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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 23

Three Years of UPA Government


Thursday 31 May 2007, by SC


The Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance Government has just completed three years in office. On this occasion it has presented a “Report to the People”. What does this Report convey? According to the Report, in these three years the UPA Government has taken several steps to (i) improve the social and economic condiitions of the people; (ii) create infrastructure in both the urban and rural areas; (iii) build a harmonious society; and (iv) strengthen India’s relations with all countries, those in our vicinity as well as those located in distant regions.

How far are these claims valid? Rhetoricallythe PM has on several occasions spoken of the objective of ensuring inclusive growth—that economic development (in terms of the GDP it is 8.5 per cent for the fifth year in succession) must be socially inclusive and regionally balanced. The irrefutable fact is that not only has this objective not been met, conditions are being and have been created to bring about exclusive growth which is another way of saying that economic disparities are widening. In other words, one section of the people is flourishing but the fruits of economic growth have not yet reached the bulk of our populace who are living even today in utter poverty, misery and destitution. And by such thoughtless endeavours as building Special Economic Zones (SEZs) the poverty, misery and destitution of these teeming millions are being sought to be enhanced.

Soon after it came to power in May 2004 on the crest of rising popular expectations that had been belied by the ‘India Shining’ dispensation of the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance, the UPA Government had taken special measures to reinforce its links with with the common people or aam aadmi but for whose unstinted support it could not have hoped to achieve success at the hustings defeating the NDA and its well-oiled hi-tech election machinery put in place by the BJP’s whiz-kids. These were manifest in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the Right to Information Act. Both these were laudable steps to help guarantee employment and development for those living below the poverty line (although the Right to Information has a wider meaning, its profound significance lies in its essential linkage with development in general and development for the benefit of the poor in particular—its capability in reducing the influence of the middle men who eat away the funds targeted for the upliftment of the disprivileged and the dispossessed). However, reports from across the States conclusively prove that both are not being utilised for the benefit of those they are intended to serve—the common people. This naked truth cannot be suppressed by any tub-thumping rhetoric.

The stark failure of the UPA Government in standing by the aam aadmi is best mirrored by the persisting suicides in the countryside especially by those farmers in the relatively prosperous States who have become debt-ridden as a consequence of the government’s fallacious policies including the economic reforms howsoever unpalatable it would be for the exponents of the new economic strategy causing havoc in many areas and most notably in our rural backyard. Now with the SEZs taking shape in various parts the path is being paved for the further pauperisation of the peasantry whereas the proposed benefits from these projects would, by all estimates, be of limited value and nowhere near the hype generated in the corporate world and the media driven by it.

The claim about the growth of infrastructure in the urban and rural areas is just a claim—it is all on paper, nothing concrete has materialised as yet. Even if one refrains from taking a harsh view of the Bharat Nirman project, there is no perceptible move till date to involve the people in it breaking the bureaucratic shackles.

Here one point needs to be underscored. The UPA Government, despite the presence of rustic leaders like Laloo Prasad and Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, is basically run by technocrats and bureaucrats (Manmohan Singh, P. Chidambaram and Montek Singh Ahluwalia are the most dazzling examples) while even Pranab Mukherjee, regarded by many as the most astute ‘politician’ in the crowd, is often jocularly branded as the most eminent figure of the Indian Political Service a la the ICS, IAS, IFS to underscore his tenuous ties with the people at large. They are a far cry from politicians of national stature who ruled the country in the past. Hence they are, to say the least, divorced from the urges and aspirations of the public. That is one of the major lacunae of the UPA dispensation.

