For the first time in the Manmohan
Singh government's six years in power, there is a pervading sense
of negativism in the atmosphere. Not even when the Left withdrew
its support in 2008 on the India-US nuclear deal was there such a
feeling of despondency about the government's and the nation's
It isn't that the government's majority is threatened in any way.
In fact, as a political force, the opposition does not present a
serious challenge because of the Left's continuing weakness and
the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) internal problems. The
government's discomfiture, therefore, is the result of
This, despite, India's rising stature in the comity of nations,
reflected in the succession of year-end visits by leaders of all
the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the big
powers who influence global thinking and actions.
The political downslide can, however, be traced to summer when the
escalation of violence in Kashmir Valley, which lasted almost
continuously for three months, put the government on the
defensive. Suddenly, it appeared clueless before a mob of
determined stone-throwers, whose rain of missiles caught the
Goliath of an administration flat-footed.
It was a matter of luck for New Delhi that Pakistan's own internal
troubles and the growing perception in the international community
of it as the home of terrorism made it difficult for Islamabad to
exploit the unrest in the valley although it did bring the subject
up before the UN to India's considerable annoyance. Iran too
chipped in by equating Kashmir with Palestine and seeing a Zionist
"conspiracy" in both the places.
But, by and large because of India's growing prestige, the world
mostly ignored the outbreak in Kashmir although 108 lives were
lost in police firing in 100 days of street violence. It is this
unacceptably high level of civilian casualties which emphasised
New Delhi's ham-handedness and the ineptitude of Omar Abdullah as
The tragic deaths showed, yet again, that the security forces have
not been able to develop effective crowd-control methods. They
remain trigger-happy instead of using more humane measures like
water cannons, chilli powder and rubber bullets.
With the onset of autumn, the stone-throwers vanished from the
streets. The level of Maoist violence too has shown a declining
trend. Except for the tragic death of a child in a terror attack
in Varanasi by a home-grown militant outfit, the Indian Mujahideen,
India hasn't experienced any Pakistan-sponsored terrorism on the
scale of the Mumbai mayhem of November 2008.
Either there has been considerable improvement in the country's
intelligence services where Pakistan is concerned, or the sponsors
of terror in that country are waiting for the worldwide outrage
over the Mumbai massacres to die down before initiating any fresh
However, if there is a no sense of relief for the government from
these developments, the reason is that it is facing allegations of
sleaze on a wider scale than ever before. So much so that Congress
president Sonia Gandhi has had to acknowledge the shrinking of the
country's "moral universe" because of growing instances of "graft"
The government has only itself to blame for this demoralizing
plunge into the cesspool of corruption. The worst case undoubtedly
is that of former telecom minister Andimuthu Raja, who stands
accused of having robbed the exchequer of a gargantuan Rs.1.7 lakh
crore ($40 billion) because of dubious deals in the allocations of
second generation spectrum.
But while Raja's alleged misdeeds may not cause too much surprise
because of the less than wholesome reputation of his party, the
DMK, what has hurt the ruling Congress most is that Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh's name has been dragged into the controversy.
Even if his personal integrity remains intact, his handling of a
cynical coalition partner like the DMK has been seen as
weak-kneed. By virtually allowing Raja a free hand for more than a
year despite mounting evidence of his complicity, the prime
minister has damaged his credibility as the purposeful leader of a
By the time Raja was asked to resign, the Supreme Court was asking
why he had not been interrogated by the Central Bureau of
Investigation (CBI), and the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG)
had published a damning report on the scam.
Raja was not the only accused. Two others - both Congressmen - had
to resign in connection with other acts of suspected malfeasance.
One was Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan and the other was
Commonwealth Games Organising Committee chief Suresh Kalmadi.
Chavan was implicated in a housing society scam in Mumbai in which
bureaucrats, including defence officials, were involved. Kalmadi's
alleged sins were about the siphoning off of funds related to the
Even if action has been taken in nearly all these matters, they
have not dispelled the murky atmosphere of venality, which has
enveloped the government and the ruling Congress. One reason,
however, why the BJP has been unable to derive much advantage from
the Congress' discomfiture is that the BJP's own chief minister,
B.S. Yeddyurappa, has become involved in questionable land
transactions in Karnataka.
But for the average people, the scene is reminiscent of the
closing days of the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1989 when the
Bofors howitzer scandal had tarnished the then prime minister's
name and spread the impression of the country sinking into a
morass of corruption.
The fact that Chavan had to resign and that Yeddyurappa has barely
survived a similar fate also suggests that the entire political
class is tainted, an aspect of life which is confirmed by the
reported rise in the number of MPs with criminal background.
To compound the Congress's misery, the sudden rise in onion
prices, a feature of the economy which has destabilized earlier
governments, has underlined its poor handling of the food and
agricultural scene. Either it is being castigated by the Supreme
Court for letting wheat and rice rot in the godowns, or allowing
hoarders to hide essential items like onion in the hope of skewing
the market at a time of scarcity.
The party has blamed agriculture minister Sharad Pawar for the
mess. But the fact that Pawar had earlier sought to be relieved of
some of his portfolios showed that the Congress had chosen the
wrong man for such an important job - as it did for the telecom
The only ray of light in this depressing environment has been
provided by the electoral success of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish
Kumar. There are two reasons for the celebrations. One is that
Nitish Kumar has not featured in any scandal. The other is that
his victory is mainly the outcome of his fruitful efforts relating
to development and law and order, which have enabled the state to
emerge from the "jungle raj" of Lalu Yadav's years in power
On the external front, Barack Obama's endorsement of India's
claims for permanent membership of the UN Security Council shows
that the world now believes with the US president that India is no
longer a rising power - it has already risen. This was also
endorsed with visits by leaders from Britain, France, Russia and
China, although China pointedly refused to endorse India's
Security Council aspirations, unlike the four Western powers.
However, even as India's relations with major powers and key
regions become multi-dimensional in sync with its growing economy,
there is no corresponding warmth in India's relationship with its
two less than friendly neighbours, Pakistan and China. While there
are no signs that Pakistan intends to act determinedly against the
anti-Indian terrorist groups operating in the country, China has
shown that it wants to create new areas of tension like Arunachal
Pradesh and Kashmir even as the overall border problem remains
With the government being rocked by corruption scandals and the
hostile neighbours looking for opportunities to destabilise India,
the country is faced with a winter of discontent.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst.
He can be
reached at email@example.com)