The current united progressive alliance government (UPA II) has drawn opprobrium on various fronts: corruption, imploding economy, national security, the Lokpal Bill, misuse of CBI, unemployment, rising food prices among others. These issues have dealt a blow to its chances to return to power. Despite these pitfalls, it is too early to write off the alliance for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. There are three points on which the fate of the UPA will be decided in the polls.
Some recent surveys have shown that the LS elections are unlikely to give clear mandate to either UPA or NDA, and both are in for a close contest. In this background, the scramble for roping in regional parties has heightened drastically. After the Bhartiya Janta Party-Janta Dal United (JDU) split, the three-partner alliance of NDA has a herculean task of getting partners, who are dithering over Narendra Modi’s divisive and communal brand of politics. In making amends with the regional parties, the UPA fares better than the NDA. The reasons are obvious. The latter has conciliatory approach—a raison d’etre to its historical and contemporary existence–to absorb regional parties due to its flexibility. It has an enviable trick of letting regional parties vent their anger, and consequently concedes to their demands on political exigencies. Take the case of Telangana. In 2009 P.Chidmbaram announced in a press conference that it the government was seriously thinking on the Telangana demand. It honoured the sentiment the people after four years. With this announcement, the UPA seems to have won one more friend: The Telangana Rastra Samiti. TRS chief K Chandrasekhar Rao has shown some interest to partner with the UPA, and it will boost the chances of both parties in the newly-created State. One more example is of Odisha and Bihar. If the Biju Janta Dal and JDU are able to extract some concessions for their States from the Centre, they may not be averse to hitch a ride in UPA’s apple-cart. It will invariably leave the NDA fuming in desperation.
The second key to outperforming opponent in the India politics is welfare schemes which have been peddled vigorously by the Congress, as if there is no tomorrow. First and foremost is the National Food Security Bill. It has the characteristics of winning the hearts and minds of the poor and destitute. It ensures food grains for two-thirds of the population. The best part, to the advantage of the United progressive alliance, is that no party is opposed to it, but seeks some amendments. In the 2009 LS election, the Centre announced loan-waiver scheme for debt-ridden farmers, following which the UPA reaped by electoral dividends. The Food Bill seeks to replicate the 2009 dream. Another re-distributive programme is cash transfer direct to the targeted beneficiaries. Though it has taken off with great fanfare, its operational difficulties of seeding and mapping with Aadhar card numbers have posed some challenges. If these stumbling blocks are cleared, and the beneficiaries get their money, credited in their bank accounts, it can tip the balance in favour of the UPA. These welfare programmes are another key to mobilising the poor in UPA’s favour. For instance, the Ashok Gehlot government’s approval ratings, not long ago, nose-dived due to a barrage of corruption cases against its Ministers. But the Hindu-CNN-IBN survey, conducted by the CSDS, has pointed out that anti-incumbency factor has mollified in Rajasthan, given the welfare-schemes rolled out by the State government. Therefore, it has fought its way back and is bracing itself to give the BJP a good run for its money.
The bulk of the flak that UPA has drawn is on corruption cases. Now, the insurmountable task–not impossible– is to arrest public disenchantment which spawned after incessant scams tumbling one after another. How to do it? There are two knee-jointed issues: the Lokpal Bill and CBI autonomy. If hurdles are cleared for the Bill, which is opposed by all parties unanimously like the RTI fiasco, Sonia Gandhi-led team will be able to restore its image. Second, the curious case of CBI autonomy has become another source of discomfiture. Concrete actions at the earliest to extricate the investigating agency from the political classes can translate into electoral fortunes for the UPA.
The UPA has more than eight months’ time before LS elections to turn the tables. If economy is revived with some bold policy measures with an added-emphasis on employment, the middle class may once again gravitate towards the Congress-led UPA. Despite time constraint, all aforesaid issues are ‘deliverables’ and can upset the dynamics of NDA which is projected to win more seats than that of UPA. Eight-months is a good long time to sway the electorate to its side by improving economic outlook through daring steps, passing seminal bills for the welfare of the poor and clearing hurdles for the Lokpal Bill. The aforesaid issues hold the key for the proverbial phoenix-like revival of the UPA in the Lok Sabha battleground.