There is no dearth of talent in the UPA. Yet it is perceived as the least effective government since I K Gujral’s. It’s high on hype but abysmally low on delivery and content. With ministers like P Chidambaram, Salman Khurshid, Anand Sharma, Kamal Nath, Kapil Sibal, Jairam Ramesh and Sharad Pawar, the UPA could have performed miracles and earned a third term in office without much effort. All these leaders are known for thinking out of the box. They are also famous for taking risks and ignoring political interests. But now, all of them have become the part of the system, which is failing fast and losing its will to govern.
Even insiders feel that the nation is now being led by highly overrated civil servants and not by the political leadership, which is too busy trying to retain power at any cost. All events and administrative accidents from the Italian marines fiasco to the ill-timed CBI raids on the home of DMK’s heir apparent M K Stalin clearly point to the fact that while the Congress definitely occupies the chair at the Centre, it is not really in power. What else can explain the statement given by both the Prime Minister and the finance minister that the raids were incorrect and unacceptable? Never before has either of them commented adversely on the functioning of any investigative agency, and have let them do their job. This also proved beyond doubt that now the bureaucracy has become so emboldened and empowered that it can embarrass the government with critical actions that have serious legal and political ramifications. If a joint director-level babu is now in a position to defy the established hierarchy, it is an indication that either our executive is maturing or that there is a crisis of leadership at the top. Otherwise, the raiding party wouldn’t have given the ridiculous explanation that they were merely searching for imported cars, which they thought were hidden on the first or second floor of Stalin’s residence.
So, as the UPA enters its last year in office, the odds are heavily placed against its survival—even for the next few months. The economy, which could survive the 2008 global collapse, is unable to withstand even a minor nudge from the Eurozone crisis. India’s neighbours, who were earlier afraid of raising a finger, are now holding guns to our heads and threatening our supremacy and challenging our authority in the region. For years, no global high table would be complete without the presence of Indian leaders. Now, other countries ignore us like a fallen icon. The international community has now realised that if Indian leaders can’t resolve problems at home, how can they be trusted with solutions for global revival?
Nothing else explains the erosion of central authority than the political pickle created by a tiny 18-member regional party like the DMK, and the defiance of a weak European nation like Italy. While Italy’s tottering government succumbed to the mounting pressure of the Indian judiciary and public opinion, the DMK leadership delivered the most painful blow to the UPA and Congress. So frightened was the Congress that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to dispatch three senior ministers—A K Antony, Chidambaram and Ghulam Nabi Azad—to Chennai to plead with Karunanidhi not to withdraw his support on the Sri Lanka issue. It has been staring at us since the past three months, but it never occurred to the Congress to sensitise the DMK against the possible fallout if India opposed the US-sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka. There was a disconnect between the external affairs ministry, the national security adviser and the Prime Minister’s Office.
With Sonia Gandhi leaving it to the Prime Minister to sort out the dilemma, the pro-US mandarins in South Block had a field day. Instead of striking a balance between prudent diplomacy and expedient politics, they were simultaneously blaming the political leadership for the crisis and working strongly for the US resolution. If some of their colleagues are to be trusted, key Indian diplomats had already assured Sri Lanka and the US t hat India would not oppose the resolution. Two days before the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted it, a couple of Indian Foreign Service officers were peddling the revised resolution to the media as a victory for India’s stand. In fact, the resolution was diluted in favour of Sri Lanka and the DMK could get hold of it, soon after Union ministers left Chennai. That was the real reason for its withdrawal of support. In the Italian marines affair, Indian diplomats were passing the buck on to the home ministry for its failure to appoint a special court so that the trail could start expeditiously. Moreover, there was an extraordinary delay in sending the newly appointed Indian ambassador to Italy; he was allowed to stay in India while Rome was diplomatically burning.
But the responsibility for the current governance deficit rests completely with the UPA’s top leadership. It has failed to anticipate and spot the trouble spots. Instead of keeping a vigil on the highly suspect civil service and its allies, the Congress has convinced itself that it would complete its full term in power. In the process, it has forgotten that the UPA has lost four allies in the past one year, reducing it to an arithmetical minority in the House. After the DMK’s withdrawal, it has become even more vulnerable. It will be spending more time in serving the interests of the Mayawatis, Mulayam Singh Yadavs, Nitish Kumars and even Mamata Banerjees, and not of the nation in general and the Congress in particular. The very fact that a section of the Congress was marketing Mamata’s symbolic gesture of support for Indian diplomacy as political support for survival indicates the fear and insecurity that have overtaken the ruling party. The only way for the Prime Minister and the Congress to regain credibility and authority is to call the bluff of its avaricious allies. This can be done only by proving beyond doubt that it is the PM who not only wields actual power, but also enjoys the confidence of Parliament.
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