The just-concluded Parliament session has shown that the UPA is still struggling to stay on top of things while the BJP, the principal Opposition party, lacks the determination and commitment to play its role effectively.
Nearly two-and-half months have passed since the new government came to power. However, despite the Congress getting 206 seats in the general elections, the government does not appear to be in command or cohesive as it looked in its first few months in power in 2004.
There could be many reasons for this perception. First, the joint statement signed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Pakistan has failed to find endorsement within the Congress even though the party tried to erase this impression by backing his statement in Parliament, which did not have any mention of Balochistan. In what looked like a cover-up, the party stated that there could be no dialogue with Pakistan till terrorist strikes against India stopped completely.
Attempts were also made to indicate that there was no disagreement within the government on the subject but many top leaders, including some ministers, took a contrary view in private conversations. In simple language, the party line is not the same as the government line and many ministers in the government also do not agree with the Indo-Pakistan joint statement in Sharm el-Sheikh. But the party is also not keen that this one disagreement should precipitate a crisis and allow the differences to come out in the open.
Party managers are keen that the issue should get a quiet burial so that the government can move on from there. The official line is that the Congress president and UPA chairperson is fully behind the PM and the two continued to enjoy a cordial relationship based on mutual trust.
However, this one instance has also perhaps created an impression, rightly or wrongly that a power struggle may have started within the Congress. While the positions of the PM, Mrs Gandhi and her son Rahul remain unaffected, there is an attempt by some senior leaders to position themselves for any unexpected eventuality.
In the process, the government has not been able to adequately assert itself. Though the Parliament session went off smoothly, the dominance of the government on each and every issue was not enough at times. Even the performance or lack of it of some ministers showed as neither over-enthusiasm nor lack of experience on the national political stage seemed to help matters.
But there are lessons the government and the party must learn from the first session itself. If some ministers have been found to be performing below par or not up to expectations, it is the right time to take corrective steps. Maintaining a status quo is not going to help matters as people have given a larger mandate to the Congress and want decisions and results. Lingering over matters is not going to help.
Similarly, the long-awaited party reshuffle must take place without delay. It is the right time to bring in people who have a comfortable working relationship with Rahul Gandhi who is seen by the average Congress worker as the future leader. Those who are entrusted with party positions must have the required compatibility and must conform to the principle of one-man one-post, as was the norm during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as PM and party president. Elections to Maharashtra, Haryana, Arunachal and Jharkhand are due and the Congress cannot afford to be casual in its approach.
This is also a good time since the BJP is in disarray and some important changes are expected at the top level in the saffron brigade as well. The government must not shy away from making important appointments. Both the party and government have to send out the right signals that things are totally under control and that they will provide good governance for the next five years. Between us.