Two terms in government is like an eternity for those looking on. It’s a bat of an eyelid for the country at large. Sitting between these two temporal extremes is the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), working the clock to keep all aboard on its ship of allies — with a few changes in the crew here and there — and punching in the clock when it comes to bringing policies to the table and then making them work. For those who thought that the UPA was just a change of guard from the earlier National Democratic Alliance (NDA), barring in the foreign policy arena, it has been six years of radical departure. Not only has the secular, left-of-Centre coalition managed to keep its fingers pressed on the reforms agenda, but it has also managed to walk the precarious plank that, at least in terms that go beyond ‘aam aadmi’ rhetoric, has established social development as its central agenda. With the economy not only safe from global tempests but also strong from within, the UPA can now pay for India’s social security and development instead of just wanting them.
Exactly a year ago today on May 22, 2009, Manmohan Singh was sworn in as the prime minister for the second time. Like his party in the alliance, Mr Singh has been more confident and with less weights tied to his feet. The UPA’s second term has been the story of continuation. This is not a small matter. One could say that even more than starting something, sticking to it has always been a bugbear for governments in India. Whether it’s the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) or infrastructural developments, the UPA is on the right path when many thought it would veer off in various other directions. Food security and universal education are on the table now and these should follow the same road map.
If there is one serious challenge, it is that of security, especially internal security. Whatever the origins of the Maoist war against the Indian State, it is the government of today that has to face it squarely. While the UPA-II’s engagement with Pakistan can be deciphered, we are yet to see a serious strategic plan against Maoist terror. The UPA in its second, more stable avatar, is in a position to lay down the line. But it also has the luxury of hoping the Maoist challenge will die a natural death. One sincerely hopes that as a stable, empowered government, it makes the former choice.