Still the king? | india | Hindustan Times
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Still the king?

Manmohan Singh had staked the survival of UPA-I to pursue his dream of a breakthrough in relations with the US; he is pursuing a breakthrough in relations with Pakistan in UPA-II though he knows fully well that all odds are against him. He’s lonely, but he knows that’s how it’s meant to be at the top.

india Updated: May 17, 2010 00:23 IST
Varghese K. George

Manmohan Singh had staked the survival of UPA-I to pursue his dream of a breakthrough in relations with the US; he is pursuing a breakthrough in relations with Pakistan in UPA-II though he knows fully well that all odds are against him. He’s lonely, but he knows that’s how it’s meant to be at the top.

Singh considered the 2009 victory equally his, as it was Sonia Gandhi’s. But it is also proving to be his big challenge. Unlike UPA-I, when expectations from the patchy alliance were low and every step forward won him a loud round of applause, the Congress-led coalition’s return to Raisina Hill had set expectations a trifle too high.

It doesn’t help that Singh is shackled by compulsions arising out coalition with smaller parties and divergent opinions within the Congress. Just 4.4 per cent of the respondents saw this as a strength — though it was far from his biggest weakness either.

While coalition pressures in UPA-I followed a predictable pattern, in UPA-II it’s whimsical, primarily due to one person — Mamata Banerjee. The PM may apply his sense of propriety on Shashi Tharoor, but Mamata and A. Raja of DMK are beyond prime ministerial authority.

As many as 31 per cent of respondents say the PM’s inability to deal with tainted ministers is his biggest weakness — but then that’s been seen as a necessary evil in coalitions.

Coalition compulsions have blocked reformist legislations, particularly amendments to the Land Acquisition Act. Only 8.2 per cent saw his reform push as a strength — 11.4 per cent saw it as the PM’s greatest weakness.

Among other challenges was the constant need to count the numbers in Parliament. The PM conceded to a demand from Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh to include caste in census, a move that left many in Congress bewildered.

Bickering within the government and the Congress over key issues such as Bt Brinjal, Naxal policy, climate change and foreign policy created a perception that the PM is not in command. A charitable view of Singh suggests the PM is encouraging such debates to test the waters. Twenty per cent respondents saw his ability to take the party along as his greatest strength.

Political management apart, Singh’s initiatives in administrative reforms may help better governance, though only in the long term.

The PM has put in place a measurable system to assess performance of the bureaucracy and set in motion an overhauling of the recruitment process for IAS and allied services.

However, suggested reforms in delivery of public goods and services through innovations such as coupons remain a pipedream in the absence of political consensus.

One can say though, the starting of the Unique ID is a small step towards this direction of making governance transparent and easy.