Price Rise, Food Insecurity Mar UPA Performance
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's second stint may be bristling with plans to mitigate poverty, disease and illiteracy, but most Indians remain unimpressed. Spiraling food prices, along with the handling of the swine flu pandemic, have offset gains like the enactment of a landmark right to education bill.
As the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government completes 100 days in office, the brunt is being felt across India and across all sections of society -- from the vegetable seller and the middle class homemaker to the techie and the financial consultant.
Food security has become elusive. An unprecedented rise in the prices of essential commodities, including rice and pulses, has smashed the class divide, making even daal-roti a luxury for many.
Said Saibal Sahoo, a vegetable seller in Kolkata: "The prices of essentials are so high that it is difficult for me to sustain a family of five; and because prices are so high, people are also buying less vegetables. So my business is suffering."
R. Shanti, a housewife in Chennai, had a similar tale of woe. "Income has not gone up whereas prices have in the last 100 days, leaving me poorer by Rs 2,000 per month."
While appreciating the prime minister for doing a "reasonably good job given all constraints, natural or man-made", Mumbai-based Arun Jain also said there was a lot to be desired.
"The inflationary figures released each week are quite heartening, but the ground realities with spiralling prices are a matter of concern," said Arun Jain, a financial consultant who is also engaged in the ship breaking industry.
The hike in petrol and diesel prices, according to Shimla-based transporter Vinay Sharma, had a cascading impact on the prices of essential commodities. Others blamed an erratic monsoon.
"While the country is facing the worst drought in 100 years, the government has not yet come out with any concrete action plan. The plight of the farmers is worsening," said Jagdish Pradhan in Bhubaneswar.
If escalating prices touched a raw nerve across the country, there were other concerns. The government's handling of swine flu has also faced flak.
"Had the centre done enough in the early stages of the spread of swine flu, the death toll could have been checked," said Mandira Ghosh, a schoolteacher in Bangalore, where 19 people have succumbed to the disease.
Intellectuals had big-picture grievances and hit out at the government for its perceived failures on the foreign policy front.
Paras Nath Choudhary, a socialist intellectual based in Agra, criticized the government for giving in to Pakistan by including Balochistan in the Sharm el-Sheikh joint statement that delinked actions against terror from the composite dialogue process.
"At the international level, one feels that India has become meek. Attacks on Indian students in Australia still go on and the government is not able to do anything," added a salaried executive in Chennai.
But it was not a uniformly grim picture. Path-breaking initiatives like the enactment of the right to education, which universalises primary education, earned high praise.
"The government's performance is not all that bad. Price rise can be attributed to global inflation rates. The right to education has so far been the landmark achievement of this government, which we cannot ignore," said Shazia Salaam, 23, a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University in the national capital.
Fakhra Siddiqui, 28, who conducts workshops on life skills and coexistence, conceded that the education act was a great achievement, but reminded the government of the promises to keep.
"I will count you the targets they (the government) themselves set for the first 100 days. Women's Reservation Bill, right to education, food security act, judges' assets bill, plus a plethora of other infrastructure building promises. And then look what we have achieved," she said.
Others were more realistic in their expectation and were ready to swear by "honesty and humility" of Manmohan Singh but thought he needed some more time to deliver.
"The government seems to be functioning smoothly as there are no internal problems in the coalition. There were also no terrorist attacks or communal disturbances," said Narendranath Reddy, a software professional working in Hyderabad.
G. Surendranath, an engineering student at Osmania University in Hyderabad, appeared optimistic. "It's not proper to judge the performance of the government in 100 days. Let's wait and see how it responds to various challenges," he said.
According to Mumbai realtor Nitin Shah, the prime minister and the Congress should grab this second opportunity to make some lasting changes in the country.
"Getting a second term is a measure of people's confidence that they enjoy. They must not let them (the people) down," he said.
Is the government listening?
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