Birthday bumps

UPA 2 has been an inert government. It must take the blame for institutional imbalance

As the UPA enters its 10th year in power, its own birthday cheer seems forced. In its second stint, elected with a larger mandate than before, this government seemed to have lost its will. UPA 2 has been marked by its sheer passivity. Starting with the 2G spectrum furore, to the recent resignation of two ministers, its term has been riddled with scandal. In each case, the government has seemed unable, and even reluctant, to argue its case with conviction, or to rectify its mistakes. It has reacted slowly, reluctantly, and only when pushed into a corner. It has shown incapacity, both in doing the right thing and seizing the initiative.

In between the serial crises, the UPA has allowed others to dictate the agenda. It allowed those agitating for an extra-large version of the Lokpal to monopolise public attention. It arguably created the problem, by capitulating in the first instance and allowing civil society activists to think they could take over the job of elected legislators. It failed to provide minimal public justification for its own decisions. When the courts started trespassing into political and administrative domains and telling the executive how to frame policy, there was barely a cheep out of the UPA. If other actors have invaded the government's legitimate space, and assumed greater powers, it has only itself to blame. It must take responsibility for the mission creep among institutions, and their ambition, not always matched by their legitimacy or capacity, to take on ever-expanding roles. The CAG, which has not always been rigorous in adding up the numbers in its recent reports, is poised to extend its remit, perhaps recklessly. Outgoing CAG Vinod Rai has called for powers to audit public-private partnerships and panchayati raj institutions. The courts, too, have brought their powers to bear on many crucial matters, to check the perceived flaws in intent or implementation. But whether in telecom or mining, their interventions have been inevitably blunt. The Centre's crisis of authority has ended up hurting sectors vital to the economy.

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