UPA II: Four years and counting its days

Birthdays are normally happy occasions. But not when you are UPA II and the four candles on the cake remind you of how little a time may be left before the exit door is opened.

The fourth anniversary of UPA II is in the real sense a countdown clock. After 4 years, or rather 9 years, in power the government is looking desperately tired and besieged by ennui.

The last time I discerned a spark was when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had dug in his heels for the Indo-US nuke deal. But that was near the end of the UPA I tenure. Sadly, the vote for carrying out a definitive mandate has been lost in the second innings.

Right from the start in 2009, the government has been looking at sea. After all, how far can we keep hearing about the success of NREGA and Bharat Nirman and then read reports about how labourers are not even opting for these schemes!

Or can the Food Security Bill be given a realistic thumbs up when the fiscal deficit of the country stands at 5.9 percent, which is higher than the 5.4 percent level seen during the 1991 crisis.

What is the doctor of economics doing, one asks. The man who is supposed to know-all about money matters let inflation to spiral over 9% level; even today it hovers above 7%. The argument about inflating your way to growth – the method used by America after the Great Depression – just fails to hold when soaring prices put food and other basic amenities out of reach of the common man.

The so called ‘Aam Admi’s’ party has used the excuse of high international crude prices but failed to give relief by slashing taxes on petro products. Nobody, for example, could have imagined that one would need to shell out more than Rs 900 for an LPG cylinder!

The few reform measures taken lately in terms of FDI and pension and insurance sector have done little to assuage the fears of international business watchers and agencies which are threatening to slash India’s sovereign ratings. Despite Dr Singh being at the helm, India is probably one of the worst performing economies in the emerging market segment; the only silver lining being our sustained but now falling GDP growth despite the international recession and Euro debt crisis.

Moreover, whatever little has been achieved on the performance front has taken a beating by the credibility crisis. Corruption has become the Achilles heel of the government with one scam after the other tumbling out of its cupboard. Whether it is Coalgate or Railgate or ministers auditing CBI reports, the government has lost face on far too many occasions now.

UPA II could be shaken and stirred by a frail but determined Anna Hazare over the Lokpal Bill precisely for this reason, so much so that Pranab Mukherjee was forced to declare from Parliament a “sense of the house” to defuse the impasse.

If corruption captured the imagination of the nation, security, and particularly women’s safety, seems to be the biggest challenge being talked about today. A teary eyed Sonia Gandhi had to address a nation shocked by the Delhi braveheart’s gang-rape, such was the seething anger.

Amidst all this, the citizens of the country are demanding to hear and not just see their Prime Minister. As per the Zee Research Group analysis, it is revealed that Manmohan Singh delivered only 21 speeches in UPA II, fewer than the already few 35 speeches in his first tenure, adding to the perception of a tongue-tied man in bipolar set up.

During the tenure of UPA II, some of its allies like Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and M Karunanidh’s DMK also abandoned the ship. But Congress being Congress, it has made survival an art.

The moot question, however, is whether survival alone is the goal. It is not a matter of whether the government completes 5 years or 6 months less than that, the test is in the quality of deliverance, the foresight to etch the future path for the country, ability to pull swathes of population out of poverty and all this finally boils down to providing governance and growth.

It is these basic metrics that, after all, form a legacy. And all said and done, the longest serving Prime Minister outside the Gandhi family, may be found wanting when history poses some serious questions, at least in his second stint.