What can one possibly say about the UPA Government that has not been said in the past, time and time again? It has been a total failure. It has been a major disaster. It has no leadership worth the name. It has no vision. It is a family concern. The Congress certainly is. It is moving along like a blind elephant, doing untold damage on its way to nowhere and has become a sickening joke. No one knows who is running it. The moment Pranab Mukherjee resigned from his Finance Ministry, an effort was made to change some of his budget proposals. It was as if the UPA was only waiting for Mukherjee to quit – a poor tribute to his alleged talents.
Who is running the party? Surely, it is not Dr Manmohan Singh, damned as an ‘underachiever’ by none else than Time magazine? Was it Pranab Mukherjee? Reports are that he was not a favourite of Sonia Gandhi and his nomination to the country’s Presidentship was purely accidental. He has been regularly described as the Number Two man in the cabinet responsible for setting disputes, etc, but where was he when the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army was at loggerheads with the Defence Minister? And if the Number One man could achieve nothing, what can one expect from the current Number Two, AK Antony? And this man has now written to the Number One that the Army is virtually sizzling with anger and is presently in need of immediate and proper attention. And that communication has now become public knowledge.
Was the Antony letter to Dr Singh deliberately leaked? And if so by whom? Is discipline within the Army on the verge of collapse? And if the Army is breaking up, to whom do we look for security? For months now the UPA has become synonymous with corruption. Forget 2G. Forget all the Congressmen who have been arrested and jailed. Forget A Raja. Forget Suresh Kalmadi. We have witnessed the sickening spectacle of the Congress losing election after election, whether in Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and lately Andhra Pradesh, where the once supportive and most corrupt Congress rulers ruled the roost.
First it was Mamata Banerjee who was a headache. The Railway Ministry under the charge of her nominee seems to be in utter chaos. There are regular train crashes. Coaches get burnt and passengers get roasted. And the Railway Minister is nowhere near the scene. Then there is Sharad Pawar, who has been sulking like a spoiled child. Pawar has only nine MPs in the Lok Sabha, but he has been behaving just as badly as Mamata. And word was being sent around that the UPA government was not recognising his ‘seniority’ – whatever that means. There are whispers that Pawar has been feeling ‘cornered’ because of a monumental irrigation scam involving NCP Ministers in Maharashtra and the involvement of Chhagan Bhujbal’s relatives in the construction of Maharashtra Sadan in Delhi. As one commentator put it: “Pawar appears to have realised something that the crisis managers of the Congress seem blissfully unaware of the fact that prolonged association with the government is yielding diminishing returns”.
The Adarsh Society scam is getting scammier and scammier. For whom was that Adarah multi-storey building intended for? For families of Army Martyrs? Or for nominees of Ministers and Government servants? Who has been cornering the apartments? Sanjay Sankaran, for one. And who is this Sanjay Sankaran? He is the son of Maharashtra’s former Chief Secretary, DK Sankaran. He owns a flat No 2302 measuring 650 sq ft in the Ararsh Building. He apparently never told his father that he had secured Adarsh membership. Another non-martyr to get a flat in Adarsh is a driver of a Nagpur based firm with an annual income of Rs 34,000. In the Mumbai government martyrdom was on sale. Corruption is so widespread that a peon in Nagpur could also get a flat in the Adarsh building. Poor Anna. He wants a Lok Pal Bill to be passed that has his approval and he has gone on hunger strike to see that his demand is met. The UPA Government will watch how the situation will end up before taking any decision. And one can be assured that whatever the government will promise – if, indeed, it does so – it will be bound with reservations.
The New Indian Express (18 July) carried a story that said that “the menace of corruption in the country is pegged at Rs 1,555,000 crore in the last decade and majority of it has been laundered out of India using gateways, mentioning a study. And what has the UPA government done? Nothing. The money lies safely in Swiss vaults. The study, incidentally, was carried out by a Pune-based company called Indiaforensic.
Judicial corruption under the UPA regime is a fact of life. On March 23, 2011, The Free Press Journal revealed that as many as sixteen charges of corruption against a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, including land grabbing and abuse of judicial position and destruction of evidence, have been found true. What has happened to the Chief Justice? Where do we stand now, pray? Nothing is working. According to the media, figures regarding the sittings of Parliament, they have come down drastically from 127 days in the 1950s to 73 days in 2011. Nobody cares.
According to The Times of India, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar travelled as many as 29 times in 35 months. She went abroad once every 37 days – the country most visited being Switzerland, a country noted for its involvement in keeping black money. All these figures show how nonchalant are our political parties, especially the ruling party towards the exercise of democracy. The rupee has hit an all-time low and there seems little hope of its recovery. The economy, as is only too well-known, is bleeding. So is the administration, under the UPA. According to the media, as many as 143 Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers, seven of whom are from Karnataka, have failed to submit their immoveable property returns (IPRs) for the year 2011, despite several reminders issued by the government. Are they still functioning freely or have they been removed? Where do we stand? A study by the US-based Pew Research Centre found that while just a year ago 51 per cent people were satisfied with the way things were in the country, today 59 per cent are dissatisfied.
According to Pew, public mood about the economy has worsened since 2008. Who is to be blamed? Surely not Dr Manmohan Singh? Should it be Rahul Gandhi? He has not spoken one word of intellectual exercise in the Lok Sabha all these months; there is a growing demand for him to give lead but he seems incapable of true leadership. In a recent article in The Times of India, Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya said that “with Sonia in ill-health, Rahul unable to connect to the electorates even in his historically ‘safe’ constituency and the Nehru-Gandhi brand name having lost its appeal, the prospects for the Congress in 2014 look bleak” adding that “only the outcome will tell whether it can survive”. But how can the Congress survive when it has no national leaders? Sonia Gandhi is suffering from ill-health and can hardly be expected to make country-long drives to address large audiences. Moily is no national leader and we all know that in recent times he has been marginalised. Nor is Digvijay Singh. Nor, for that matter is AK Antony.
The Congress has no national leader because Sonia Gandhi does not want anyone to compete with her son and political heir. And one can reasonably expect Dr Manmohan Singh to quietly retire, once the UPA-2 has completed its course. Surely he can’t be expected to address public gatherings to capture peoples’ imagination. What one can expect from the UPA is purchase of news space to condemn the BJP and its coalition. According to the retired Election Commissioner, SY Qureshi, the Commission received a staggering 766 complaints of Paid News during the January-March Assembly elections, of which 253 were found to be true.
Leaders don’t have to travel to address public meetings all over India. They can produce news merely by staying at home and letting their public relations men do the work. Besides, it is by now a known thing that Rahul Gandhi can make little impact on the public. He is being pressed to take a more decisive part in politics, but as of date nobody knows where he stands though he has promised to be pro-active, whatever that means. But for a party to put all its money on one individual is to lay a poor bet. The Congress is at a dead end. In the normal course of events, elections would be held in 2014 and not a day earlier. But the situation in the country is getting worse by the day and for all one knows elections may be forced on the UPA by March 2013. The UPA’s days are numbered. And in the end, that’s all that counts.
(The writer is a former editor of Illustrated Weekly, Chairman Prasar Bharati and senior columnist).