Governance goes, drift sets in

The major issue baffling the United Progressive Alliance-2 at the Centre is governance. After the Congress Party got 206 seats in the last general elections in 2009 there was a feeling that the coalition structure at the Centre would have greater cohesion and stability.

Although the total seats won by the Congress increased by more than 50 in 2009 compared to the 2004 elections, the lack of a credible Opposition lulled both the government and the party into complacency. I cannot find any reasonable explanation for this situation. Sadly, issues were pushed aside and expected to fade away as the TINA (there is no alternative) factor prevailed.
There is little point in being repetitive, but the UPA-2 is wounded by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the 2G spectrum scam, which festered for over two years and tested the patience of everyone except the government. A similar story is that of the Commonwealth Games mess, which continues to haunt us even today.
It was a golden opportunity for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to regain some lost pride, but it let it go at the hands of civil activists and religious leaders of suspect reputation.
“Contract” killings have increased with Right to Information (RTI) activists, whistle-blowers and journalists being killed by the underworld. Mafia activities have spread into the lucrative areas of land deals, excise cheats on liquor production, fuel adulteration, mining operations etc.
It is a tragedy that we are lurching from one political accident into another and our politicians are afraid to act because they fear to get involved. The solution does not lie in sermons but in firm and decisive action. I am quite amazed that the political implications of this have not been understood. We need transparency to isolate the “few” who hold “many” to ransom.
The policy adopted by the government on petroleum products is practical. The state cannot keep on absorbing excessive expenditure. I still feel that the subsidy on the kerosene should be withdrawn and those below the poverty line should be given an “alternative” method of compensation. Also, those who are above a certain level of income should be made to pay full cost of the cylinder.
Times change, as do norms of governance. Today, no government agency can be manipulated without the risk of exposure. We can be dismissive of the “chewing gum” found in finance minister Pranab Mukherjee’s office but what does all this indicate? There are no secrets today. Wise leaders accept reality and adapt to change.

We have talked a lot on the dynasty issue, but we fail to understand that the success or failure of a political party is always dependent on the competence and ability of the incumbent rulers. Let us illustrate this factor by actual results in the last five years. Jammu and Kashmir had a hard-fought election and Farooq and Omar Abdullah, along with Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and Mehbooba Mufti, did well. Both “successors” have a lot of talent and acceptability and the dynasty will do well for the immediate future on both sides.
In Bihar, we saw the 10 years of misrule and lawlessness of Lalu Prasad Yadav, his wife Rabri Devi, her brothers and sundry relations rooted out by Nitish Kumar and the Janata Dal (United) along with the BJP. Bihar has since then been transformed and is on the path of progress. I see a very bleak future for Mr Yadav and his extended family.
Sadly a similar situation exists in Uttar Pradesh where Mulayam Singh Yadav has lost ground to the twin attacks by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Congress and continues to shrink. Apparently, Mulayam’s son and brothers are unable to stem the downturn. Moreover, the 2012 Assembly elections may well see the Samajwadi Party in third position, after the BSP and the Congress.
A generous touch of Bollywood did not help and poor governance and excessive assets resulted in a sharp decline. DMK chief M. Karunanidhi ruled with two wives, sons, daughter, nephews, etc. His power has all gone up in smoke with the 2G scam and the Karunanidhi family firm is no match for J. Jayalalithaa. Dynasties come and go but, as meritocracy comes into play, the decline will be sharper.
Political succession is always a valid point for discussion and there is little doubt that Rahul Gandhi will always be in the limelight of the Congress and Narendra Modi in the BJP.
It would be nice to know the second and third choices in the regional parties, most of whom are run by “supreme” leaders and are extremely vulnerable when levels of leadership are vague.
We cannot think of the BSP without Mayawati, the JD(U) without Nitish Kumar, the Trinamul Congress without Mamata Banerjee, Biju Janata Dal without Naveen Patnaik, and the AIADMK without Ms Jayalalithaa. The “succession” issue will always be a subject of discussion within the party forums.
The classic example is Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy in Andhra Pradesh who pulled off a spectacular victory in 2009 but died a tragic death in a helicopter crash. In the absence of a natural successor the Congress suffered a series of reverses and a tally of 33 out of 42 seats in 2009 is under severe pressure. Change can come in a variety of circumstances and every party, big or small, should prepare for the future.

We have important developments taking place in the United States as President Barack Obama announces plans to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan by 2014. I suppose this has much to do with his re-election efforts and less with the ground situation. Pakistan continues to bleed, as does Iraq, and most of West Asia is in a mess. US policy and initiatives in the area have yielded little success.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has made little impact and I think we should closely watch events as the US policy initiatives may well be dictated by internal electoral compulsions. Mr Obama is under pressure and domestic economic considerations have greater relevance than external factors in an election year.
While the media suffers from the “fatigue” factor in reporting events from West Asia, we have a civil war in Libya, death and destruction continues in Yemen and Syria and anarchy prevails in Tunisia and Egypt.
The urge for greater democratic freedom in many countries in the area is quietly suppressed as superpower interests and support for “absolute regimes” and “oil politics” prevail over human considerations.
We can expect little assistance from the US in regard to hostile terror activities from across the border. While diplomatic exchanges will continue in the usual manner we have to formulate our own responses in the war on terror. The US is winning few friends in India by targeting our envoys in the US and, while the diplomatic responses may be measured, the public response will not be mild and the government will have limited options if this “big bully” attitude persists into the immediate future.

The author is a former Union minister

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