If the recent election results are any indicator, the performance of the United Progressive Alliance government clearly led to the massive defeat of the Congress-led alliance. The UPA’s passage of the Lokpal Bill, the Food Security Act, laws for women’s safety — all of which looked like progressive policy — were clearly overshadowed by a slew of controversies surrounding the government including the 2G scam, the coal blocks allocation scam, and the Commonwealth Games scam.
Debacle in waiting
The CSDS-Lokniti pre-poll survey (March 2014) provided an important indicator of the coming debacle for the UPA with more than half the respondents stating that the UPA should not be given another chance. The ruling coalition scored poorly on a range of parameters. The post-poll survey asked respondents to think about the single-most important issue they considered while voting in this election. Half the responses covered four major issues — price rise, corruption, lack of development and unemployment. Price rise and unemployment hit the lives of common people directly. Lack of development and corruption were reflections of systemic ills which, people believed, the government was unable to effectively address.
A more detailed analysis of each of these factors as being accountable for the poor image of the UPA indicates the real cause of citizen discontent. One-fifth of the respondents considered price rise to be the most important issue in this election. There was an overall rise in prices of commodities in general and of food items and oil in particular. This dealt a severe blow to the common man. It has also been found in the past that governments have been brought down because of their inability to curb price rise.
During UPA-II, GDP growth rate came down from 9 per cent in 2009-10 to 4.6 per cent in 2013-14. The fiscal deficit coupled with a steep downslide of the rupee resulted in an unstable economy. This caused a severe crisis in the job market. Unemployment and lack of job opportunities was voiced as the single-most important consideration for this election by close to one of every ten respondents. The survey also indicated that over one-thirds felt that the unemployment situation had worsened during UPA-II. Closely linked to shrinking opportunities was the issue of lack of development. This was considered important by over one of every ten respondents.
What further impacted the image of the government was the widespread criticism that it was unable to check corruption. Top-level leaders associated with the government came under the scanner and many of them were found guilty. Moreover, there was much public interest and debate over the Lokpal Bill, which, by the time it was passed by Parliament, was a case of “too little, too late.” Over one of every ten respondents considered corruption to be the most important issue in this election.
When asked about specific indicators to rate the previous government’s performance, respondents were dissatisfied on issues of women’s safety. Over one-third felt that things had deteriorated over the past five years. When asked which party would be more likely to provide better administration for the next five years, close to two of every ten respondents favoured the Congress while close to three of every ten respondents felt that the BJP was best suited.
During the election campaign, the ruling alliance (and the Congress in particular) was unable to defend its performance record. The BJP was able to successfully attack the government, the Congress party and its leaders, and cash in on a strong anti-incumbency wave. This, in large part, accounts for the Congress recording its worst-ever performance.
(Reetika Syal teaches at Jain University, Bengaluru.)