Calculus of Congress Party Failure

Published on CHOWK (first in Daily Times, 13th May 2010), by Rakesh Mani, May 17m 2010.

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is on the cusp of celebrating the first birthday of its second term in office. But far from being a celebratory occasion where the party and the people can look to further consolidation in the four years to come, the mood is gloomy. There is almost a sense of shoulder-shrugging disenchantment palpable. The government, re-elected as the alternative to the right-wing Hindu parties, has struggled with a boatload of problems on the domestic front.

The proclivity of the government, and its senior cabinet members, to create trouble and controversy for themselves has been likened to the Indian cricket team snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The inclination, or pure bad luck, to court controversy with rash statements has been given a term in the Indian media — ‘foot-in-mouth-itis’ …

… Interestingly, the Congress party decided to sacrifice Tharoor — its own bright star — at the altar of clean politics, but has a different rule for A Raja, because the DMK party is a critical coalition ally.

In the last year that the UPA has been in power, there has been no progress with economic reforms or disinvestment of public sector outfits as promised. Over 50 key pieces of legislation — from the Women’s Reservation Bill, to the Food Security Bill — are stalled.

On the internal front, ‘foot-in-mouth-itis’ is the last of the problems. The Congress Party’s top brass seems to be busy with civil war. General Secretary Digvijay Singh attacks Home Minister P Chidambaram’s anti-Naxalite policies and criticises the minister for being “intellectually arrogant”. Jairam Ramesh, the errant Environment Minister, does not have any nice words to say about Home Minister Chidambaram either.

Meanwhile, Oil Minister Murli Deora and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee are at war over the pricing of petroleum products and Sonia Gandhi’s plan to offer cheaper food through the Food Security Bill is being stymied by the Finance Ministry. The prime minister has not been able to do much at all, but somehow manages to find himself in the thick of all battles.

One may argue that the tumult is a good sign — it shows that democracy is alive and well. Discussions take place and ministers disagree, publicly even, on decisions and results. But that would be illusory — because the debate is not centred on policy, but political expediency.

The worst affected party in the tragedy of UPA politics has been governance itself. The government has proved incapable of making use of its mandate. Despite the lofty promises that were made last year when they came to power, the Manmohan Singh government has shown that they are short of what it takes for effective governance — courage, conviction and the ability to take a risk for the sake of principle and true democracy. (full text).

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