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UPA: A Rudderless Ship

Seema MustafaNewsclick
The year is drawing to a close, and so it seems is meaningful government activity. The state of flux has engulfed the entire UPA government that appears totally adrift. It is as if no one is charge, with the Ministers pulling in different directions and Industry threatening to pull out investments for safer bets abroad.
Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. Inflation is leaping, as are prices. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh continues to talk of growth that no one can really see, and takes decisions that he cannot follow through. His authority has eroded to a point where he is contradicted by Ministers, and finds himself isolated and quite on the fringe of government functioning. His pet project, after the Nuclear agreement with the United States, is Foreign Direct Investment in Retail. He made the announcement but the outcry in the country, reflected in Parliament, put the government squarely in the dock. Allies like Mamata Banerjee refused to back the government on this andeventually the proposal has been put on hold. The announcement that the government had decided not to go ahead with this came not from Mr.Singh, but from the Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee who seems to be quite happy with the turn of events. Singh has now said again, not in Parliament but in an interview that he has not given up on the proposal and it would be reconsidered after the Assembly elections next year. Amazing, if true as it shows scant respect for Parliament and the Opposition and makes a mockery of democratic governance.
Prime Minister Singh should explain what will have changed by early next year to enable him to get the FDI in retail through the objections of Parliament. And as his interview seems to suggest, the reason for backing off now was all to do with the elections and little to do with the genuine concerns of the people. In fact he should explain why he is not concerned about the people, largely the small vendors and entrepreneurs who will be adversely affected by this proposal if it gets through Parliament. And he should also explain why his economic policies and strategy has failed to deliver, in that it has deepened poverty and increased the gap between the rich and the poor. There is something very vulgar and ugly about the thousands of rupees that a brand item fetches in India as against our acute poverty where families can barely survive. And then the Prime Minister should also explain how FDI in retail will help the poorest of the poor who should have been the yardstick for his economic plans.
The government is unable to handle the issue of Corruption that has generated a parallel economy of crores in India. Prime Minister Singh is silent on this with the all party meeting being convened clearly to give the UPA more time to bring in the Lokpal Bill. The Congress is not keen to include the Prime Minister in the ambit of the Bill, not because of Manmohan Singh, but more because it hopes to have scion Rahul Gandhi in the hot seat at some point. And given the fact that corruption has become an integral part of politics and governance today, not many in power will be without skeletons and bodies in their cupboards. But Anna Hazare and the support he has generated amongst the people at large constitutes a powerful pressure group that has shackled the government. The likes of Kapil Sibal have not been able to open a window for escape, and now with the entire Opposition
supporting Anna Hazare, the situation has become even more difficult for the UPA.
Everything is on hold. The Lokpal Bill, the now old verging on ancient Womens Reservation Bill that no one is talking about in this session, the Food Bill, and even defence deals like the multi-crore proposal for 126 combat aircraft. The shortlist was narrowed down to two contenders but till date the government has not been able to decide between the two, leading to rumours that even this deal, becoming more and more expensive by the minute, is now on hold. Or perhaps even aborted.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi has definitely lost steam. Rumours about her health remain unconfirmed and no one knows for certain whether she will be able to steer the ship for long. Her son Rahul Gandhi is trying desperately to make a dent in Uttar Pradesh but judging from the responses it seems he was not very wise to put all his eggs in the basket of this crucial and highly unpredictable state.
Manipulation has replaced field work with Congressmen dancing around the leadership in a bid to be noticed, and thereby to be secure.The old problems---poverty, Kashmir, North East, Naxalites---continue and have been compounded even further by the new issues that have people protesting now for days and months. Gone is the time when a protest was confined to a few hours. Now desperation is preventing the people from going back to their homes, as the state and its capitalist cronies threaten their livelihood and their land. There are ongoing peoples protests in 18 States of India at this point, with fishermen, farmers, small cultivators and even the middle class joining those agitating for a better life, for rights, and for dignity.
Prime Minister Singh’s much lauded civilian nuclear energy agreement with the US has run aground. Even though a volley of half truths and the famous cash for vote ruse managed to get it through Parliament, the people have stopped it now from becoming a reality. The big victory that the UPA government claimed to have scored has turned into bitter defeat as one, Parliament could not give the nod to a legislation allowing the supplier of the nuclear reactor to be virtually free of culpability in case of an accident. And as a result the diluted Bill that was eventually passed is not acceptable to the US that continued to exert pressure on the Prime Minister to tighten the legislation. He did so by bringing in a series of rules to negate some of the provisions of the main piece of legislation but clearly these will not stand up in court, as well known lawyer Soli Sorabjee has recently pointed out. The US thus is not being able to sell the promised reactors to India, and the people have made this even more difficult by picketing nuclear plants and proposed sites for nuclearparks.
The wheel of Justice has only just started turning, and the government paralysed by inaction and arrogance will have to crawl on bended knees to appease the angry people of India. Otherwise it can count its days in office, with each session of Parliament becoming a test for survival.

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