UPA loses its sheen too early into office

by Balbir Punj, ExpressBuzz 6/8/09

As the budget session of Parliament, the first major business session after the general election, draws to a close, the shine on the UPA’s election victory is fading. The joint statement shame that the country suffered in Egypt last month is only one of the virtual defeats the victorious party has suffered after the May celebrations.

A beleaguered Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invoked the legacy of his predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee to justify what his apologists describe as a leap of faith, and his critics led by BJP’s former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha as the most shameful act that has fractured the bipartisan approach to foreign policy that prevailed over decades.

What Manmohan Singh missed out in invoking Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s legacy was the strategy that the National Democratic Alliance prime minister used in his Pakistan policy. Within days of coming to power in 1998, he demonstrated a political will that his predecessors had failed to do: a nuclear test that announced to the world that the country had graduated from a first generation to second generation nuclear deterrent.

It was only after he shocked the world by demonstrating India’s nuclear capability that Vajpayee proposed to Pakistan the Bus to Lahore diplomacy. And it was only after routing the Pakistani conspiracy at Kargil, that he invited the military boss in Islamabad to Agra. In addition, at the Agra summit, he did not yield an inch, which disappointed President Musharraf, as his book In the Line of Fire clearly admits.

Similarly, after the ISI sponsored the attack on Parliament in 2001, for almost two years Vajpayee refused to shake hands with the Pakistani president, so much so that Musharraf had to move towards him at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit and invite a handshake. All those two years the NDA government kept the Pakistani army on edge by launching a war game termed Operation Parakram. He eased the pressure on Pakistan only after its national security chief agreed to relent on the terrorism issue.

So invoking Vajpayee’s legacy provides no closure to the issues the joint statement has raised. If Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani walked off from Sharm-el-Sheikh almost a hero, Manmohan Singh’s mistimed and ill-thought out joint statement is to blame. Within hours of the statement Gilani capitalised on the Baloch mention and said he had made India agree to de-link the dialogue from action on the terror front.

Pakistan’s fundamental position has not changed despite all the noises it makes to please its American masters who keep the state from economic and political collapse. And that position is: the terrorist organisations it nurtures serve a purpose. By hitting deep within India for the loss of a few of their people, they keep the entire Indian security establishment engaged all the time.

The 26/11 attacks demonstrated to Pakistan’s own right-wing how effective army-sustained terrorism is in keeping alive the Islamic globalisation dream of Pakistan. Therefore Islamabad will never dismantle the terrorist camps and organisations — the current move against the Taliban is a different order of things because the Taliban aim is to take over Pakistan, besides helping them to return to power in Afghanistan.

Among other chinks in the government’s armour is the backtracking by HRD minister Kapil Sibal on his attempt to impose a single secondary exam board on all the states. The dispute over natural gas price has invited the criticism that the government is partisan in its dealing on this important issue. The criticism has been so effective that it had to rush back to the apex court to amend its stand.

The government had to backtrack on several other issues as well — for instance, on the thoughtless stand it took soon after the Delhi High Court’s verdict on Section 377. Its ally, the Trinamool Congress, has forced it to rethink the land acquisition bill also while another ally, the DMK, is refusing to go along on the PSU divestment move, at least so far as PSUs in Tamil Nadu are concerned.  

DMK’s telecom minister A Raja is in the thick of attacks on alleged efforts to influence a Madras High Court judge, and now a sting operation in Chennai shows DMK influence peddlers cashing in on driving the valuable spectrum allocation by Raja in their direction. We hear little about the 100-day drive even though only two months have passed since the UPA’s election victory.

That is not all. The severity of the power situation, the shadow of drought over many parts of the country and the spurt in food grain, pulses and vegetable prices even as inflation is claimed to be negative, do not provide the inspiring picture of a determined government in charge. Even before the recovery from economic downturn has firmed up, there is talk of inflation raising its head.

To cap it all, the naxalites are cutting the security forces to shreds in one part of the country, for all the brave talk by home minister P Chidambaram. The government itself exposed its ambiguity on the judges’ assets issue by first announcing that it would get judges to declare their assets, and then quietly withdrawing the bill introduced for that purpose when the entire opposition saw through its attempt to hoodwink the public.

Two months in office may be too short a time to judge, but apart from the current omens we are reminded that virtually the same Congress-led government is in power today that ruled for five years before May 2009, though stronger now than before. That is a lot of time to show results — or obfuscate issues.

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