affairs disasters, judicial activism, political unrest are just a few in long list of ommisions and commisions of UPA 2.0 . Amidst all these, UPA 2.0 continues to speak of “8% growth”, “effect of RTI on growth rate”, “inclusive growth”, “Palestinian state hood” and not to mention “Talks with Pakistan”.

Now that UPA 2.0 is finished half of what would presumably be a full five year term, it would be prudent to take a look at how it performed. CRI will be doing a week long series “UPA 2.0 – Half Time”. 2 and half years after UPA was re-elected with Manmohan Singh as PM, where does the government stand on critical issues like Economy, Security, Political legitimacy and Foreign Policy?. Periodic assessment of any government for it’s performance is both an essential part and an outcome of a robust democratic polity. Ideally the present dispensation must be evaluated against it’s own manifesto and promises. But our political parties know that they do not get elected on the basis of manifestos and hence devote little energy and resources on that exercise. As a result, we always get rhetoric ridden bhaashans written for rallies as a manifesto, which are of very little use for this task.

The Indian Economy does not get the space it deserves in the popular Indian political discourse. This has brought us to a pass where political parties believe they can get away with gross economic mismanagement only if they can find the right jargon to cover for it up. The Congress party had promised -“More and Inclusive Growth” in it’s manifesto to the nation. Watch this video (Congress ka haath aam aadmi ke saath) from the Congress campaign material to get an idea of how far this govt has drifted from what was promised.The falling growth numbers and booming inflation figures make it plain that it’s the poorest of Indians who get crushed because Economic mismanagement. While the issue of inflation has been very cleverly dumped on the RBI’s plate, the morally bankrupt and a politically diffident Govt seems to be driven by a short-sighted agenda of simply generating enough talking points. Lack of reforms in the Agriculture sector , inadequate infrastructure for agri-businesses are side-stepped and grandstanding measures like hiking the MSP’s of grains are pushed with a great hurry. Such measures despite knowing that the Indian poor are net-consumers of food have become the norm of crisis management – where every Govt intervention sows the seeds for the next crisis. While the mainstream media continues to religiously and uncritically parrot half-truths like -‘India embraced Economic freedom’, ‘The Entrepreneurial energies were let loose’ ; taking one look at India’s ranking on metrics like say – ease of doing business ( #132) , ease of starting business (#166), would certainly place giant sized question marks on the quality of our so called “reforms”. The falling IIP numbers, massive shortfall in meeting Infrastructure targets, rising interest rates and inflation all point to deficiencies of economic planning and implementation.

To say that “Security is a basic need”, as one CRI commentator would say, is out right banal. Unfortunately, in many national debates, this statement was uttered again and again. Chidambaram was applauded for a long period of no terror attack in India but the fact remains that 2010 Pune attack, 2011 Varanasi attack, 2011 Delhi attack, 2011 Agra Blast are as yet unsolved. On the other hand, internal security didnt see any improvement either. Dantewada incidents and continuous naxal aggression in Chattisgarh, Bihar and Jharkhand remain as black marks on Central Home Ministry. While this is the case with two extremely aggressive forms of violent agitation, inter-state issues also turned violent. Manipur blockade which should have been a huge topic of national debate still remains a neglected issue. Telangana agitation remains a jigsaw puzzle with most of the clues within the hands of INC at central and state levels. Communal Violence within several states was effected too – Kashmir 2010-2011, Barielly 2010, Hyderabad 2010,Adoni 2011, Bharatpur 2011 are a few examples. On the brighter side, defense deals were signed, missiles – Prithvi,BrahMos – saw good to moderate success. Amidst all these issues and successes, how did UPA 2.0 do?

Federalism is a fundamental structure of Indian democracy. Thanks to Keshavananda Bharati vs Govt of Kerala case, there is a Supreme Court ruling which clearly marks Federalism as a part of “basic structure” of constitution and so it cannot be changed by Legislation. Several incidents proved to be blow to fedaral structure of Indian Democracy in past 2 and half years. Some of them went through public debate as well. Instances of Central Government indulging in arm-twisting like Gujarat Lokayukta issue, Karnataka Governor’s excesses on State Government of Karnataka raised questions on UPA 2.0’s commitment to Federal Structure of Indian Democracy. Telangana agitation, Gorkhaland agitation were couple of instances where UPA 2.0 didn’t show enough mettle. On the high side, mining scams have brought “Mining Royalty issue” to the fore. Amidst all these issues, where does UPA 2.0 stand?

Conducting foreign policy is one of the principal responsibilities of the central government. This is perhaps the one sphere of policy making which is fairly well isolated from domestic political calculations. Hence, when contrasted with other domains, the UPA govt has demonstrated some sort of an apetite for moves which would be normally branded as ‘risky’ and ‘unpopular’ when it comes to foreign policy. The extent to which such measures have helped us in safeguarding and projecting our national interests is an open question. With various powerful stakeholders like Prime Minister, PMO, DAE and mininstries like Commerce owning different sections of foreign policy the role of MEA itself has been dwarfed. A politically ineffective EAM is not helping resolve this tussle either. Lack of any substantial political and economic leverage in our immediate neighborhood and the lack of imagination to frame a coherent policy have held India back from emerging as a regional power. Constant flip-flops and reversal of major policies like – nature of engagement with Pakistan , political support to outlandish Palestinian demands; reveals the ad-hocism that has become a feature of our foreign policy. Both public opinion and political consensus have been disregarded quiet brazenly by many foreign policy decisions of the UPA govt. This is partly because of a near total breakdown of citizen-establishment communications.

While the manifest failures and shortcomings of policy across sectors must be acknowledged, it is equally important to go one step further and locate these failures within the political structures of the present dispensation. In a functional organisation: power, responsibility and recognition, all three go hand in hand. The present political structure has succeeded in engineering a divorce between them. When established power structures are subverted by innovations like the NAC, crucial organisational functions like decision making go for a toss. Many commentators lament on the hierarchical nature of Indain bureaucracy, now we are in a situation where multiple parallel heirarchies that report to different power centres and intertwined with each other!! This dysfunction is at the root of what many have chosen to describe as policy-paralysis and governance deficit. With every passing day more and more Indians seem to be getting convinced that the captain and the crew of the ship we are sailing in are sleeping at the wheel.