The third anniversary of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) 2 government on Tuesday could very well be its last if those at the helm of affairs do not take corrective steps to take control of matters and set both the political and the government's agenda. The Congress-led coalition has been on the backfoot all through last year, with rising prices, corruption and the so-called 'differences' between the party and government testing its perseverance repeatedly.
However, its most crucial test is likely to be in the form of the presidential election in July. A failure to get the nominee of its choice elected to the august office may be at the risk of losing power at the Centre. The UPA in its first avatar between 2004 and 2009 seemed to be much better off and though the Congress increased its individual tally from 145 to 206, its plight seems to have worsened.
It is obvious that the party and its cadres have not done enough. The negative perception about the government has increased given that several of its top ministers are constantly quarreling among themselves.
The results of the assembly polls in March have further weakened the grand old party and there are enough indications that regional satraps who have already started calling the shots will navigate the future course of events. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the principal opposition party, seems to be in the grip of a fierce power struggle to resolve its leadership crisis. In any case, its efforts to reclaim the opposition space it conceded to civil society groups like those led by Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev have not been successful.
There is also an element of uncertainty over when the next Lok Sabha elections will be held. Though scheduled for 2014, the possibility of it happening much earlier cannot be ruled out. The run-up to the presidential elections and subsequent events may, in fact, determine the nature of political developments.
Even as supporters of the UPA give out its report card in an exercise that can at best be described as an internal assessment, the jury is out to provide the external assessment. In the final result, a dimension that cannot be ignored is that the UPA 2 has all along drawn its strength from the charisma and power of its chairperson Sonia Gandhi. But there is no dearth of political observers who will agree that in terms of actual power, Sonia Gandhi is not appearing to be as potent and assertive as she was in 2004. She should act to correct the perception that there has been a marked erosion in her authority. This factor alone can have an impact on how the party and its government fares in the future.
Most political analysts have failed to recognise that when the presidential poll takes place, the strength of the UPA on paper may turn out to be a deceptive indicator. The 2012 presidential polls are going to afford an opportunity to several political leaders and parties to realign themselves if the principal ruling party does not initiate measures for proper and appropriate political management.
To assume that any person the Congress names will be the winner is perhaps not an accurate assessment given that equations have changed since 2004 and 2007 when the Congress was able to get Manmohan Singh and Pratibha Patil elected as prime minister and president respectively.
There are many ambitious regional players who would see the issue of presidentship from a totally different angle. Like the Congress had done in the past, they too may look for a presidential candidate who would give them an opportunity to be sworn in to the office of the prime minister after the next parliamentary polls. There is a lot at stake and the UPA leadership cannot afford to play its cards wrongly if it is to increase its longevity. Otherwise, the consequences might be too severe to bear.