Are we under a Shadow Cabinet?
Shadow cabinets are in vogue in many commonwealth and european countries that have a bipolar polity. Every minister in the government is shadowed by a designated member of opposition. However the shadow cabinet remains in abeyance till the present cabinet enjoys majority support. Surprising as it may sound, India too seems to have a shadow cabinet in place, albeit of a completely different kind. It isn’t the opposition that behaves like a shadow cabinet here, the government itself behaves like one. It incurs all the costs, enjoys all the privileges, indulges in extensive shadow boxing with a slew of problems, yet curiously has very little to show for as impact. Countless hours of meetings and strategy formations, endless debates, a string of committees and sub-committees, whirlwind trips to far off lands, all add up only to a pretense of governance with no real improvement.
Nowhere is this governance paralysis more visible than in case of the three most critical problems that India faces under the present UPA-II regime – Pakistan, Price rise and Corruption.
Ever since 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, it has become the sole focus of our foreign policy and engagement with Pakistan. We have oscillated between slamming the door shut for dialogue to opening it up for some time. Neither approach has had any discernible impact. Meanwhile we continue the ritual of hurling abuses at multilateral forums, periodic exhortation of Pakistan to punish the master minds of the attack, regular publication of list of most wanted terrorists harbored by Pakistan, sprinkled with doses of Cricket diplomacy. The entire exercise seems routine and lacks conviction on either side. We had at one point gone all out in trying to portray Pakistan as a ‘rogue state’ that is the originator of international terrorism. Despite several indications to this effect and even after the recent killing of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, it still remains central to the efforts of US and its allies in combatting terrorism. So even though we have the sympathy of the world, we still do not have their support.
On the contrary, a series of major and minot gaffes by the administration have resulted in our loss of face in international arena. Granted that the success of our diplomacy with Pakistan depends as much on their actions as ours, yet nothing stops us from shifting focus of our foreign policy to ASEAN countries and China while still maintaining a minimum deterrent against Pakistan. Our obsession with Pakistan has prevented us from fully exploiting our potential with other regional neighbors.
If Pakistan policy of UPA-II has been lack luster, price rise seems to be its waterloo. Chain flaring up of prices of a series of commodities and food items one after another have created a strong suspicion of foul play. For a government that came to power on the back of being a savior of ‘common man’, it has bitten them hard. It is true that much of the rise is attributed to the oil price rise due to instability in middle east countries. However oil prices alone do not account for the complete mess that prevails in prices. The manner in which successive commodities caught fire does suggest price manipulation through hoarding or excess speculation.This was also accompanied by intermittent opening up and subsequent banning of export of these commodities. Prices grew far beyond what fundamentals of demand and supply suggested. Even on the oil front there is hardly any urgency or new initiatives launched by the government to either augment oil exploration or transition to renewable energy sources. What has been even more baffling is the manner in which most ministries dealing with prices have shrugged their responsibility and pointed fingers towards other ministries or state governments in turn worsening the situation. All in all the government has given an impression of being a helpless, mute spectator to price rise.
Corruption which was always been subterranean, has recently hit the headlines. The past two years have witnessed, in quick succession, scams ranging from 2G, Commonwealth Games, Adarsh Housing society and countless others that have unleashed a season of corruption. Aided by an international boil against corruption, a strong back lash has been created throwing up movements like the India against Corruption led by Anna Hazare. After a recent protest by him, a joint committee was formed by the government including five Civil society representatives to jointly draft a strong Lokpal(ombudsman) Bill. However the government inclination to stall the process has been visible all along. Right from the start attempts were made to destabilize the panel and create dissonance by simultaneous extolling and vituperating the civil society members. Government strategy is now out in the open after it has clearly drifted away from the major suggestions of the civil society panelists. As always the government is now seeking a political consensus which guarantees the subsequent burial of the bill.
The inaction on all these fronts as also many others such as job creation, women’s reservation, land acquisition, infrastructure creation,judicial back log, electoral & police reforms etc. does suggest a paralysis that has struck the government. This kind of drift is normally visible in a lame duck or care taker administration, however UPA-II is facing such a situation after only two years of a second consecutive mandate. It seems to be running out of steam already.