A little less than a year ago, the future looked bright for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) that had returned to power. The Congress party, the dominant member of the coalition, ended up with more representatives in Parliament than it previously had, reducing its dependence on mercurial allies. Even hard-nosed political analysts couldn’t help but ponder about the possibilities before the new, improved version of the UPA.
Things haven’t gone well for the government, as it enters the home stretch of its first year in power. In recent weeks, especially, the government has been buffeted, in turn by criticism of the way it has chosen to wage its campaign against the Maoists, highlighted by the massacre of 76 policemen by the insurgents in Dantewada in Chhattisgarh; the controversy surrounding the involvement of the girlfriend of Shashi Tharoor, then minister of state for external affairs, with a franchisee of the Indian Premier League that eventually blew up into a larger one surrounding the league itself; and a report in Outlook magazine that claimed the government had tapped the phones of some of its key allies and rivals. The opposition parties, notably the largest of them, the Bharatiya Janata Party, that looked feckless when this government took over last May, seem to have been energized by these events.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
The government has been on the defensive in both houses of Parliament. Such incidents and controversies are common in politics, but never has a government had to face a spate of them, all in the span of a few weeks. And this, during the crucial Budget session of Parliament, when the Finance Bill is discussed, debated, changed if required, and passed. Worse still, this has coincided with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the US and Brazil, making him a conspicuous absentee in Parliament.
As a result, the government has had to fight a series of fires in the house, reinforcing a growing perception that it is drifting. Interestingly, all this has happened soon after the government railroaded the Women’s Reservation Bill through the Rajya Sabha soon after the Budget session began, forcing several of its allies to withdraw support to the government, and reducing significantly the margin of the UPA’s majority in the Lok Sabha. While there seems to be no immediate danger of the government falling, recent events have proved yet again that a year is a long time in politics.
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