Two Years of UPA Rule: A People's Assessment

Two years back, we heard the promise of a ‘Human Face' for Governance, zealously guarded by a Left watchdog. Now, two years on, what do we see, beyond the Sarkari self-congratulations?

Two Years of Betrayal:

Agrarian Arena of Suicides and Starvation

The spate of farmers' suicides continue unabated, with debt-burdened farmers yet to see the ‘Caring Government' take any steps to offer any redress. At the Centre, the Agriculture Minister is more obsessed with the political games played out at the BCCI; and in Congress-ruled States like Maharashtra and Andhra, bhajans and kirtans are being offered as solace for suicidal farmers, much as the NDA had once offered psychiatric counselling. In Andhra Pradesh, women have joined the ranks of suicidal farmers – facing harassment to repay micro-finance and crushed under a growing interest burden. The Seed Bill further endangers the sovereignty of Indian farmers and seeks to shackle them to MNC seed companies. Hunger and starvation continues to stalk the countryside, while the UPA Government is busy importing food grains from the US !

The Hoax of a Soaring Sensex

Last year's much-touted euphoria over the sensex touching new heights was soon punctured, with the unprecedented sensex crash. Sensex soaring has proved to be as much a hoax as the callous boasts of India Shining.

‘Human Mask' Can't Hide Neo-liberal Face

The UPA Government has shown that it shares with its predecessors the obsession with privatisation, SEZs (dubbed as Sarkari Evasion Zones!) and grabbing of land from the poor for mega projects and corporate empires – and unconcern for any real employment-generating industrial growth. From the Narmada valley to Delhi, there is absolute callousness towards the rights of the displaced; only a determination to acquire land by hook or crook, leaving the poor completely destitute, and ignoring all evidence of the failure of rehabilitation.

Foreign Policy: Dependence All the Way

What of the UPA's promise of an ‘independent' foreign policy? All around, we see the UPA Government promoting dependence in every sphere: dependence on wheat imports from the US in the area of food; dependence on the Indo-US Nuclear Accord for energy; dependence on FII to keep up the illusion of a booming economy; and growing isolation from all third world countries (be it Iran or Nepal) due to the increasing perception of India as a US stooge.

Sham of Social Justice

Far from reversing the trend of rampant privatisation and commercialisation of education, the UPA Govt. is actually intensifying the rapid shrinkage of educational spaces in higher education, and effectively reserving education for the rich. In this backdrop, the move to implement 27% reservation for OBCs holds up to the deprived sections a chimera of a share in the cake – as the cake itself becomes smaller and smaller! The desperation among youth over depleting avenues of education and employment took the form of an agitation against reservations. The UPA succumbed in the face of the vociferous opposition from the corporate world, shelving reservations in the private sector, and using the youth agitation as an excuse to delay and prevaricate on implementing 27% reservations. The Tribal Bill too seems fated to go the way of the Women's Bill, and face endless delays in being passed – even as tribals are being robbed of their right to land, rivers and forests, in the name of development. The UPA Government, like its predecessors, has shelved the Women's Reservation Bill – showing no political will to ensure women's representation and political participation. The tall talk of empowerment of women is mocked by their active exclusion – eloquently expressed by the Army Vice Chief who declared that the Army could ‘do without women'!

Soft-Pedalling Communalism

The UPA's only raison d'etre was its claim to combat communalism. But time and again, the UPA only displayed its unwillingness to confront the communal fascists: withdrawing the case of rioting from against Uma Bharti, taking up cudgels for Modi when he was denied a visa to the UK, failing to intervene in several instances of communal violence and even communal discrimination in implementation of the NREGA in Gujarat, and coming under saffron pressure to prevent the Sacchar Committee from conducting a census of Muslims in the Armed Forces. The draft of the Communal Violence (Prevention) Bill is deeply flawed – with no provisions for penalising a Government that failed to curb communal violence – and this Bill too shows no signs of being passed soon.

