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Yearend hope: India's democracy is alive and well

Thursday December 29, 2011 02:07:02 PM, Amulya Ganguli, IANS

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 lessened.

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 tomorrow.

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






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