New Delhi: Critics of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) may accuse it of weakening institutions, including Parliament and the cabinet, but in its close to five years rule, it has passed path-breaking legislations such as the Right to Information (RTI) Act and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA)—a fact that hasn’t escaped the attention of analysts.
Parliamentary purists say while decisions are a key measure of a government’s efficiency, the way these decisions were arrived at is equally important.
Among the charges levelled by rivals of the UPA is that the 13-member rainbow coalition extended the monsoon session of Parliament that began on 21 July till 23 December because it didn’t want to face another trust vote, and that it passed a large number of Bills without discussing them. On 23 December, the Lok Sabha passed eight Bills in 17 minutes. The UPA won a trust vote on the Indo-US nuclear deal, which it was in favour of, on 22 July and Parliamentary convention says a session cannot see more than one trust vote.
Mixed reactions: The 13-member rainbow coalition is under attack from the Opposition and experts for weakening institutions such as Parliament.
Parliamentary affairs minister Vayalar Ravi, however, defended the government’s position. “What can we do if the Opposition does not give us time to discuss (Bills)?” he asked.
B.G. Varghese, political analyst and visiting professor, Centre for Policy Research, said: “You cannot blame the government for blocking the debates...the Opposition has been irresponsible.”
L.K. Advani, leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, attributed what he called the UPA’s “failure” to its “dual leadership” of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Still, even one of Ravi’s colleagues is not pleased with the way some crucial government decisions were made. “I have reservations against the system of small cabinet committees taking major policy decisions. For example, the cabinet committee on economic affairs, which consists of all pro-reform ministers, takes crucial decisions,” said this minister, who did not want to be identified.
The Left Front, which supported the UPA without being part of it for at least four years, said the government failed to keep promises made in its original agenda for governance—the so-called national common minimum programme (NCMP). The Left withdrew support to the government over its opposition to the Indo-US nuclear deal. “The NCMP had promised independent foreign policy with good relations with all countries, including the US. Although multipolarity was promised, the UPA violated it,” said Communist Party of India (Marxist) politburo member Sitaram Yechury.
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He, however, conceded that the RTI Act, passed in 2005, led to improvement in governance in terms of accountability. He also praised the government for passing NREGA, which guarantees 100 days of employment a year at minimum wages to at least one member of a family in rural areas.
According to India’s chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, government has done little to promote the Act. “Credit is indeed due to the government for having passed this legislation. But the Act could have done with more support.”
“... it must also be said that the commitment of the government to the Act declined subsequently,” said RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal.
Graphic by Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint