UPA’s Anniversary Celebration:

Is Anybody Counting the Corpses?


Six out of ten. We are told that is how Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has rated his government’s performance during its first year in office. We are also told that he is not happy with this performance, he is hungry for more. And so he has now come up with a grand declaration. Over the next four years, his government will apparently invest Rs. 1,74,000 crore to improve the scale and quality of rural infrastructure in the country. That is nearly the amount the UPA government has already spent on defence in its first two budgets. But have not the people already got a taste of the kind of Bharat the UPA is building?

The UPA government had come to power talking about the common man (aam aadmi) and reforms with a human face. Have things improved at all during this last one year? What about farmers’ suicides? The incidence, according to the government’s own figures, has gone up. On May 13, Minister of State for Agriculture Kanti Lal Bhuria informed the Rajya Sabha that as many as 1,529 farmers committed suicide during 2004-05, up from 1,164 cases during the previous year. Nearly half of these suicides, 758 cases, were reported from Andhra Pradesh between April-December 2004, nearly a threefold increase over the 2003-04 figure of 258. Maharashtra , home state of agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, too witnessed a steep increase in suicides from 180 in 2003-04 to 524 in 2004-05.

What about the other major expression of agrarian crisis – acute unemployment, chronic hunger, and starvation deaths? Starvation deaths are generally never officially acknowledged by our governments, and they hardly make news in the national media. What about the Employment Guarantee Bill which was first diluted beyond recognition and then conveniently left to gather dust in a Standing Committee that is headed by Kalyan Singh? What about the ‘targeted’ food-for-work scheme that is supposed to provide 100 days of employment to at least one unemployed person in every BPL family in 150 select districts? Union minister for rural development Raghuvansh Prasad Singh tells us that in his home state Bihar, no expenditure has been made at all under this head in Purnea, one of the 15 districts of the state chosen for this scheme, while more than half a dozen of the districts have recorded only up to 12 per cent of the stipulated expenditure.

The reason why Manmohan Singh gives his government six out of ten has however nothing to do with the admissions made by his ministers. He is also little likely to be bothered by the fact that the bill promising land rights for scheduled tribes is being sought to be buried or that there is an alarming spurt in violence against women with Delhi acquiring the dubious distinction of being India’s, and perhaps the world’s, ‘rape capital’.

And surely he is also ‘political’ enough not to feel embarrassed by the fact that his cabinet has scam-haunted ministers or that his defence minister is roughed up by angry Congressmen. These he knows are ‘compulsions of everyday politics’ and are best handled by ‘Soniaji’ while he busies himself with ‘the business of governance’ – legislation of rules and implementation of policies suited to the best interests of the billionaires. So if anybody knows why Manmohan Singh is dissatisfied it is perhaps Chidambaram and listen to him for the pending tasks: banking reforms, labour reforms, pension reforms, more FDI, more privatization …

What do the UPA’s comrades have to say? They are a little disappointed that their views are often ‘disregarded’, that the government has not done enough to ‘distance’ itself from the ‘discredited policies of the previous government’, that the needs of the poor have not been adequately addressed … but they (‘the people’) are still ‘hopeful’! The comrades have therefore decided to show some signs of displeasure by not taking part in ‘the UPA’s anniversary celebration’. Whether it is joining the government or joining its birthday bash, there seems to be no end to the ‘participatory’ dilemma of the comrades!

The UPA’s comrades may be busy weighing their dilemma and calibrating their ‘distance’ from the government, but the overwhelming majority of the residents of ‘ India that is Bharat’ feel downright cheated and angry. The job of the people’s comrades can only be to give voice to this anger and mould it into a mighty assertion of the masses.