Nothing much could be expected of an administration in its last months before elections. For all practical purposes it is a lame duck administration with little inclination for new initiatives or fast decisions. Yet the UPA II government did attempt to correct, in a hurry, some of the measures it failed to take in better times.
Manmohan Singh did attempt to clear several projects that have been stuck with ministries without decision for months, mostly on environmental issues.
A few major issues dominated the year:
• The creation of a separate state of Telangana dominated the polity for months. After years of dilly-dallying, the UPA government redeemed its promise to the Telangana people. In this unfortunately it did not assess properly the extent of resistance from the Seemandhra region. It did manage to muster support from the BJP and other parties and passed the law. In the bargain, it created a lot of bitterness. One could not but contrast this with the elegance and efficiency of carving Jharkhand out of Bihar, Uttrakhand out of UP and Chattisgarh out of MP by the Vajpayee-led government a decade ago.
• UPA could not wriggle itself out of the serious charges of corruption in the Common Wealth Games, 2G-spectrum allocation and the Coalgate scams. These continued to dominate debates without any resolution, deepening the divide among the polity.
• The rise of the Aam Aadmi Party led by maverick Arvind Kejriwal was a phenomenon. The ability of AAP to mobilise support and win sizeable number of seats in the Delhi assembly elections gave hope for a new era in Indian politics. However, Kejriwal and company squandered much of the goodwill by their inability to change their stance as street fighters and agitators to leaders capable of delivering good governance. The leaders of AAP were pulling the party in different directions with no clear leads relating to development.
• Rahul Gandhi did attempt to correct some of the wrongs and hasty policies of the UPA government. But his remaining silent for the great part and intervening at the far end as in the case of scrapping of the ordinance on convicted politicians did not add to his credibility as a leader. This resulted in Lalu Prasad losing his seat in the Lok Sabha. But such politicians come out of jail and continue to roam freely, thanks to the long judicial process. The new government needs to focus on judicial reforms.
In 2004 the UPA came to power with a bang. There was lot of promise over the Manmohan Singh government thrusting ahead with reforms; but the compulsions of coalition, especially the dependence on the Left parties for survival, was a serious constraint. But in line with the global economic boom, India registered handsome growth during the major part of UPA 1. The stature of Manmohan Singh also helped in building close relations with the western democracies, South American countries, South Africa and several African countries and with the east. The nuclear deal with the US also showed promise. However, the expectations on building large nuclear capacity in the subsequent years and innovative schemes like the Ultra Mega Power Projects scheme and several other infrastructure projects envisaged did not materialise.
The UPA II was also riddled with a number of scams. The government could not control the coalition partners. Fiscal mismanagement and profligacy resulting in huge deficits post-2009 also caused serious damage to the economy. Raging inflation, falling rupee and poor investment climate led to dismal economic growth of less than 5 per cent. Sadly what started with a bang in 2004 by the UPA is ending in a whimper.
And that this government will be remembered as the most corrupt, albeit being headed by one of India’s most decent and honest prime ministers is the ultimate irony.