THE Manmohan Singh government is only 500 days old. Yet, it gives the impression of a setup that has lost its vigour and vitality. It looks jaded. Governments are in such a state when they are at the end of their tenure, not at the beginning. The reason is not that the ruling party does not command a majority in the Lok Sabha -- 206 out of the 545-member house. It is the attitude. The party was in a minority even in its last term. But governance was not as lacklustre as today.
What seems to have suddenly happened is the unity in the opposition parties, including the Left on the one hand, and the realisation by the government of its defeat on the other. The revival of the National Advisory Committee by Congress President Sonia is an effort to bolster the government. But it would be a diarchy of sorts. This may further make the government effete because it would be always on tiptoes to await what Sonia Gandhi's committee does or wants to do.
In the last tenure, the Manmohan Singh government staked its very existence on the India-US nuclear bill and won. This time it even withdrew the nuclear liability bill after introducing it in Parliament since the government ran the risk of losing. Even the withdrawal of the Judges' Accountability Bill, without any explanation, has put the Congress in bad light.
Even the glory over the introduction of Women's Reservation bill in the Rajya Sabha has faded since the government did not bring it before the Lok Sabha immediately after winning in the Rajya Sabha. The ruling party is talking in terms of strategy to face the threat by leaders of Other Backward Classes (OBC), once the allies of the government.
Reports and off-the-record briefings indicate that the government wants to bring the Reservation Bill before the Lok Sabha after having enough support for its passage. It is counting and recounting the number of members on its side. The demand for a quota for Muslims and other minorities has muffled the government's loud claims. The problem was accentuated after Railway Minister Mamata Bannerjee's backing to the quota. Her eyes are fixed on the Muslim vote in the West Bengal state election next year. The Congress cannot afford to displease her because her support is crucial for the survival of the Manmohan Singh government.
The biggest failure of the government has been the price rise, which has gone up by 16 percent in the last few months. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherejee's bravado in not reducing the hike in the price of petrol and diesel is yet to be tested in Parliament, which is in recess till early May. The Congress issued a perpetual whip to its members in the last session of parliament to be present in the house because it feared a cut motion from the opposition to challenge the government. Therefore, governance is only on paper till the budget is passed.
The one-year-long attention focused on 26/11, the terrorists' attack on Mumbai, is getting diverted to problems like the rule of law, apart from price rise. The individual citizen does not feel assured about the state's protection. After a long time, communal riots have broken out in Hyderabad, Bareilly and a village near Jaipur.
The threat by the Maoists, who claim to "rule" one-sixth of India, is considered more real than before. The government's response is primarily in terms of more public and better equipment. But this has not worked in the past. Home Minister P.Chidambaram's assurance on economic development, after the areas were cleared of Maoists, does not cut much ice with the tribals -- the main sufferers because they face the Maoists' gun all the time and have had several undertakings from the government.
It would, however, be wrong to conclude that people are only watching the goings-on between the government and the Maoists and have no alternative of their own. Different groups are meeting at different places to ponder over other options. The common theme running in their thinking is social democracy, the economic well-being of the people without the use of violence.
Some 250 activists met this week at Allahabad on the need to intervene. I watched them for two days. They were conscious of their limitations but they were still not coming to grips with the situation. Their proposal to have a "people's parliament" moves them closer to the ground. Yet, a nominated parliament will not evoke the response the country, boiling with discontent, requires. That the intellectual should rule a country is the kernel of Plato's philosophy. But it has remained as a pipedream.
However eminent the persons nominated to the people's parliament are, they will not have the stamp of the ballot box. The NGOs cannot run away from electoral politics. People's movements touch the common man in his day to day affairs. Still they cannot be the end by themselves. Elections have the sanction of people. The longer the activists postpone it, the farther they will go from power which they badly need to revolutionise the country.
By all means, the activists should start the struggle at various levels to push the program of egalitarianism, but they must keep elections in mind because, without getting into parliament, they cannot influence the decisions of the government. The problem essentially lies in the inability of the principal organs of government viz., the union and state legislature, the executive and the judiciary to perform their essential functions of "governance" specified in the Constitution.
Basically, the state has failed to ensure the safety, security, and freedom of the individual citizen. How can such a government be replaced if the activists and the supporters do not systematically plan to capture the state legislatures and Parliament? The increasing disconnects between the people and politics and the visible anger against abuse and misuse of state power and authority by the "organs of government" and their functionaries have led to great dissatisfaction.
The three principal organs of government have become self-serving, unaccountable institutions indulging in gross corruption of public funds and bribery. They are averse to getting the rights of the citizens even recognised, leave alone enforced. The fourth pillar, the media, too, has been found wanting. The practice of "paid news" has made a mockery of free press. The lack of accountability, transparency and adequate performance of their key and essential functions of governance has put a question mark on their legitimacy.
If the purpose is to ensure good citizen-centric governance, there is an urgent need to think of a second Republic. This requires a complete overhaul of the system to give the country its real representatives to rule and usher in a democratic, secular society.
Kuldip Nayar is an eminent Indian columnist.