Though the Congress party’s Nainital conclave was billed as a meeting of Chief Ministers belonging to the party, it turned out to be a good occasion to display the sound political health of the UPA coalition that governs the country. The positions taken by its leaders on questions ranging from anti-terrorism strategy to agriculture, indicate that the UPA in mid-term is at peace with itself, and has begun shifting gears so as to pick up even greater impetus in the coming years. Whether the issue is tackling the agrarian crisis or terrorism and Naxalism, it is increasingly clear that the lack of effective coordination among state governments is a major hindrance in the way of implementing policies. Organising a critical mass of Congress-led states to push on the implementation front is bound to have a positive fallout in non-Congress ruled states as well.
The meeting has given Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh an opportunity to showcase their unique partnership involving political and governmental management — even as it gave the UPA chairman an opportunity to unreservedly endorse the Prime Minister of the coalition. The two worked in tandem to push for subtler, though not necessarily softer, anti-terrorist tactics and a more effective agrarian policy. The focus on agriculture is both politically sound and important from the point of view of the economy at large. Agricultural output is the laggard area in our GDP growth, and the UPA’s efforts towards drastically overhauling this sector are timely and welcome. Reassuring Muslims that anti-terrorist policing is not aimed at them is not a manifestation of minorityism, but common sense. The fight against terrorism is about winning the hearts and minds of the people. Putting this across to the Chief Ministers is important since law and order is a state subject and the issue has gained salience after the Maharashtra police’s poor handling of the state’s minority community after the recent Mumbai blasts. Simultaneously, the PM has made it clear that the new anti-terror mechanism with Pakistan is meant to put Islamabad to the test, rather than an expression of any changed posture towards terrorism.
The party, and the governments it heads in the states and at the Centre, must now ensure that the ideas and discussions that came up at the conclave are quickly translated into effective policies, whose implementation is taken up in quick time. That alone will be the true measure of the meeting’s achievement.