UPA completes on year in office tomorrow

UPA completes on year in office tomorrow
Sunil Gatade, New Delhi, May 21 (PTI) The Congress-led UPA government at the Centre completes a year in office tomorrow, a period marked by an upbeat economy and furtherance of the peace process with Pakistan even as it has grappled with coalition compulsions and an uncooperative BJP-led opposition.

Congress party's first exercise in governance by coaliton has not been without friction with key supporting parties, CPI(M) and CPI which have come in the way of greater economic reforms.

But the real acrimony has been in the precincts where the main opposition, BJP, yet to recover from its shock defeat last year, has raked up a variety of issues to keep away from debate and discussion.

Manmohan Singh, who found himself in the Prime Ministerial chair in dramatic circumstances, has led the coalition on the strength of his clean reputation, carrying forward economic reforms and showing a surprisingly deft grasp of foreign policy issues. Major political issues have been the prerogative of party president Sonia Gandhi.

The coalition blotted its book by the messy handling of the electoral verdict in Jharkhand and political upheaval in Goa.

Railway Minister and RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav gave enough fodder to BJP-led NDA to attack the UPA government in view of his alleged involvement in several fodder scam cases, particularly after courts in Jharkhand framed charges against him in two cases recently.

BJP had disrupted the first session of the 14th Lok Sabha in July last year raking up the issue of "tainted" ministers, targeting mainly RJD Chief Lalu Prasad with the result there was not even a discussion on the President's address to Parliament followed by Opposition boycott of even the Budget session in 2004.

After acrimony in the winter session, the Budget session this year also was not without disruption and boycott on tainted ministers issue, given BJP's penchant for getting at the RJD supremo.

But the UPA coalition has so far fended all Opposition attempts on this score giving back in good measure a taste of its own medicine.

The mere fact that persons have been chargesheeted, Singh has maintained, does not disqualify them being ministers, a stand former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had taken when rejecting demands for the dismissal of chargesheeted Ministers including L K Advani, accused in the Ayodhya demolition case.

While the relationship among constituents of UPA has been by and large smooth but for some minor fracas, it is the alliance's ties with the Left parties that have come under some strain on economic issues.

But despite talk of serious opposition to some of the continuing reform policies of the government on which the Left parties have strong reservations, the Communists have repeatedly made it clear that they will not be the ones who are going to pull the rug from beneat the government's feet.

The Prime Minister has been able to go ahead with economic reforms despite frequent threats and objections by the Left parties.

The formulation of the Common Minimum Programme by the coalition which has the backing of the Left parties has helped matters for the Prime Minister coupled with the guidance of the National Advisory Council headed by Gandhi.

Despite occasional statements from the Left that "we are not a barking dog and could bite too", there is a growing feeling in Congress, that nothing would be done by them to upset the UPA coalition.

The Prime Minister's occasional breakfast interactions with the Left and meetings between UPA and Left parties have come in handy to hammer out solutions to the problems of the day and iron out rough edges in relations among them.

Interestingly the Samajwadi Party, with 40 odd members, which supports the UPA from outside, has often been critical of Gandhi and her son Rahul, but has always been speaking well about the Prime Minister.

The first anniversary of UPA is important as the six-year of the BJP-led NDA rule from 1998 to 2004 had sought to approrpriate the stability plank of Congress with Atal Bihari Vajpayee projecting that the saffron alone had the power to accomodate diverse interests and groups.

As the Prime Minister said the other day that his government had succeded in "reversing" the trend of politics of exclusion, divisiveness and majoritarianism. "The UPA has returned the nation to even keel.

The one-year rule of the alliance has also been marked by lowering of communal tension across the country.

Singh, the economist-turned-politican has helped the Congress gaining the Centrestage after party chief Sonia Gandhi staged the renunciation act. After being chosen as the Prime Minister by the Congress Parliamentary Party, Gandhi instead bestowed the responsibility on Singh.

Singh's achievement has been made possible by the rapport he enjoys with Gandhi who looks after the rough and tumble of politics and managing the UPA affairs, leaving enough time for the Prime Minister to concentrate on the affairs of the state.

The Manmohan Singh dispensation has many firsts- it is for the first time that the Prime Minister is neither leader of his own party nor of the parliamentary party nor that of the ruling alliance.

Having worked in the government as an official in various capacities, Singh knows how the system works. His emphasis on administative reforms should be seen in this light.

The one year UPA rule has seen Indo-Pakistan relations on an upswing, building on the momentum set in motion during fag end of NDA rule and reflecting continuity in foreign policy irrespective of change of guard.

Ties with China became closer and there has been greater cooperation with Japan and US which acknowledged India as an emerging power.

Singh carried forward the efforts to bolster India's ties with South East Asia and East Asia and prepares to enter a critical phase of dialogue with the US on nuclear issue, armed with the landmark legislation passed by Parliament banning proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and transfer of missile technology and other capabilities to develop such weapons to state or non-state actors.

On the economic front, Singh has kept the emphasis on rural areas, keeping in mind the role played by voters in this region in the return of Congress to power after eight years.

However, high international prices of crude have hit the common man hard and remained a major cause for worry for the government.

Singh's government also came out with a slew of bold economic reforms in banking, civil aviation, telecom, and insurance sectors to attract greater FDI. He also spoke about the need to bring disinvestment--a subject that had been almost forgotten after the exit of NDA--to the forefront, labour law reforms and opening up of retail sector to FDI.

The Left parties have voiced strong reservations about the economic policies but there is no indication they are going to rock the UPA boat on this issue.

It is not that the government has not taken the Left's sensitivities into account. The FDI in insurance sector has been kept in abeyance, several amendments suggested by the Left were carried out in the law on Special Economic Zones and power sector reforms were pushed back by six more months at the insistence of the red brigade.

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