UPA Faces Political Heat

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

NEW DELHI— Though the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has completed three years in power, with two more to go before parliamentary elections, it has begun facing the political heat.

With the government sensing the pressure, as evident in its annual report, celebrations marking its third anniversary (May 22), were a low-key affair. In keeping with the practice begun by this government of presenting a report card each year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh released a “Report to the People” last week.

While highlighting acceleration in the country’s economic growth to 9 percent, in the foreword to this report, Singh said: “Higher rates of investment and growth have helped generate employment and reduce poverty.” This before acknowledging: “However, our government recognizes that high national income growth alone does not address the challenge of employment promotion, poverty reduction and balanced regional development. Nor does growth in itself improve human development.”

While referring to the growth process, Singh acknowledged: “In the last year, the growth processes we have unleashed have put some pressure on prices. We have been faced with galloping demand for many products and this has resulted in inflation becoming a cause for concern, particularly in the case of some essential commodities.” Singh’s reference to measures “to be adopted” for development in several areas also implies that government cannot yet claim commendable progress in these fields. One can draw this inference from his reference to measures the government plans to use to accelerate agricultural production, strengthen the public distribution system, improve rural development, and empower the disadvantaged–including tribals, dalits, minorities and backward classes. He also highlighted the government’s plans to step up investment in areas such as Jammu & Kashmir, northeast, and central India to address socio-economic problems faced in these areas.

With respect to the country’s foreign policy, Singh said: “We have improved our relations with all major powers and all our neighbors. The recently held Summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) symbolizes the change in India’s regional and global standing.” Besides being engaged with Pakistan “in a meaningful and constructive dialogue,” Singh referred to India’s “renewed engagement of East and South-east Asia through our Look East Policy.” “We have also been able to step up our economic engagement with countries of the Persian Gulf and reinforce our traditionally good relations with the Arab world,” he said. He mentioned the strengthening of India’s ties with Africa, China, Japan, Russia and the European Union. On India-US relations, he pointed out: “We have widened the range and deepened the scope of India-US relations. The agreement to enter into cooperation in civil nuclear energy with the US, and the ongoing negotiations with the Nuclear Suppliers Group will mark a turning point in our developmental history.”

Accepting that the UPA government has initiated certain positive measures, “under pressure from Left parties,” in essence, however, the Left bloc said, “nothing substantial has happened.” The positive measures include, among others, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Tribal Rights Bill and the Right to Information Act.

People’s Democracy, the weekly organ of Communist Party of India-Marxist (May 27), stated: “The agrarian distress reflected in farmers’ suicides, declining food-grain production and the consequent declining per capita availability seriously imperiling India’s food security, continues to deepen.” The organ noted: “Many promised new laws” that are yet to “see light of the day,” include legislation to protect unorganized labor, a central legislation for agricultural laborers, women’s reservation, Lokpal Bill, Prevention of Communal Violence Bill, etc.

Criticizing the government’s “liberalization agenda,” the CPM organ said: “It is owing to such a predisposition towards neo-liberal economic reforms that the UPA government is unable to contain the present run-away inflation.” Along the same line, D. Raja (Communist Party of India) said: “The economic polices are anti-poor and favor the rich and business class in and outside the country. The Public Distribution System is not streamlined, procurement of food-grain from farmers has not been satisfactory, and farmers’ discontent is unabated. The promises by both the prime minister and the finance minister that the benefits would trickle down has not happened even after three years.”

The main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), lashed at the UPA through its 66-page chargesheet, “UPA’s three years, aam aadmi’s (common man’s) tear years.” Describing UPA rule as “faceless, directionless and spineless,” BJP’s chargesheet said: “Rising prices of all essential commodities like wheat, rice, pulses, oil, vegetables, petrol, diesel, cement has adversely affected the living standards of the masses.” UPA had converted Indian economy “from a state of surpluses to a state of scarcity,” BJP said. “Price of petrol and diesel have been hiked six times in their three-year rule, highest by any count,” BJP president Rajnath Singh said.

Conducted by Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA–Don’t Break Promises–Campaign), a national survey of 900 development and grassroots organizations gave the government an aggregate of 30 percent on achievements in education, health, employment, social exclusion (caste, gender, religion), decentralization through panchayats and peace and security.

The government received grade F by a report released by 800 civil society organizations for having failed to keep the bare minimal promises it made in the CMP.

As expressed by Ashok Bharati (National Conference of Dalit Organizations): “The government has gone back on job reservation for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in the private sector, failed on the inclusive agenda that the prime minister talked about.”


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