No one seemed more surprised than the UPA government when it came back to power a second time. It may not have come back with the numbers it would have liked but, certainly, I think it came back with a mandate to do pretty much what it had planned. Instead, what has transpired so far as it celebrated, for want of a better word, its ninth year in power, has been a report card that is not really much to write home about.
First of all, we have had repeated allegations from the Opposition that the prime minister is not really the head of government, rather it is the Congress party president. But while the debate on that can go on endlessly, what seemed to be missing in UPA 2 is an assertive government on issues that have really marred its reputation.
It has been hit by scam after scam. The prime minister who has floated above the fray given his pristine image seemed almost crippled and unable to even order an inquiry in time. By the time he acted, in the coalgate scam and the 2G mess, it seemed too little too late. On the subject of corruption, again the Congress seemed reluctant to act against its own. A railway minister who seemed to have built up a vast industry of relatives who lived off the fat of the land and would seem to have profited from his position was dragged out of office after an inexplicable show of reluctance on the part of the government to act against him. The government appointed a home minister whose gaffes were so out of line that any tough government would have shown him the door. But Sushilkumar Shinde got along just fine and continues to do so.
To be sure, there were many things that the government had going in its favour. It brought in schemes like the MNREGA and pushed through cash transfer schemes. But much of that copybook seems to have been blotted by its inability to govern properly. In the early part of UPA 2, the government almost seemed hobbled after Anna Hazare began his anti-corruption movement in Delhi. For some months, the Capital seemed paralysed by a man from Ralegoan Sidhi taking on the might of the government that seemed to flounder under the attack of civil society activists.
As far as I could see, the government made a few noises about the Lokpal Bill, but what I saw far more was a determination to let the storm blow over. And it did, no thanks to the government but the manner in which the civil society movement tripped over its own feet with Hazare and his protégé Arvind Kejriwal pulling in different directions. And then fortuitously for the government, Kejriwal threw his hat into the very ring of politics which he had earlier said was the den of all vice.
Then as a gale storm of scams hit the government, all we saw was Parliament being disrupted and no work worth its name getting done. Perhaps, the lowest point for this government was the December 16 gang rape last year, which seemed to unleash an almost primordial rage in people. The Capital was paralysed even as the government seemed to again be scrambling for a solution. That the noble sentiments uttered by the prime minster and politicians from all parties seem to have amounted to nothing much is seen in the fact that the atrocities against women, in particular young girls, does not seem to have abated at all.
The UPA 2 had a real chance to make a difference to the economy. It again seemed to play ducks and drakes on bringing in foreign investment and opening up the economy. In doing so, it seemed to have suffered a setback in the economy and also investor confidence. It has not been able to bring in the kind of economic reform that was expected of it which has led to a slow down in economic indicators. On the foreign policy front, it was clear all along that the prime minister would have wanted a triumph our dealings with Pakistan. Here, I have to give him real credit for having tried his best, but the conditions in that country militated against the possibility of a lasting peace. Now that Pakistan has undergone, what for it is a historic change, in that power has actually passed from a civilian government to another civilian government, perhaps things could improve. But unfortunately, the UPA government will be far more focused on domestic issues as it goes into its last innings before elections 2014.
If I were to look back on the last four years, I can see a lot of lost opportunities, of dithering where more decisive action could have saved the day. In a second term, it could have gone hell for leather in many directions. But it allowed a certain policy paralysis to set in. I do wonder whether it will rediscover the passion to be a government, with apologies to the BJP, with a difference. Where I feel that India has been let down is in an indifferent UPA and an ineffective Opposition. Well, maybe better luck next time around.