UPA seeks image makeover, signals fresh action on reforms, corruption

UPA seeks image makeover, signals fresh action on reforms, corruption

New Delhi : In a bid to talk up its image, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) leadership promised fresh action to tackle corruption and selectively revive economic reforms.

Addressing a gathering on the occasion of the government’s second anniversary, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi dwelled on the just-concluded assembly elections and said the electorate has sent a clear message on governance.

“People want and reward a good, accountable government," she said, before adding it would be the defining theme of the remaining tenure of the Congress-led UPA. “We’ll take the issue of corruption head-on and demonstrate through actions, and not words, that we mean what we say."

Arguing similarly, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the government would not only push new initiatives in entitlement such as the right to food, but also revive reforms.

Promising fiscal reforms targeting “wasteful subsidies", Singh hinted there could be fresh revisions in fuel prices. “As an importer, we’ve to adopt rational pricing policies," he said. “This is not just prudent fiscal management. This is national security imperative."

Singh’s government, which was re-elected in 2009, has faced a serious loss of face following a series of corruption charges and its failure to contain high inflation. However, the UPA and its allies still managed to win three of the five state assemblies that went to polls recently.

Singh pointed out that the law will take its course. “We’re taking steps to prevent such developments in future and reduce discretionary and arbitrary use of power by public officials."

UPA constituent Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader and former telecom minister A. Raja has been in jail since February and his party patriarch and former Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi’s daughter K. Kanimozhi was sent to judicial custody on 20 May.

Both are under trial in a case relating to alleged irregularities in the allocation of second-generation, or 2G, telecom licences. A Congress leader and member of Parliament Suresh Kalmadi is also in jail facing charges of financial irregularities in the preparation for the October 2010 Commonwealth Games.

Both Singh and Gandhi, who spoke at the function held at the Prime Minister’s official residence, promised that the government would bring in legislation on food security and anti-graft Bill as well as amendments to the Land Acquisition Act, 1897.

Singh and Gandhi presented a Report to the People listing the UPA’s achievements. Allies of the Congress in the UPA and Samajwadi Party that backs the government from outside were represented at the function. Former Union minister T.R. Baalu of the DMK, which is struggling to come to terms with an electoral debacle in Tamil Nadu and the arrest of two party parliamentarians, also attended. Karunanidhi, who skipped the function, is expected to arrive in New Delhi on Monday.

A political analyst said the UPA government was trying to cash in on the actions it has taken to its advantage. “I think the strategy of the UPA is...to the turn the entire corruption issue from a liability into an asset. It has been a liability because most people involved have been connected to the UPA in some way, but they want to make it an asset by now taking it on the front foot and heading the fight to eradicate corruption," said Balveer Arora, former head of the political science department at Jawaharlal Nehru University. “So what would be remembered is that the Congress was actually proactive in fighting corruption. This is an attempt to refurbish the image of the Congress within the UPA. It isn’t really directed at allies like the DMK but is a part of correcting the perception about the UPA that it is corrupt. The Congress now wants to own the fight against corruption."

But the main opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party, termed the UPA’s two years as “wasted opportunity".

“The UPA has had a dismal track record in the last year. It was a nightmare. A year which any government would love to forget. We fail to understand what is there for it to celebrate," Arun Jaitley, leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, said.


PTI contributed to this story.