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HindustanTimes Wed,22 Oct 2014

UPA 2: Dream run to last-mile hurdles

Zia Haq, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, March 26, 2014
First Published: 00:57 IST(26/3/2014) | Last Updated: 02:51 IST(26/3/2014)

The Congress sought a renewed mandate in 2009 on the strength of a powerful new ideology. It was about marrying a market-led economy with distinctly socialist objectives. The party gave this a gorgeous catchphrase: inclusive growth. In other words, shared prosperity.

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Five years later, with an economy crashing around it and scandals still sticky, the UPA 2 faces an all-consuming political battle.

UPA 2 had had a historic mandate. For the first time in 25 years, a government completing a full term got re-elected. Manmohan Singh became the first PM, after Nehru, to be re-nominated to the top job after a full term. Just how did UPA use this mandate?

The economy never really recovered from a tug-of-war between high prices and low growth, with average growth slumping to 6.7% from 8.4% in the previous term.

India’s food output has grown twice as fast as its population. This no doubt stands as an under-rated triumph. However, stubbornly high food prices, averaging 7.1%, have been a glaring failure.

Sonia Gandhi’s social agenda has yielded some landmark programmes, such as the food security law. Yet, social sector spending remains poor. It spends just 1.2% on healthcare. Of this, the Centre spends a mere 0.3%.

The UPA pulled about 137 million people out of poverty. But its per capita poverty benchmark has been roundly criticised for being set so low that few Indians would get by on so little.

Scholars Mushirul Hasan and Zoya Hasan give a fair verdict in “The Social Development Report 2013” published by Oxford University Press: “Overall development accompanied by affirmative action has probably helped narrow down the gaps between socially backward classes and others but gaps do remain and the objective of eliminating inequalities is far from being achieved.”

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