New Delhi: The Congress party and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government that it heads seem to have drifted apart on major issues such as climate change, India-Pakistan relations and trade policy.
Congress leaders have not hidden their unease over environment and forest minister Jairam Ramesh’s attempts to make changes in India’s stated position on climate change with reference to emission cuts. The party officially distanced itself from the issue saying that it was not discussed at any party forum.
V. Kishorechandra Deo, senior Congress member of Parliament, insists that the government cannot do anything without the party’s consent.
“Normally, Congress governments follow the manifesto. With a coalition government in place, things are slightly different but it still runs based on an agreed set of policies and principles,” he said. “The government cannot do anything without the consent of the party. It will be improper if it does.”
At the helm: Analysts say that the perceived differences among UPA members are a reflection of the new power arrangement in the party. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
The controversies over policy appear to have derailed the agenda of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government, admitted a senior Congress minister.
“The Congress leadership will have to intervene to make the correction and ensure that the government is back on track,” said the minister, who did not want to be identified. According to him, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi may step in to ensure that the government is back on track and there could be a “reshuffle” in the cabinet by dropping “non-performing” ministers.
The perceived differences were a reflection of the new power arrangement in the party, which had earlier been familiar with having just one leader at the helm of affairs, analysts said.
The climate change issue follows other instances of a disconnect. The party’s official spokespersons refused to support Singh when the Opposition attacked him for deviating from India’s stand in the controversial 16 July India-Pakistan joint statement in Sharm-el-Sheikh. Singh had come under attack over the joint statement with his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani, for “delinking the composite dialogue with Islamabad’s action against terrorist elements on its soil”.
The government then faced embarrassment when it was asked by Congress MPs not to sign the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). Singh then constituted a group of ministers to address the concerns of farmers.
Party leaders have expressed displeasure over the handling of Naxal violence. While many appreciate firm action, they complain the government did not pay attention to the socio-economic development of the area or extending welfare programmes to the affected regions.
Sandeep Shastri, pro vice-chancellor, Jain University, says the developments are a reflection of the new power-sharing formula in the party. The Congress earlier had a culture in which internal meetings used to be about governance issues and chief ministers discussed the appointment of party functionaries as it was the dominant party.
“Now, with a multiple leadership in place, the Congress men find two courts to appeal to,” he said. “One may also put it as the reflection of internal democracy in the party.”
Suhas Palshikar, co-director of Lokniti and University of Pune professor, says the differences aren’t critical.
“The difference of opinion between the party and the government actually makes for an opportunity to debate the policies,” he said. “It is a democratic convention that the party should keep a check on the government.”
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party disagrees.
“What we are witnessing is competitive politics within the Congress,” said Ravi Shankar Prasad, MP and party spokesperson. “The poor performance and controversies associated with UPA II is also a comment on the position of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who holds an office without sufficient command over his team.”
Sanjeev Shankaran and Sanotsh K. Joy contributed to this story.