Too little time to begin all over again, and too much time to continue in the same set ways. Into its fourth year, the second edition of the United Progressive Alliance government is in a make-or-break phase. Opposition parties might be judged on the basis of promises, but governments are always evaluated on the basis of performance. For the UPA, the time for words is clearly over with only two years left of its second term. At the time of the 2014 general election, the Congress and its allies will stand or fall on the strength of what's on the ground. Unfortunately, the list of what could have been is longer than the list of what is. Compared to UPA-I, which saw the implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the passing of the Forest Rights Act, the waiver of farm loans, and the implementation of the Right to Information Act, the second edition has been lacklustre. The Right to Education Act would surely have counted as a big positive if only its stated aims were close to fulfilment more than two years after its passage in Parliament. Indeed the Act typifies the working of the UPA: big on promise, tardy in implementation. On the Lok Pal Bill, every step forward was followed by two steps back. Despite growing public pressure for the creation of anti-corruption institutions, the government ensured that an effective Lok Pal would not come into being. After the 2G spectrum sale scam, the government needed a credibility boost, but the opportunities were wasted.
Notwithstanding all the talk of a rising India readying to take its “rightful place” in the world, the economy has stuttered in the last couple of years. And, income disparities and high levels of deprivation have punctured the hyperbole on India's economic growth. At the same time, there have been positives, especially on the foreign policy front. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh showed uncharacteristic drive in getting past establishment hawks to push for talks with Pakistan. The tilt towards the United States in the post-Cold War phase is still to be corrected, especially in relations with Iran, but India has also displayed a welcome willingness to work with Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa through forums such as BRICS and IBSA. Sadly for the Congress, the 2014 election is unlikely to revolve around these successes. UPA II surely needs a course correction in its domestic policies. Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who seems more clued in than Prime Minister Singh about India's need for social democratic initiatives, showed a readiness to give the government a welfarist direction when she spoke at Tuesday's function to mark its third year in office. Without it, the UPA will surely drift and lose way in the next two years.