As the United Progressive Alliance government’s second term completes its third year, the scenario appears discouraging.
Decisions on major policies are in a limbo; Parliament sessions are routinely disrupted; economic growth is sputtering; and economists — both local and global — who used to sing paeans to India’s potential are now openly questioning its ability to live up to its promise.
Despite this, more than half of young Indians (in the 18-35 age group) are optimistic or very optimistic about their future and a similar number says their standard of living is at least the same or better than in 2009 when the UPA-II government returned to power. Warning bells
Meanwhile, a series of scams — the 2G scam, the Commonwealth Games scam, the Antrix Devas scam, among others — a bruising, bare-knuckled scrap with civil society over corruption in public life, a string of political and electoral setbacks in crucial states like UP, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar, troublesome allies and some high-profile personality clashes have paralysed governance in the country.
If elections were held now, more young Indians would vote for the NDA than the UPA, our survey shows, but with two years to go for elections, this trend cannot be termed decisive.
So, India’s politics is now poised tantalisingly between a tired-looking government that is doing everything in its power to surrender the initiative and a moribund Opposition that is equally determined not to pick up the gauntlet.
The good news for the UPA and India, as finance minister Pranab Mukherjee told the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, is that the long-term fundamentals of the Indian economy are still intact.
A few bold initiatives (such as allowing foreign investment in retail; increasing the foreign investment limit in insurance; pushing through a well-crafted law on land acquisition), a big administrative thrust (such as pushing states to fast-track stalled steel, power and mining projects) and a political programme to bring about a generational change in both the party and the government can still turn things around for the UPA.
Indian politics will move into election mode from the middle of next year. Therefore, the window of opportunity will remain open for 12 more months, at the most. The UPA, the Congress and the government must seize the opportunity and start setting the agenda once again. Any delay would cost the nation dear.