The Hindu Business Line
Given its size and diversity, not to mention the complicated nature of its federal arrangements which make coalitions unavoidable, India surely is not an easy country to govern. Even in the more mature democracies, apart from the technical requirements laid down in the Constitution, two intangible ingredients play a major role. One is credibility and the other is moral authority. Unfortunately, the UPA-II Congress government appears to have lost both. The credibility disappeared when it was repeatedly caught being "economical with the truth".
Now, after the WikiLeaks expose in The Hindu of a cable sent by a US Diplomat describing how some MPs were bribed when the Indo-US Nuclear Deal came up for a vote on July 22nd 2008, the moral authority has also gone. As a result, the Government is ruling only because of the technicality that it has a majority in the Lok Sabha. Indeed, in that sense it is not unlike Mr. P.J. Thomas, who was recently removed as the Central Vigilance Commissioner--technically everything was fine, in that he had not been convicted of any crime but the fact that there was a chargesheet against him suggested that he was unsuited in every other way.
Likewise, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee is no doubt technically right when he says that the sins committed in the 14th Lok Sabha cannot be discussed in the 15th. But surely, the sins committed by the Congress then can be visited upon it now? Mr. Mukherjee and his party are also right when he says that there is no evidence admissible in a court. But why does no one take his argument seriously? The answer lies in the stoic silver silence of the two Congress "innocents"-- the party President and the Prime Minister. Both are supposed to lead the party at least, if not the country. Neither of them address the nation sending out a feeling like Indians are not worth talking to. They leave it to the Finance Minister, who must now hold a record of sorts when it comes to rescuing the lambs from slaughter.
But even he is now flagging. Such has been the damage to the Government's reputation that even repeated assertions by the Prime Minister that his is not a lame duck government, moral authority diminished, Dr. Manmohan Singh, who has made a fine art of looking forlorn, today merely cuts a sorry figure. The Indo-US nuclear deal is beginning to look like a pyrrhic victory, something bought at too great a cost to the country, its institutions, the Government and the party.
Had all this happened a year or so before the next general election, it may not have mattered very much. But there are still three years to go before the next general elections. A Government under seige for such a long time cannot govern--as was seen during 1987-89. The consequences for the economy can be very damaging, not least because, when the Congress gets into trouble, it turns populist and starts raiding the fisc.