The first year’s performance of the UPA-II government at the Centre has left much to be desired. The government has failed to control rising prices and its graph as far as political management goes both outside and on the floor of the house has been dismal. There is an acute problem of ministers suffering from foot-in-the-mouth disease. The allies do not hesitate to flex their muscles and even within the Congress, there appears to be a tug-of-war among various factions.
All this calls for urgent course correction. If this is not undertaken immediately, the chances of the government continuing in its present form for too long could be jeopardised. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is happy pursuing an agenda which he considers best for the country, leaving the difficult task of politics to his colleagues.
There is a growing perception that the government and the party differ on many issues. Glib talking by party spokespersons is not enough to dispel this impression, which gained currency particularly after the Sharm-el-Sheikh agreement signed by Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart.
In its last edition, the UPA constituents were restrained by the powerful Left and presented a more cohesive front. There were differences but they were mostly ideological and the government more or less adhered to the common minimum programme. The composition remained virtually the same except the exit of then Home Minister Shivraj Patil after 26/11. Earlier, the UPA parted company with the Left over the Indo-US nuclear agreement.
But after returning to power, the government has not been able to sustain the goodwill it was accorded during the last elections. The Congress increased its numbers from 145 (in 2004) to 207 (in 2009) in the Lok Sabha. But the government scores very poorly in perception especially on its ability to assert its writ.
The Pakistan policy is one factor for its diminishing image. There are other reasons too like its failure to rein in over-enthusiastic ministers — one of them, Shashi Tharoor had to quit and another, Jairam Ramesh, is caught up in controversy. The failure also extends to keeping all the allies on board and it is on account of the weaknesses in the Congress that many ‘friendly’ leaders have started talking in ‘unfriendly terms’. It essentially boils down to poor political management. The raking up of the Telengana issue by the government without there being any fresh demand for it (on December 9) has led to instability in the party’s strongest state — Andhra Pradesh. Its fall-out could have drastic repercussions for the future of the governments — both in the state and the Centre. The decision to introduce the Women’s Reservation Bill at the beginning of the Budget session also created major problems with some of the allies. The government had to finally put it in abeyance in the Lok Sabha.
What is most worrying from the perspective of the party is that the momentum given to some party programmes by the Congress general secretary, Rahul Gandhi, has run into roadblocks. Most of these have been created due to dismal political management by elements within the party who may be adversely affected if Rahul becomes powerful. One such example is the decision to take Mayawati’s support to get a cut motion passed when everyone knows that Rahul’s main thrust has been to recapture UP for the Congress.
The prime minister, by being away from Parliament on more than three occasions when the session was in progress, has also not contributed to sending out a message of seriousness about his own government. His helplessness in taking action against some of his ministers who are involved in scandals suggests that his writ does not really run as effectively as it should. The first year has been a period that this government will like to be forgotten. It is also a year that, to an extent, has put the brakes on Rahul’s emergence as the top Congress leader. It is time to set things right.