New Delhi: Despite being numerically stable, why is UPA-2 a sinking ship? When a government loses the confidence and trust of the people, it melts down at its core; loses energy, will and vitality; cannot regenerate; won’t command the loyalty and respect of the bureaucracy, which either becomes dysfunctional or obstructive or oppositional; is unable to combat external attacks and withstand pressure; and consequently withers on the vine or crumbles and dies. The slow and irreversible death of the Manmohan Singh government for being stuck on the wrong side of public opinion is not the first of its kind, nor will it be the last. Governments cannot rest easy with the mandates won in elections. Mandates have to be constantly renewed, day in, day out. And once the electorate’s trust and confidence are lost, they cannot be redeemed for the rest of the cycle.

With 403 Lok Sabha seats and 52 per cent of the popular vote, Rajiv Gandhi couldn’t have sought or got a better mandate. But within two-and-a-half years, he had squandered it, trapped in an ugly defence scandal that came to destroy his prime-ministership. He tried what all weak regimes do at home, which is to win a foreign adventure, and the subsequent Indian Peacekeeping Force’s deployment in north and east Sri Lanka blew up in the face of the Rajiv Gandhi government.

On the other hand, P.V.Narasimha Rao’s government had minority support in Parliament which he manufactured into a majority, using the abhorrent, time-tested method of defections. But this produced less revulsion then than it should have, and not just because defections were so common and integral to politics of the mid-1990s and earlier. Narasimha Rao represented workable stability to the wicked waywardness of V.P.Singh. Narasimha Rao came to power when the country was in the doldrums. The breakup of the Soviet Union led to the belief that a federation such as India without the apparent sturdy sinews of a nation-state would follow suit. Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab were in the devil’s grip of insurgency backed by Pakistan. The economic situation was so dire that months’ earlier 67 tons of gold had to be pledged. India’s trusted arms supplier, the USSR, had shut shop. Few thought India would survive a post-Cold War world, but Narasimha Rao persevered and pulled back the country from the brink. Till he was in power, he never lacked people’s support such as the Manmohan Singh government does, and so, despite having a contentious majority in Parliament, he pulled through.

The important takeaway from this is that a government is strong so long people support it. Without people’s support, even a government strong in numbers will lose its legitimacy and collapse sooner than later. UPA-2’s decline and imminent fall could be attributed to this.

Whilst opinion polls have steadily voted against UPA-2, the ultimate evidence of people’s forfeited faith in the Central government is Congress’s decisive losses in every major election since coming to power in 2009. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh constitute its biggest and most significant assembly election losses, in both of which the campaigns were spearheaded by Rahul Gandhi. Congress insiders say Rahul Gandhi is tipped to lose his own Amethi Lok Sabha seat, and that the party’s national tally will not cross 55 in the general election. With the situation being so grim for Congress, with its foundations of support having been hollowed out, so to speak, how long can UPA-2 keep up the pretense of government?

When P.Chidambaram arrogantly presents a fiscal deficit reduction roadmap to the Reserve Bank governor, D.Subbarao doesn’t fall at the feet of the finance minister, his former boss, in awe, but gently mocks at his runaway optimism, and refuses to pare the interest rates. When Kapil bemoans of his hands being tied by the Supreme Court and the Comptroller and Auditor General causing the 2G auction disaster, he gets no sympathy and plenty of scorn, and to boot, there are allegations that he bloody-mindedly rigged the spectrum selloff to slander the apex judiciary and CAG. Denied the support of the people, the bureaucracy is not keen to be seen on the side of the government, and the result is policy paralysis. On another extreme, bureaucrats are leaking against the government, and the system is fighting itself, aided and encouraged by civil society activists. Confident of its numbers, UPA-2 is ramming controversial policies like multi-brand FDI retail down the throats of people, without realizing it is producing visceral hatred for the government. People have seen through the corrupt and venal UPA-2, but the government has no knowledge or sense that it has transparently betrayed the confidence and trust of the electorate.

The calm in the eye of the storm is never real.