It's the season for clichés as this government turns one, so let me use one to describe the United Progressive Alliance's reign: the more things change, the more they remain the same.
The best thing that can be said about the last one year is that it has not seen a break from the past. Since the stock market's jitters a year ago were touted as a sign of business and industry's nervousness over the new dispensation, witness how the same markets have reacted a year later. If that then was a sign of nervousness over the new government, can this now be taken as approbation for its reign? Whatever, the fact is the new government has largely continued on the same path as its predecessor, which is as it should be in mature nations. It is tinpot democracies that see a total overhaul of the previous administration's policies and decisions.
The flipside, of course, is that this government, which really means the prime minister, is as staid and colourless as the previous incumbent. And if you take in the governments in office before that, and extend the comparison right up to P V Narasimha Rao's tenure that began in 1991, it seems that we as a nation are condemned to die of boredom. How one misses the thrust and parry of the Rajiv Gandhi era and before!
Much is made of the coalition era, and the constraints it imposes on the government, shackling it from pursuing its policies. But to present a contrary point of view, both the UPA and the National Democratic Alliance have been kept in check by their allies: the centrist parties in the case of the latter, and the left in the case of the former.
Perhaps coalitions are not such a bad thing, especially since the last time the nation handed over a clear mandate to a prime minister, in 1984, did not leave a very pleasant aftertaste.
Look at the point of similarities between then and now, starting with foreign affairs, which along with the economy is where most governments leave their stamp. The NDA/Bharatiya Janata Party have sold out to the United States, the Congress, then in Opposition, screamed. Today, in power, the same party has seen the wisdom in continuing on the same path. Russia may continue to be an ideological mooring for many in the Manmohan Singh dispensation, but compulsions of realpolitik mean all roads lead to Washington, DC. Result: status quo.
And, while copious tears may have been shed by the Congress while in Opposition over the NDA establishing close relations with Israel, exigencies of holding office have ensured that there is no course alteration. Result: status quo.
A year of vendetta
The economy? Well, if anyone thought with the original reformers Manmohan Singh and P Chidambaram in government, the Left parties will have their way and roll back economic liberalisation, they were fooling themselves. Not only is it a fait accompli many times over, going back to the dreary days of controlled economy is not even an option anymore.
The Left may not like that, but they know it all too well, but in order to keep their constituents happy they may make the odd noise against reforms every now and then.
Healthcare, information technology/telecommunications, rural development, agriculture, power, civil aviation -- important sectors, all, but if any of you notice anything startling in the way this government handles them vis-à-vis the NDA, do let me know. I don't see anything different. Sure, some pet projects like the Golden Quadrilateral may not hog the administration's radar the way it did before, but there is no about-turn, nor an acceleration, anywhere.
There's more. Even when it comes to disruption of Parliament the two are evenly matched. The UPA may cry foul at the NDA's obstreperousness today for all it can, but it is merely a case of reaping what you sow.
Remember what the Congress and allies did during the Tehelka or Babri Masjid episodes in Parliament, and you too will suffer a feeling of deja-vu. Result: status quo.
As for charge that the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi exerts a larger-than-life influence on the central government, again, there is so little to choose between the two. It's only a question of nomenclature: the Gandhi Parivar is to the Congress party what the Sangh Parivar is the BJP. You can choose who is the pot, who the kettle between then. Result: status quo.
And finally Bihar, where too extends the likeness. The NDA can rail all it wants against the governor's decision to dissolve the hung assembly, but its own record is no different.
In February 1999, mistaking the Congress's condemnation of the massacre of 12 Dalits by landlords for tacit support, it sent the Rabri Devi government packing. However, unable to get the measure approved by the Rajya Sabha, the government was reinstated, ironically, on Women's Day, March 8 the same year. Saying this is not to mean support for what Governor Buta Singh (a Congressman) has now done, but if you look at what S S Bhandari (a BJP man) did in 1999, you too will wonder, like I do, which shoe is on which leg.
Sure, if you looked closely, there may be some points of difference between the two governments. For one, the present prime minister conveys a picture of robustness, never mind his years, and leaves no pause big enough where you can drive a truck through. But that is more a matter of style, not substance.
Also, to A B Vajpayee's credit, he was his government's sole vote-catcher, as well as face. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in contrast, is faceless, and still not an elected member of Parliament.
As for the rest, it's a deja-vu government all right.
Do you think this government is different/better from the previous one? Mail me your thoughts at