Shiv Vishvanathan, Social science nomad
Between electoral analysis and the budget as a financial statement, the UPA needs a social budget of its eight-year tenure. As an experiment, the UPA was a tremendous collection of possibilities. Its social imagination was extraordinary. Its vision of RTI was considerable. The Arjun Sengupta report on the 'Informal economy' is a classic document. The vision of NREGA inaugurated a new sense of welfare.
Yet UPA's vision was a half-hearted one. It became wary of its own projects, seeking to stonewall its own RTI legislation. Its ideas of education were laughable. It seems to think mere investment and publicity about the logic of numbers could solve the educational malaise. Its sense of Naxalism as a mere security issue was pathetic. When Kapil Sibal attempted to stall social networks, one realised that bullies in any era behave alike.
Look at the social imagination it brought to environment as an issue. For the first time, it was clear that ecological thinking in a regulatory public sense would link the mine, the seed and the reactor. Yet, by failing to bet on its own imagination and becoming apologetic about its best intentions, the UPA became its own enemy.
What exaggerated the gap between the social and the political was the obsession with the technocratic. A techno-managerial mindset created unplayable googlies. A Nandan Nilekani talks of the ID project, spends crores without differentiating between residency, citizenship, entitlement, identity, security and welfare, showing that the best of computer experts could do with lessons in basic political theory. The planning commission then adds to such self-inflicted injuries by proclaiming pompously that poverty ceases to exist above Rs 32 a day.
The third flaw was UPA's relation to Civil Society. No other party had closer relations to Civil Society. From Sonia to Jairam Ramesh to the presence of NDC, UPA voiced the concerns of Civil Society - and then sought to destroy its own social capital. Only a party afraid of Civil Society could have made such a mess of the Hazare movement. Anna Hazare was a godsend that the Congress could have used to distance itself from its own corruption.
The epitome of its ineptitude has been its politics. Its inability to handle its coalitional partners such as the DMK, and the Kalmadi antics created cynicism around it. Its handling of the recent elections was the final straw. Rahul Gandhi was its plus point, but it sent him to battle virtually unarmed. The result is there for all to see.
What one sees is a government that makes the opposition appear almost intelligent, a coalition that does not understand its own strengths, a party that appears indifferent, even happy presiding over its own defeat.
The UPA, two parts tragedy, three parts farce and too dumb to know it.