As for the parties of the Left extending crucial outside support to the ruling coalition, they have doubtless behaved recklessly at times having no ideological responsibility in ensuring the effective functioning of the government and made certainirresponsible statements (like ‘we can not only bark but also bite’) that were a sad commentary on the operation of the alliance. It was, of course, foolhardy to expect from these people (some of whom actually behave as juvenile politicos) the kind of mature reactions that would have been available had the Left today been led by such towering figures of the past like P.C. Joshi, Ajoy Ghosh, S.A. Dange, Dr G. Adhikari, S.G. Sardesai and Bhowani Sen. Having said that it needs to be, nevertheless, underlined that much of the Left criticism from the standpoint of defence of the toiling people as well as trade unions is valid. Where one strongly feels the Left leaders have failed is in their inability to present before the government an alternative paradigm of development that would have truly changed the face of Indian politics. In its absence they have to face the charge of merely indulging in criticising and opposing certain policies without spelling out the alternative path. However, it is also true that such a move from the side of the current Left establishments is next to impossible when the dominant segment of the Left is hellbent on voluntarily extolling the corporate sector or MNCs in their endorsement of SEZs (as illustrated in their behaviour in Nandigram in wanton disregard of poplar sentiments).

The UPA Government has, of course, taken bold strides in strengthening the composite culture our country and to that extent its claim of building a harmonious society stands justified. Yet it has done precious little in trying to restrain the activities of the Gujarat Government (whose anti-Musliim proclivities are getting exposed with every passing day, the fake encounter killings being the latest example of its extra-judicial approach to ‘curb’ terrorism). And what has it done in bringing to light the misdeeds of the NDA Government in this regard? The havoc wrought in the ICHR and the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla during the NDA rule was painstakingly documented by a reputed retired administrator entrusted with the task but not only did his workgo unrecognised, his recommendations were not acted upon by the authorities particularly those in charge of the Ministry of Human Resources Development.

The Opposition parties in general and the BJP in particular castigate the UPA Government on the ground that its ‘soft’ approach has resulted in a spurt in terrorist activities across the country. No doubt there have been several terrorist attacks—from the Mumbai train blasts to the Malegaon blasts and the Mecca Masjid explosion being the latest in a series of such incidents—and these have happened when a distinguished police officer is in charge of the country’s national security apparatus. The government must be held accountable for such terrorist depredations. While any laxity on the part of the authorities needs to be decried the basic question is: is it possible for any government to prevent such happenings? The question assumes critical importance in the context of the 9/11 episode in the US. But that apart, what right has the NDA or the BJP to level such an accusation when in spite of its so-called ‘hardline’ policies it could not prevent the terrorist attack on Parliament in December 2001?

As for strengthening relations with different countries of the world, the government definitely deserves commendation for its strenuous efforts to maintain and at times accelerate the peaceprocess with Pakistan and its farsighted moves in improving the situation in J&K (though, one must stress, it should have evolved some more innovative measures in this connection). Of course, Pakistan’s attitude towards India is not uniformly benign and the growth of fundamentalism linked to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in parts of Pakistan is a matter of concern. This is also true of our relations with Bangladesh where the rise of fanaticism and hostility towards India are keeping pace with each other.

On ties with the United States, there was too much euphoria generated in influential sections of the media on the Indo-US nuclear deal. While there is no gainsaying that it would be most welcome if India gains access to dual use technology the US has so far denied us, the moot question is: at what price? It is becoming increasingly transparent to all those following the course of negotiations that Washington’s bargaining postures as also arms-twisting tactics (due primarily to its domestic political compulsions) cannot help salvage the deal if the UPA Government remains firm on its original commitment spelt out by the PM in Parliament. But will it?

India’s relations and cooperation with China and Russia as well as other developing states are distinctly on the rise. However, more attention needs to be paid to further reinforcing such ties. That is not happening because of the UPA leadership’s excessive preoccupation with reshaping the Indo-US relationship that is getting overriding importance over other vital issues.

Overall, then, the UPA Government’s performance over the past three years leaves much to be desired. In this context Panchayati Raj Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar’s criticism of the UPA Government’s economic policies leading to a crisis of credibility for the ruling coalition before large sections of our people who voted it to power is most timely. Equally appropriate is his assertion that alarm bells should be ringing for the UPA leadership on this count. It is easy to run him down as some have been doing at this point but none can contest the truth behind his statement.

Unless the UPA leaders heed Mani’s warning they would in 2009 meet the same fate as the NDA in 2004. This ominous prognosis they can well choose to ignore, but only at their peril.

May 24 S.C.

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