THE UPA-II is planning a big bash on the occasion of its first anniversary in office. In effect, this is the conclusion of Dr Manmohan Singh’s six years as Prime Minister and this he is planning to cap with a press conference in the capital’s Vigyan Bhavan on May 24, where he is expected to present a “report to the people” listing the claims of achievements.
The two major achievements by general consensus are that the UPA-I completed its first full term and the Congress managed to win 206 seats, 65 seats more than its tally in 2004, in the last election. This has considerably enhanced the leverage of the ruling party with its allies and it was able to keep at bay recalcitrant and corrupt elements like RJD, SP and Lok Janshakti. It was able to withstand the DMK tantrums at the time of ministry formation and similarly it has been playing a cat and mouse game with Mamata Banerjee. In the first round, the UPA cornered the Left Front, with a fait accompli on the nuclear bill. The decimation of the Left clout in national politics is a major strategic ploy of the Manmohan Singh government. The Left has never found itself so forlorn, if not neglected, as under the UPA-II. There is poetic justice here, for the communists, particularly the CPI(M), had become too arrogant and overbearing during the UPA-I tenure, because of the government’s patronage in return for their support.
At the time of May 2009 poll, the UPA had promised a number of ambitious programmes in the first 100 days of its second term in office. They all remain on paper, but the most glaring is the failure to reduce the price of essential commodities. Food items have become costlier and scarcer during the second term of the UPA. Never before the centre looked so puzzled and helpless before price rise of food articles. As a consequence, the food inflation has been hovering around an unprecedented 18 per cent under the UPA.
Its focus in the second term so far has been on high-sounding legislative exercises like Women Reservation Bill, Food Security Bill and Right to Education Bill. These are easier on the paper than on the ground. If at all the government shows serious initiative to implement them it will take years before they are launched on the ground. Till then they will remain part of the rhetoric.
Equally dismal is the government record on providing safe drinking water, developing infrastructure and providing affordable health care. The much-touted road projects are mired in controversy within the cabinet with the Minister for Environment and Minister for Shipping and Transport pulling in opposite directions.
The UPA-II had a huge share of scams to discredit it. The IPL scam, the 2G spectrum scam and the phone snooping controversy. The government’s handling of the CBI in the investigating agency’s probe into numerous scandals like disproportionate assets of Lalu Yadav, Mulayam Singh and Mayawati has proved how low the UPA can stoop to shield itself from political threats by misusing and compromising the impartiality and independence of the central agency. Equally controversial was the CBI role in burying the Bofors investigation.
UPA-II, particularly its main component, the Congress is a divided house. Not a day passes without reports of one or the other of its ministers sparring at another or a party functionary. Jairam Ramesh’s criticism of the Home Minister in a foreign country hit headlines. Similarly, the Congress was leaking scandalous stories about the NCP ministers to the media—be it on import-export of food articles or the civil aviation or IPL. The Congress double-talk on terror and the Maoist menace has considerably undermined the Home Ministry and compromised the internal security of the country. A section of the ruling party seems to be cohorts with the Maoists and Islamist fundamentalists. They ventilate the agenda of the underground enemies of the nation from the official pulpit and frustrate the efforts of the security forces. They are enjoying the blessings of the Congress high command. These are issues before the Prime Minister as he prepares his report to the nation on his sixth year in office.
A CAG report the other day said a whopping sum of over one lakh crore is being returned as unspent plan funds every year as programmes announced at the time of budget remain on paper. Similarly, another CAG report revealed that 97 per cent of funds earmarked for border roads remained unspent. Building roads along the Chinese border has been a stated priority of the UPA government because of the rapid expansion of world-class roads and airstrips on the other side of the border by China and its direct consequence on India’s defence preparedness. But the CAG says, shockingly only three per cent of the allocated funds were used and the rest returned by various departments of the Home Ministry from 2006 to 2009 at the end of each financial year. Most other departments have similar tales to tell.
Overall a lacklustre performance, a dismal record, that cannot get concealed by the hype of official extravaganza.