Home / Politics / Policy /  PM, Sonia strike a defiant note, commit to serving a full term

New Delhi: Brushing aside opinion poll predictions that indicate its rapidly diminishing popularity and taunts from the opposition, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) signalled it would serve out its full term that ends next year.

In a significant move, UPA chairperson and Congress party president Sonia Gandhi scotched claims that there were differences between the government and the party, reiterating that the Congress fully backed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Conspicuously absent at this year’s event to mark the fourth anniversary of its second consecutive term on Wednesday was the UPA’s key ally, Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, who had attended last year’s anniversary celebration. Analysts interpreted Yadav’s absence as a sign of the government’s political vulnerability as it begins its final year in office. The next general election is scheduled for May 2014.

In the year since its last anniversary, two of its largest allies, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), have exited the government even as two of its senior cabinet ministers, Pawan Kumar Bansal and Ashwani Kumar, had to resign owing to charges of corruption and impropriety respectively.

Even as the party and the government sought to project an air of confidence, Prime Minister Singh made it amply clear that he was confident of his role and stature. Answering a pointed question on whether Gandhi’s remarks lending support were a source of reassurance, he said, “Never needed reassurance, I always had it."

Singh sought to address critics by presenting details of the government’s achievements on economic growth, inclusiveness, better governance and improved relations with other countries.

“We are confident that growth in 2013-14 will be better than 2012-13 and could exceed 6%," he said. “This will be difficult, but it is not impossible. We have done it before, and if we receive a mandate next year, we will certainly achieve it again."

The UPA is in its fourth year of its second term in office after election victories in 2004 and 2009. However, a series of corruption scandals, an economic downturn and high inflation have marred its second term and eroded goodwill.

“Mulayam Singh’s absence shows that the Congress is vulnerable and that parties like the Samajwadi Party are entertaining ideas for a Third Front for which they would have to be seen as entirely anti-Congress just before the polls," said Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst. “In a way, it also is an indicator that the Congress itself is losing its ability to influence and play regional parties against each other."

Meanwhile, Gandhi sought to highlight the steps taken by the government on inclusion in her address. “Can anyone question the magnitude of changes that we have been able to bring about?" she said.

On the issue of corruption, Gandhi said, “We have nothing to hide and we don’t have to defend. We must be alert and counter the campaigns which have only one aim to confuse and demoralize government... We will not be deterred by the drummed-up voices created around us."

Talking about direct benefit transfer, a key programme of the UPA, Gandhi said, “Apart from the legislations that we need to get passed, we must impart new energy in some key areas. For instance, the ‘Aap Ka Paisa, Aap Ke Haath’ initiative that uses cutting-edge technology to make sure that funds and subsidies reach only those for whom they are intended."

The Congress president also attacked the opposition for what she called its obstructionist approach leading to the stalling of Parliament and hindering the passage of many crucial items of legislation including the food security Bill and the land acquisition Bill. She made a plea to the opposition to support the UPA and ensure passage of the two Bills.

N. Bhaskara Rao, a political expert who has been following the ruling party for over two decades, said that while the lack of political managers in the second term has hurt the alliance, it should be given credit for surviving nine years in office.

“While there has been nothing great that they achieved in their second term, they have been able to survive, and that in itself is a good thing for any political party," he said.

Earlier in the day, the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) dubbed the UPA a failure.

“What are they celebrating for? Are they celebrating betrayal and pain caused to the common man or are they celebrating the environment of gloom," said Sushma Swaraj, leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha and a senior BJP leader. “Instead of celebrating, they should have introspected and sought a pardon from the country."

D. Raja, a senior leader of the Communist Party of India, said that while “there was no reason to celebrate", the government has been a “total failure" leading to a climate of political uncertainty in the country.

“Never before have we witnessed such scams in the history of independent India, and the striking feature is that both the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister’s office stand exposed," he said.

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