Disastrous. That is the only way to sum up the performance of the UPA-II in the last two years. It's possibly an understatement. The government simply has not taken off since it was re-elected in 2009. Multiple scams apart, it has run into virtual policy paralysis. There's no hint of movement on any of the country's pressing problems. The government seems to have given up on inflation and price rise. It's not even talking about the aam aadmi anymore. The much-trumpeted poverty alleviation scheme, Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Programme, is going nowhere.
So when senior BJP leader M Venkaiah Naidu said "the UPA's performance is shameful and scamful", he was not far off the mark. "The UPA-II started its term with a flurry of announcements of 100-day agendas. More than 700 days later, there is no mention of the agendas. There is a big disconnect between the rulers and the ruled," he told reporters on Sunday.
For the government the last two years have been full of tactical blunders too. After holding out on the Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into the 2G spectrum allocation scam rather unnecessarily and for too long, it gave in to the opposition rather meekly. In the process, it missed nearly the whole of the winter session of Parliament and the result was a severe loss of face and legislative time.
It refused to throw out the disgraced telecom minister A Raja and appeared to be protecting him for fairly long. When it finally took action after the Supreme Court’s intervention in the 2G case, it had lost the advantage of taking a moral high ground. Its approach in the Commonwealth Games scandal, involving party MP Suresh Kalmadi, was slightly better. In the case of the CVC chief PJ Thomas the government had no game plan in place. The opposition again managed to extract a statement from the prime minister himself.
Many of the embarrassing situations the UPA-II finds itself in could have been less aggravating had they been managed better. The fact that the prime minister or the government did not come out with a clear position on any of the controversial issues made them the easy punching bag for all. It's not that the government is entirely clean -- issues like the Adarsh Society and the CWG scam still have too many unanswered questions -- but better communication could have made its life slightly easier.
Into its third year, the government needs to address several issues in a coherent manner and get into the issue of governance fast. It has already wasted too much time and lost a big chunk of the credibility it had amassed in its previous avataar.
But reaching out to the common man won’t be easy. It will need to cover a lot of ground in priority areas like healthcare, rural development, urban development and the farm sector. Interestingly, after coming to power for the second time the UPA had made a series of announcements in these areas and promised to get cracking within 100 days. Two years on, nothing much has moved. Much of it has to with the policy confusion in the Congress itself. The party’s old guard has started asserting itself with the blessings of party chief Sonia Gandhi and general secretary Rahul Gandhi. The reformists have gone silent for sometime, which has led to the alienation of the middle class support base of the party.
The Food Security Bill is still cooking in the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council. The Women Reservation Bill has cleared the Rajya Sabha hurdle and yet to cross the Lok Sabha obstacle. Taking a strong position against corruption is easy—both Manmohan and Sonia vouched to remove it at the UPA's celebration party on Sunday again—but to put in place anything actionable is the real job. Just lip service won't work anymore for the party.
UPA-II is living in a cloud of confusion right now. The biggest challenge before it is to remove the clutter in the mind.