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New Delhi, May 17 -- The gloss is gone and the warts are beginning to show. This is how it might look to most people. But hold your thoughts for a moment and consider this: coalitions, like wine, get better with time. A year might be too short a period to judge a government. The picture clears up towards the end, closer to elections. Remember UPA-I's rural job scheme, that gem of an idea that nobody thought could win elections? It did, and how. The Congress returned to power without its obstructionist UPA I ally, the Left. The 2009 mandate was for Sonia Gandhi's inclusive touch, Manmohan Singh's experience and Rahul Gandhi's youthful appeal. UPA-II has not yet found a winner idea to match the job scheme. But look closer. The government's robust handling of the overall economy shines in contrast with the floundering NDA under a BJP struggling with its inexperienced boss Nitin Gadkari. And there have been solid, highly visible initiatives: right to education, quota for women in legislatures and legal entitlement of Below Poverty Line families to food grains at affordable prices. Recognition of such initiatives was evident in the Hindustan Times-CNN-IBN poll of experts who rated highly, traditional, well-educated Congressmen: Pranab Mukherjee (Finance), P. Chidambaram (Home) and Kapil Sibal (HRD). Spoiling the report card were UPA's loose-tongue cowboys. They make the coalition resemble a rave party dominated by mercurial temperaments, unpredictable allies and newfangled political recruits such as Shashi Tharoor and Jairam Ramesh. One has lost his job for bringing the regime into disrepute. The other is in trouble forever for a runaway tongue. The Prime Minister could sort them out because they belong to his party. But he can do little to discipline troublesome allies with key ministries: Mamata Banerjee (Trinamool), M.K. Alagiri and A. Raja (DMK). They symbolise the aberrations of mixed regimes where absenteeism has to be condoned, incompetence ignored, corruption tolerated and governance given a go by. Occasional disconnect with allies can perhaps be explained. But blame lies at the Congress's own doorsteps for the Telangana muddle and the cross-connections about tackling the Naxal threat. The 2009 poll victory saw the party taking for granted the support of past and potential rivals - the SP, BSP and RJD - who have since come to demand their pound of flesh. A ringside observer attributed it all - including Sharm-el-Sheikh and the controversial caste census - to perfunctory political management and the PM's "lovable illusion" of making peace with Pakistan. "Singh's silently obsessed with his legacy. He keeps his counsel on issues that aren't central to his ideological agenda," said the observer. For her part, Sonia's "much too forgiving" of errant colleagues and allies. Little wonder the government with the best available political talent looks short on quality human resource. NCP's Sharad Pawar's love for cricket in the time of rising prices was a point of bother. But Mamata and Alagiri have been a source of unending discomfort, run as they do their ministries though remote control and proxies. They are more focused on their political ambitions back home. The Trinamool leader's brazenly Bengal-centric rail budget was cleared amid much drama in the Cabinet. The discussions ended when she broke down on being questioned about certain proposals, and had to be consoled by a woman cabinet colleague. Alagiri's chronic absence from office and cabinet meetings is a dubious first even by coalition-standards. He cannot speak English or Hindi and has delegated most of his parliamentary/administrative duties to his MoS, Srikant Jena and departmental secretaries under his charge. The DMK minister did condescend to attend the Cabinet meeting that slashed subsidy on urea. But it was Textile Minister Dayanidi Maran who articulated his populist opposition to the proposal moved by his own ministry.Such appeasement of the DMK is inexplicable, especially when its government survives on Congress support in Tamil Nadu. Another instance this, of bad political management?
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