Prof. Z. M. Khan has a look at the challenges before the UPA government, and its prospects


India as a political system entered the era of coalition politics in the 1990s. It culminated into a 24-party coalition under NDA (National Democratic Alliance), which ruled for six years. The mandate of Indian electorate in the 14th Lok Sabha elections has been for rejection of NDA rule, yet reaffirming the logic of coalition. Now, as we know, the NDA rule is replaced by UPA (The United Progressive Alliance) government. The 24-party coalition headed by the BJP is replaced by a 14-party coalition headed by the Congress. Obviously, there are scores of questions regarding the constituents, their capacity to stay together, their compulsions to be in or out of the group, the regional versus national aspirations of the parties, their bargaining power to get maximum benefits at the cost of the health of the coalition. There are apprehensions in political circles regarding whether the Congress knows the art of running a coalition government successfully. There is no denying the fact that the Congress leadership has shown the required tact and flexibility in running political affairs and is keeping the secular forces united. It has gained a high moral ground against the BJP as  the offer of prime ministerial position has been rejected by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi.


Manmohan Singh is given the chance to be the PM while she assumes the office of chairperson of the Co-ordination Committee of the UPA. A man from a minority community is leading the government, which is highly important for the health and prospects of democracy in India. The next step is the successful conclusion of the Common Minimum Programme. No doubt, certain sectors like finance and education are under severe constraints. Distribution of ministerial berths has also caused anxieties. Regional dimensions in such cases are pressing hard. The challenges are acute and relate to all areas of political spectrum, from the issue of “foreign origin” to the nature and character of Indian state and civil society. These challenges are too stiff for even the best of governments to meet, and require a general consensus in the entire political class and all sections of society to be handled with any degree of success.


The prospects should be objectively analysed. Whether India is gradually switching to set the stage for an open democratic system providing space for free choice? Is India prepared to fight a long battle against communalism and, is the UPA capable to deliver? Is India developing into a democratic, federal system of governance? Will the UPA be able to foster development for all and with a genuine human face? The behaviour of Congress Party so far has made it clear that it wants to combine experience with vigour of the younger element. Government should be run by experienced hands, and youth must take over organisational work. Would this combination work? The day-to-day success of the UPA has to be monitored.


Policy formulation and other kinds of measures relating to issues of governance also call for an analysis of the challenges and prospects. Most important is the successful implementation of the Common Minimum Programme.


In spite of unanimity on CMP among the coalition partners, there are challenges in terms of influence of Left parties on economic policies and projections. The stock market is still erratic in spite of a series of meetings of the finance minister with key people. The projections on disinvestment, PSUs, labour issues, liberalisation quantum, taxation etc. pose serious challenges. The question arises as to what are the prospects to push forward a development model with a human face. There are specific programmes for social harmony and welfare of minorities, like a proposed law to deal comprehensively with communal violence, amendment to the Constitution to establish a commission for minority educational institutions, providing adequate funds and an institutional framework for educational and economic development of minorities.


The welfare net covers other weaker sections and marginalised groups, including farmers, Scheduled Castes and Tribes, youth, women, children etc. These measures call for a correct understanding of the capability level of the governing structure along with a genuine political will to deliver. The promise is to be converted into quantifiable results, which would require organisational back-up of political parties and active role of major NGOs to provide necessary inputs at all levels by creating communication channels conducive to the ideals and programmes of the UPA government.


A significant area is education, research and culture. The NDA had a specific agenda, and they forcefully pursued the policy of saffronisation of these sectors. The UPA is formed and placed in power in the name of secularism. The Indian electorate is loud and clear in its mandate to support secular values. Hence, the UPA is committed to “detoxification” of education. It proposes to review the whole policy in a consensual manner. But, these sectors are sufficiently polluted by now and the Sangh combine has built a powerful infrastructure to create confusion and hurdles in every possible manner. Hence, to overcome such hurdles the UPA would require a strong political will and planned effort. Constant monitoring is an essential ingredient of success of the whole scheme. Finally, these programmes have to be converted into a national movement, where all must have a share in the national pie and a place under the sun to live in peace and prosperity.g