Independence Day is an occasion for taking stock. In his address from the ramparts of the Red Fort the prime minister will reflect on the state of the Union and his thoughts for the future. What he won’t do is talk about the state of his government. Let me, therefore, try my hand at that.
The Opposition claims that just 15 months after re-election the government has lost direction and is adrift. Many independent observers concur. But is that really so?
There’s no doubt that in several areas the government appears confused, contradictory or, worse, paralysed. This seems to be the case with regard to Kashmir, tackling the Maoists, preparing for the Commonwealth Games, handling inflation and relations with Pakistan.
At times the government is actually at odds with itself. For instance, the prime minister has repeatedly said the Maoists are the biggest threat facing the country but Mamata Banerjee holds rallies with their support, where the IG of police says men wanted for attacking the Janeshwari Express are present. Her speech only made matters worse. She called for an end to the joint operations forgetting the home minister’s commitment to pursuing them. She called Azad’s death “murder” and “unjust”. P. Chidambaram insists it happened in a legitimate police encounter.
Elsewhere the government looks paralysed, if not clueless. Since June 11, Kashmir has been in a state of turmoil but Delhi has sat on its haunches, silently observing, as if Srinagar was another country. If the Omar Abdullah government cannot fathom what to say or do, why did the prime minister wait till Tuesday to step into the breach? Whilst you and I fear the Valley might be slipping away the government seems not to share that concern.
There are even occasions when the government is simply bluffing or in plain denial. Despite the delays, the proliferating allegations of corruption and the shambolic state of Delhi’s pavements and roads, Jaipal Reddy insists these will be the best ever Commonwealth Games. At the very least, such braggadocio is ludicrous. But it also comes perilously close to an insult. Does he really think we believe such vain boasts?
The sad part is even where the government has performed admirably it’s the problems which remain that dominate discourse. So whilst it’s true it’s overcome the threat to growth what’s remembered is the government cannot curb inflation. Today its promising inflation will fall to 6 per cent by December. But earlier it swore it would peak at 6 per cent by last March. Inflation, it’d seem, has beaten this administration.
Perhaps all of this doesn’t add up to drift and loss of direction but it does suggest an inexplicable loss of resolve and resoluteness. It’s as if an affliction has stricken the government. Nothing makes this more obvious than the way ministers are behaving. Sharad Pawar wants his responsibilities reduced, whilst Digvijay Singh and Mani Shankar Aiyar strive to limit Chidambaram’s mandate. Kamal Nath and Montek can’t agree on roads and highways whilst Jairam Ramesh seems to irritate most of his colleagues. North Block and South Block are just across the road but behave as if they’re poles apart, whilst Mamata Banerjee thinks Calcutta is the centre of India.
The strangest part is the prime minister’s behaviour. As his government lurches from crisis to crisis he’s either silent or invisible. So are you surprised if some have concluded he’s opted out? And do you now understand why his government appears to have dropped the ball?
The views expressed by the author are personal