Serial blunderers at the helm of affairs of this Government have not only added to the overall cynicism but also severely damaged popular confidence in their ability to lead. No Government in the past had reduced itself into a virtual lame duck regime due to its own non-performance. In the 1980s, Mrs Indira Gandhi had at least promised a Government that works. Her daughter-in-law seems to be happy presiding over a Government that shirks.
Event after event, the Government seems to be in competition with itself as to how further messy can things be made. Anna Hazare and the complete saga of his Lokpal movement was the height of complicating simple things. The fact that none of the senior members of the Cabinet has had any brush with a popular movement became more and more telling when senior UPA functionaries appeared clueless in dealing with Team Anna. The Government could have easily rectified its initial mistakes by roping in the Opposition in the consultation process, thus making it a broad-based negotiating platform. As if the earlier mistakes were not enough, in the Winter Session the Government’s sheer inability on every front — from media management to floor management — was on full display.
Expectedly, the new year dawned with no fresh approach towards a better management of the multi-dimensional task of running a Government. The near total relationship breakdown with Ms Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress, the abysmal lack of tack and dexterity in dealing with the issue of date of birth of the Army Chief, and the highly disappointing weak-kneed approach in handling the Salman Rushdie visit are three cases in point.
Ms Banerjee is known for being unpredictable. After having agreed to play second fiddle to her,it was not difficult for the Congress to pre-empt some teething problems. Right at the beginning of the partnership, the Congress could have played hardball with Ms Banerjee, making her accept an institutional set-up like that of a coordination committee. Besides, the party would have lost almost nothing had it chosen to call it a day after her insulting treatment and reminded her that, like marriage, alliances endure only when both the partners realise the need for it.
The unseemly controversy over the date of birth of the Chief of Army Staff speaks volumes about the lack of the Government’s administrative acumen. The UPA leadership appeared devoid of foresight, essential for preventing any institutional damage such incidents cause. Forget preventive measures, even the semblance of damage control mechanism also seemed to have been in short supply. Was it inevitable? Were all the available options for avoiding this public controversy tried?
If mishandling of the Lokpal issue and the avoidable relationship-breakdown with the Trinamool Congress betrayed a sheer lack of political management, the dispute over date of birth of Army Chief brought to the fore the insensitivity and the lack of politico-administrative decision-making on the part of the Government. This ineptness by the UPA leadership is also seen as an insult to the entire community of ex-Army men.
As if all this was not enough, the Salman Rushdie episode was handled with abject lack of imagination. Perhaps, it was wrong on the part of the liberal fraternity to expect the UPA leadership to be taking a truly secular approach while dealing with this issue. The international literary fraternity realised that both the liberal establishment as well as the Government here readily crawl when, in fact, they are just asked to bend a little, when it comes to caste and community politics. Again, adroit handling of this issue was certainly not all that difficult.
The latest is the series of crises emerging out of the multiplicity of approaches on the part of different arms of the Government is the controversy over Indian Space Research Organisation scientist Madhavan Nair. Merits of the case apart, how can the Government move without taking the head of the Prime Minister’s Scientific Advisory Council on board when the issue is so very sensitive and involves some leading lights of the nation’s scientific community? Besides, how can the chief of the Prime Minister’s SAC go public and assail the Government’s move so very brazenly?
At the root of this series of failures is a crisis of ownership. Whose Government is this, after all? Is it a Manmohan Singh Government managed by Sonia Gandhi from behind the scene or a Sonia Gandhi regime with governance outsourced to Mr Singh? Who owns this Government? Who is responsible for repeated mistakes? Are the Government officials and Ministers out to hoodwink us by pointing fingers at one another? Is there any internal assessment mechanism? In these days of acute power shortage, do the UPA leaders ever turn the searchlight inward?
Remember, a division of responsibility on the political and the administrative lines is not only meaningless but also against the popular interests. In an arrangement like this, one can hardly expect any accountability and transparency. In a situation like this, accountability is shrouded in mystery and transparency has become illusionary, as what is being seen is not what is happening in reality.
India has witnessed several coalition Governments in the past. UPA1 could easily pass the burden of its non-performance on the recalcitrant Left parties. But if UPA2 is delivering almost nothing, it is mainly because of the ‘mutually beneficial’ arrangement of ‘coalition of convenience’. Once and for all, the nation needs to be told as to who is running this Government? If at all, who owns UPA2?
(Published in The Pioneer, Delhi, February 6, 2012)