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The story of a weak and crumbling UPA II

August 02, 2013 14:53 IST

From the economy to foreign policy issues, to addressing the serious challenge posed by communal forces which are out to viciously polarise and divide Indian society, the UPA II government has shown a certain pronounced weakness and lack of vision and commitment that could seriously harm India in the long run, notes Sanjay Kapoor.

When the anti-corruption protesters, clandestinely backed by diabolical strategists of the Sangh Parivar and supported by venomously partisan 24/7 television coverage, occupied Delhi’s Ramlila Ground and many other streets in the country, the United Progressive Alliance II government seemed shaky, vulnerable and on the threshold of losing legitimacy. This was clearly a camouflaged putsch to weaken and perhaps topple the government.

Anyhow, the government hung on to power without giving in to the demands of faux Gandhian Anna Hazare and his merry men to appoint an extra-constitutional ombudsman. That was in 2011. In hind sight, it was a big achievement for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the context of how governments and regimes all over the world have been brought to their knees by the new display of crowd power.

While the UPA may have been able to disperse the crowds quietly and peacefully from the streets then, it could not really rid itself of the core charge that the protesters were making -- that the Congress-led UPA II government is perhaps the most corrupt in independent India. The scale and number of scams brought out by government auditors and courts point to that.

Blighted by these scandals, many politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen have come to grief. The arc of the Central Bureau of Investigation, under the supervision of the Supreme Court, has not spared even the Prime Minister’s Office, which has contributed to eroding its ample authority.

UPA II represents a tragic and tired contrast to the triumphant manner in which it rode to power in 2009, or its reasonably secular, stable and pro-people stint during UPA I, backed by the Left, and with a progressive Common Minimum Programme. A little less than a year away from the 2014 parliamentary elections, the government is fast unravelling an inadequate and disinterested response to a kaleidoscope of crisis that stares at it.

From the economy to foreign policy issues, to addressing the serious challenge posed by communal forces which are out to viciously polarise and divide Indian society, the UPA II government has shown a certain pronounced weakness and lack of vision and commitment that could seriously harm India in the long run.

The RSS-BJP and its aggressive hardliner Hindutva mascot, Narendra Modi, have clearly sensed this precipitous decline in the government’s resolve and form. They are thus desperately claiming inevitability about being voted to power whenever elections take place. As a result, there are more corporates, diplomats and bureaucrats willing to cut a deal with the opposition BJP than the ruling regime in Delhi.

Similarly, cases that involve probing deeper the conduct of certain BJP leaders, like the involvement of Narendra Modi and his buddies in the post-Godhra carnage, or the fake encounters in Gujarat, are being handled perfunctorily. If media reports are anything to go by, Modi got himself anointed as the chief campaigner of the BJP to enjoy immunity from any probe, now or later.

So bizarre is the situation now that senior ministers don’t attend office, skip crucial Cabinet meetings and some of them have the gall to go on private visits abroad without seeking permission from the prime minister. The crucial Group of Ministers, an important entity created by Manmohan Singh to fast-track decisions, too, suffers from the same disease with steady dropout by ministers. The pessimistic scenario is that the government just cannot get itself to take crucial decisions -- any decision.

Indeed, among a tiny handful, only Finance Minister P Chidambaram has been working himself to a standstill to get the economy kicking again during the last mile of the UPA rule. Earlier, as Union home minister, he had single-handedly faced the wrath of the BJP inside and outside Parliament after fast-tracking the probe into the involvement of Hindutva terrorists in several bomb blasts.

Indeed, the political executive is also being cramped by the cagey attitude of the bureaucrats who just do not want to move a file till they are given guarantees that they will not be hounded by either campaigners of the Right to Information, the courts or the CBI. Their worry lines have deepened over the manner in which the investigating agency is being vested with extraordinary independence to probe and prosecute without being weighed down by any kind of supervision.

After the arrest and prosecution of former telecom secretary Siddharth Behura in the telecom scam, and the interrogation of former coal secretary Harish Chandra Gupta, considered a man of impeccable integrity, in the coal scam, no one seems immune from the long ‘paws’ of the CBI. “Why should we take a decision when there are no guarantees that we will not be hauled up later,” says a senior secretary at the Centre.

Courtesy: Hard News magazine

Image: The pessimistic scenario is that the government just cannot get itself to take crucial decisions -- any decision

Photograph: B Mathur/Reuters

Sanjay Kapoor in New Delhi