Hurdles galore as UPA walks road to Ballot 2014

New Delhi, May 19 (IANS) Corruption scandals past and present have cast long shadows on the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government that completes four years of its second term May 22, amid a big question mark on whether it will be back for a third time.

Most analysts agree that a government that spent most of the last four years battling corruption charges is wounded as it prepares for the coming electoral battle. There is however some divide on whether it will win it, with some arguing that there is no serious alternative and others that the road ahead is very tough indeed.

According to Nisar-ul Haq, who teaches political science at Jamia Millia Islamia university here, the United Progressive Alliance has a fighting chance as “there is no alternative to the Congress in national politics”.

“Corruption charges will have little impact on the polls. People at large believe Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is an honest person,” Haq told IANS.

Veteran journalist and commentator Shravan Garg was less optimistic.

“The so-called good governance during UPA I was actually based on underlying corruption, which surfaced during UPA II,” he said.

Assessing the UPA’s chances, he said the Congress was likely to gain vote share in the five assembly polls year-end after winning in Karnataka but “may not be able to repeat the feat in the 2014 general election”.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was scathing of course.

“The UPA has no chance of returning to power as it acquired an image of a corrupt government. Government’s performance has been pathetic in the past four years,” said G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, a member of the BJP’s poll reforms cell.

From the 2010 Commonwealth Games to the allocations of 2G spectrum and coal, the list of irregularities has been long, clouding the UPA’s achievements and affecting governance.

In the past few years, parliament has been regularly disrupted. The entire winter session in 2011 was washed out over the BJP’s demand for a joint parliamentary committee probe into 2G spectrum allocation.

The budget session this year, which ended May 8, did not fare well either as the BJP pressed for Manmohan Singh’s resignation.

It also demanded that Ashwani Kumar quit as law minister and P.K. Bansal step down as railway minister after his nephew was arrested for accepting a bribe for a top railway board post. Both ministers finally quit.

But there have been pluses.

As the UPA II hurtled from one crisis to another, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, which guarantees free and compulsory education to all children between 6 and 14 years, was passed within a few months of the alliance coming to power in 2009.

In 2011, hit by Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement, the government passed the anti-graft Lokpal bill in the Lok Sabha that got stuck in the Rajya Sabha.

In 2012, the UPA II went ahead with economic reforms allowing foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail, provoking the Trinamool Congress to quit the alliance.

In 2013, the DMK exited the UPA as well.

The big ticket food security and land acquisition bills, which the UPA II would like to showcase in the 2014 general elections, are stuck up in the Lok Sabha as the BJP did not allow the house to run.

According to political commentator N. Bhaskara Rao, the Congress became more isolated in UPA II as the “checks and balances” that the Left parties had on the Congress in UPA 1 were missing.

“The Congress leadership was indecisive… Most of the time, the government was busy fire-fighting than focussing on governance,” Rao told IANS.

Agreeing it was fighting negative public perception, the Congress said it needed to communicate better but accused the BJP of painting a negative picture.

“Corruption and high prices of food items are a concern for us but public anger was there against the NDA government also,” Congress spokesperson Meem Afzal told IANS.

“We need to tell people of our work and communicate that the negative perception is because the opposition is painting a picture and a section of media is sensationalising issues,” added Congress’ Shakeel Ahmed.

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