Mockery of Democratic Rights

The Justice Reddy Committee set up to diffuse the massive upsurge against the AFSPA in Manipur has reportedly recommended scrapping this draconian law – but Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee has categorically ruled out any such move. If the draconian AFSPA continues to rule in the North East, an illegal terrorist outfit called Salwa Judum masquerades as ‘anti-Naxal people's movement' in Chhattisgarh – sponsored both by the local Congress as well as the ruling BJP! The brutality of police against workers in Gurgaon, the massacre of tribals at Kalinganagar, violent lathicharge against slumdwellers in Mumbai – all these blatant violation sof basic democratic rights have marked two years of UPA rule.

Loss of Opportunity in Kashmir

The UPA Government is wasting crucial time and goodwill in Kashmir – with nothing better to show than round-table conferences without any substance. The State Government is mired in a sex scandal, the Army continues to stand accused of rapes, custodial killings and killing of innocent youth in fake encounters and the callous negligence of the Navy resulted in the boat tragedy that claimed the lives of school children.

Chinks in the Showpieces

Despite the fanfare over the UPA Government's greatest showpiece – the NREGA – the fact is that the total allocation for rural employment has been slashed. The NREGA remains fund-starved, and dogged by reluctant implementation, rampant corruption and widespread loot.

Offices of Profit – and Drama of Renunciation

Nearing the UPA's two-year anniversary, Sonia Gandhi repeated the renunciation farce that marked the beginning of UPA rule. This time, the saintly politics of ‘renunciation' soon stood revealed for a sham – with the UPA Government scrambling to pass the new Office of Profit legislation to post-datedly acquit all those (across parties) accused of having violated the law.

UPA's Failure as an Anti-BJP Coalition

In Jharkhand, the UPA squandered any chance to oust the BJP, rather letting the BJP reap the discontent at the undemocratic and high-handed use of the Governor's post. In Bihar , too, the UPA lost out to the JD(U)-BJP right-wing coalition. In Karnataka, a friction-ridden UPA made way for the BJP, and in Maharashtra too, there is a growing schism between the Congress and the NCP.

‘Disciplined Dissent' of the Official Left

In keeping with their familiar pattern, the CPI-CPI(M)-led Left made a big production of taking the UPA to task following the left victories at Bengal and Kerala – only to end it all in a whimper. The hike in petrol and diesel prices provided the occasion to make a big show of protest – but at the UPA-Left Co-ordination Committee meeting, the Left tamely refrained from raising any prickly issues. Instead the Left and UPA merely handed over their respective two-year ‘Report Cards' to each other, and the Left reportedly spoke only of some “internal security issues”!

The Left watchdog has put itself on a tight leash – with the lead in the Congress' hands – and its barks, far from guarding the interests of the people, have only served to retain dissent and protest within the safe ‘co-ordinated' confines of the UPA itself.

The limits of this carefully calibrated and domesticated dissent have been shown again and again – in the Patents Amendment Bill, the Airports Strike, the price hike, the issue of displacement of Narmada tribals, the vote against Iran , the anti-people Budgets. After all these betrayals of people's interest, why the need for the Left to continue to ‘co-ordinate' with the UPA? The emboldened UPA has taken a recent decision to divest 10% in Nalco and Neyveli, and will soon push through the Pension Bill – no doubt after the token show of opposition from the Left.

Time and again, however, popular disenchantment has overflowed the banks of measured dissent of the Left-UPA school. The farmers of Vidarbha, the tribals of the Narmada Valley, slum dwellers of Mumbai and Delhi, employees of Airports and Banks, tribals of Kalinganagar – all have faced the worst State repression in order to navigate the uncharted territory of militant protest. At the time of the Bush visit, despite the best efforts of the CPI-CPI(M) to channel the mass protest against Bush's occupation of Iraq rather than Manmohan's domestic policies of imperialism, what emerged as the real focus of protest was Manmohan's vote against Iran and his imposition of US-dictated killer policies in agriculture. It is these protests that form the contours of an emerging ‘minimum programme' – not of neo-liberal consensus, but of a people's campaign of resistance to this consensus.