There is reason to hope that India
will fare better in 2012. For one, much of the political storms
have blown over - scams, Anna Hazare, et al. They may not have
dissipated completely, but their initial debilitating impact has
For another, the country has been fortunate that it hasn't faced
any major Pakistan-inspired terrorist attack in the recent past.
Perhaps, Islamabad's mounting problems have induced a rethink.
What is more, even the Maoist insurgency is far less threatening
today than in the time when scores of security personnel were
being killed in ambushes. The edge seems to have been taking off,
therefore, of two grave challenges to the Indian state - one
external and the other internal.
There is little doubt that if the economy can recover its earlier
8 to 9 percent growth rate and there is not so much dispiriting
talk by businessmen of investing abroad, India will be back on
track. All that will remain is for the country, and the
government, to mull over why the situation went so badly wrong,
for 2011 was undoubtedly the worse year for the government in the
last seven years that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance
(UPA) has been in power.
Ironically, what went wrong were the two factors which were
earlier hailed as the defining features of a new era of politics.
One was the assumption that the country had entered a period when
coalitions will be the order of the day. The other was the belief
that the neat division of authority between Manmohan Singh and
Sonia Gandhi with the prime minister running the government and
the Congress president looking after the party had finally solved
the crippling diarchy which other prime ministers had faced.
It is strange that the negativism of this previously acclaimed
dual authority complicated coalitional politics because of the
excessive leeway given by the prime minister to a cabinet
colleague A. Raja presumably because the Congress president did
not want the DMK withdrawing support, as the Left did, in 2008.
As Manmohan Singh explained after Raja's incarceration under
orders from the Supreme Court, the reason why the government
dilly-dallied about bringing him to book was the fear of another
election at the national level. Yet, when the assembly elections
were finally held in Tamil Nadu, both the Congress and the DMK
received a severe drubbing because the electorate was not amused
by the patent compromise with malfeasance.
Unfortunately, the same hesitancy to act against a troublesome
ally was evident in the government's retreat on allowing foreign
investment in the retail sector following opposition from Mamata
Banerjee. She has threatened to hold up several other reforms as
well, such as the one on pension funds, because she is aware of
the special status she has acquired in the political field by
triumphantly ending Left's three-decade-old rule in West Bengal.
But, she may be undermining her own position by outdoing the
comrades in her quest to be the heroine of socialism.
As in the cases of Raja and Mamata, the government didn't seem to
know how to assert itself when it came to dealing with Anna Hazare
till his "flop show" in Mumbai signalled the fizzling out of his
anti-corruption campaign. But the reason why the government had
been at its wit's end earlier in dealing with him - oscillating
between either inviting him to jointly frame the Lokpal bill with
ministers, or arresting him, or hailing him as a crusader after
releasing him - was that there was apparently no one in the
government or the party with acute political instincts or wide
popular appeal like Indira Gandhi before the Emergency or Rajiv
Gandhi before the Bofors scandal.
Curiously, Manmohan Singh's personal integrity could have helped
him counter Anna's simple-minded, rabble-rousing tactics much
earlier. But the prime minister is seen as someone who is
remote-controlled by Sonia Gandhi. This impression of Manmohan
Singh's helplessness has been strengthened by his failure to push
through the economic reforms.
But all is not lost. The Lokpal bill has passed through the Lok
Sabha, though not in the form which the Congress may have wanted.
Other important bills are on the anvil. Rahul Gandhi's support for
FDI in retail suggests that reforms will be back on track. There
is reason for the country, therefore, to look forward to a better
A main reason for hope, however, was the manner in which
parliament met till late at night to consider the Lokpal bill
while, at the same time, the attempt by Anna's supporters to
pressurize the house by organizing a rally in Mumbai failed.
The contrast between an animated Lok Sabha and the emptiness of
the meeting site in Mumbai confirmed that for all its flaws,
Indian democracy remains alive and well.
Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org