M A I N   N E W S

UPA seeks ‘magic formula’ to boost image
As ruling combine prepares to celebrate 3rd anniversary on Tuesday, complex problems stare it in the face
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, May 20
When the second anniversary celebrations of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) last year were overshadowed by a series of scandals and scams, diehard optimists in the government had dismissed it as a mere passing phase.

“We have time on our hands.. all we need is one or two big ticket programmes to change the perception of the people,” was the common refrain among the UPA ministers.

But nothing has changed since then. As the Congress-led ruling combine gets ready to celebrate its third anniversary on Tuesday with the

mandatory photo-op at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s residence and the release of its annual report card, the government still remains in the grip of policy paralysis while the shadow of corruption continues to hang over it.

The economy is in a tailspin as India has not remained insulated from the Eurozone crisis. The stock markets have taken a tumble while

the rupee has weakened considerably. Worse, runaway prices, falling industrial production, the mess in the oil sector and the growing gap between exports and imports has only added to the ruling combine’s woes.

On the policy front, key economic Bills relating to pension, banking and insurance sector reforms are still awaiting Parliamentary approval. Mercurial allies like the Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee have forced the government to backtrack on its policy on the FDI in retail trade, put off the formation of a national anti-terror body and renege on its international commitment on the Teesta River Waters Agreement. The uneasy civil-army relations and poor headway on anti-corruption measures has done little to lift the government’s image.

Confident that they still have two years to set their house in order, UPA strategists are in search for that elusive “magic formula” which, they believe, will push up the government’s popularity ratings and refurbish its image. There is an overwhelming consensus that the government can do so by reining in prices and pushing up growth.

“If we can contain inflation and improve the economy, it will really give us a boost,” remarked a senior UPA minister, adding that it takes a couple of good ideas to change people’s perception. Besides an economic miracle, the UPA is also pinning its hopes on the promised Food Security Bill which, it believes, could prove to be another winner like the loan waiver for farmers and the rural job guarantee scheme introduced during UPA I.

As the patient wait for this miracle continues, there is growing unease in the UPA that the Prime Minister and Congress President Sonia Gandhi are becoming increasingly detached from the government and the party and that the two are not as proactive as they ought to be.

The UPA is, however, drawing solace is from the fact that there is no immediate threat to its stability. “This government’s biggest achievement is that it has survived for three years and is all set to complete its five-year-term in office,” remarked a senior UPA minister. The BJP, the lead player of the NDA, is witnessing such severe internal convulsions that it is in no position to dislodge the ruling dispensation and force an early election.

Not overly concerned about the government’s longevity, the core concern is whether the Congress can recover sufficiently to lead the UPA to another victory in the 2014 general elections. The party’s performance in the recent string of assembly polls has not been particularly encouraging and if the leadership does not step in, this slide may well continue over the next two years.





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