One challenge with analysing the situation in which the UPA government finds itself in its second term is that you cannot find any real parallel, or comparative reference point, for it in our political history. Governments have run aground early in their tenures despite comfortable majorities (Rajiv Gandhi’s in its third year, and Janata probably from the moment it was sworn in). But those were different situations, and first-term governments. This is a coalition that only emerged stronger through a tenuous first term, and has lately lost its way.
The government is locked in mortal combat with the opposition, an inevitability, but it has visited UPA 2 much too early. It is caught in withering arguments with, or over, key institutions. In this case, notably, the judiciary.
Just a year back, the debate was about how to cleanse the judiciary of increasing corruption. But now, the political class and the executive have ceded so much moral ground that the judiciary chides them almost every day. Of course, the Supreme Court has risen in stature with the rise of a tough, no-nonsense Chief Justice in S.H. Kapadia, but that is not the only reason this newspaper listed him on the top of this year’s national Power List (www.indianexpress.com/news/the-most-powerful-indians-in-2011-no.-110/745646/). It was also an acknowledgement of the changed balance of power, where the executive and the political class had lost so much credibility, and the higher judiciary had moved in to fill that space. Every evening it is the judiciary’s admonitions to the government that make the headlines—and even if this newspaper has most respectfully cautioned the higher judiciary against ruling by obiter dicta rather than judgments, and of the perils of playing to the sab-chor-hain gallery, the fact is, it is finding popular applause.
If you were a UPA leader you would ask why should it be so when their government has been brave enough to jail one of its own ministers. But popular opinion would give credit for this to the Supreme Court instead, under whose pressure some cleansing has begun. And yet, so peculiar is UPA 2’s predicament that it is now caught in yet another hopeless argument with the same court on the CVC’s appointment. Hopeless, because whether P.J. Thomas wins or loses, the government would end up looking silly, cynical and, either way, weak.
Surely the Congress party’s first instinct, fighting fire with fire, has backfired. Its “nuancing” of the telecom scam