India’s Ruling Coalition Grants Itself a Good Report Card

The 92-page report is an attempt to sell the Congress-led coalition before next year's election. The opposition isn't buying it

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MANISH SWARUP / AFP / Getty Images

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, second from left, looks on as the ruling United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi greets people during the release of the coalition's self-assessment report at a function in New Delhi on May 22, 2013

A renascent and inclusive economy, better governance, better distribution of welfare programs and improved relations with neighbors — these, claims India’s ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition, are the four cornerstone achievements of the past nine years. Its 92-page report for the period, released Wednesday evening, is an unabashed attempt to sell the Congress-led coalition to the electorate before the country goes to the polls next year. “We can legitimately claim, and with pride, that the UPA government has taken our country forward on all these four fronts in the nine years,” said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. “We have journeyed many miles, though we know we have more miles ahead.”

But while it effusively sang its own praises, the scandal-prone coalition raised eyebrows for its platitudinous treatment of the corruption cases that have occurred during its tenure, most notoriously the 2G-spectrum scandal, in which mobile-phone companies were allocated cut-price frequency licenses, leading to an estimated $32 billion shortfall in the country’s exchequer. Singh said the problems were being “dealt with, as they should be, under the law,” and claimed that the “perceived nontransparency in the manner of allocation has been addressed and these problems will not arise in the future.”

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The report also focused on India’s rise as a global power. It said under the leadership of the UPA, India was “able to manage some very difficult challenges,” like its relations with China. It doesn’t, however, talk about its failure to force Pakistan into making headway in the investigation into the 2008 Mumbai attacks or the fact that traditional allies like the Maldives and Sri Lanka are getting closer to China.

The slowdown of the Indian economy was meanwhile blamed on external factors such as the global economy and tight monetary policy at home to control inflation, which had touched double digits in the past couple of years. While the report discusses inflation at length, it mentions the creation of jobs only in passing, saying that the services sector has continued to grow at 9% creating good-quality jobs. However, if a 2011 report by Crisil research is believed, India needs at least 55 million additional jobs by 2015 to maintain the current ratio of employed people to total population at 39%. “When you add to [inflation and unemployment] the brazen corruption you have seen in the recent past, it is a recipe for disaster,” says Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a Delhi-based independent political analyst. He called the report “a desperate attempt to refurbish an image for a party and a coalition, staring defeat in the next general elections.”

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It certainly didn’t convince the opposition, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who called it a “nonreport” and said it hid all the scams, revealing “only the convenient.” The BJP also criticized Singh’s leadership, alleging that he is a symbolic leader who leads the Cabinet while the real leadership lies with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. “He is neither leader of his party nor the country,” Sushma Swaraj, BJP’s leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha, told reporters. “This divided leadership is leading to uncertainty in the country.”

The BJP also published its own charge sheet against the UPA government’s “failures,” alleging that the UPA has not been deterred by scandals and has interfered in federal investigations. Sectors like telecom, power, national highways, rural roads, seaports, according to the BJP charge sheet, suffered a serious setback, while inflation has continued to cause misery.

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The Indian media were similarly scathing in their criticism of what they called a “self-congratulatory” report. An editorial in the Indian newspaper DNA called the report a “poor defence, an unconvincing rationalisation” of the government’s performance. “[The people] are not going to buy the sales pitch of a government that has been hobbling under the burden of successive scams for the last four years,” the editorial said. “The good the UPA did was rewarded. Now, it is time to accept the reprimand for its acts of omission and commission in the second term, and with no hard feelings.”

The UPA’s second term started off on a high note, with education becoming a right for children ages 6 to 14. The passing of the antigraft bill and the decision to allow foreign investment in multibrand retail were also lauded as steps forward. And yet, much of the term has been characterized by policy paralysis. With a year to go before the general elections, the coalition will need to get moving on its flagship programs, particularly the food-security bill. The bill, which aims to alleviate hunger, could help win back the support of India’s poor and middle class, a key to keeping power in 2014.

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