Explainer: Is UPA over?

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West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee recently said after meeting with NCP chief Sharad Pawar that there is ‘no UPA anymore’. This statement of Mamta Banerjee, who was once a part of UPA, has created a political storm. This statement of the demise of the Congress-led UPA, which has been in power in the country twice since its formation in 2004, has put a question mark on the very existence of one of the largest political alliances in the country.

Amid this political turmoil, let us explain when and how the UPA was formed? Which parties were involved? How did UPA get its name? And when did it touch the heights, and when did it reach the abyss?

When and how was the UPA formed?

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was formed in 2004 under the leadership of Congress President Sonia Gandhi. It was born after the defeat of the NDA led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. In those elections, Congress won 145 seats, only seven seats more than the BJP (138). To prevent BJP from capturing power, Congress and many other opposition parties formed the UPA.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi and late CPM general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjit played a vital role in forming the UPA. Surjeet took the lead in connecting the opposition parties with this alliance. Due to his efforts, 12 regional parties became part of UPA, including- Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Republican Party of India (A), and Kerala Congress (J).

Meaning, at the time of the formation of UPA in 2004, 13 parties, including Congress, were involved in it. Apart from these parties, four left parties – CPM, CPI, RSP and Forward Bloc – had given outside support based on Common Minimum Program.

The Common Minimum Program was signed on May 17, 2004, and became the guiding light for the policies and programs of the UPA.

How did UPA get its name?

The name ‘United Progressive Alliance’ was not the first choice for this alliance. The parties involved in this alliance had suggested to name it ‘United Secular Alliance’ or ‘Progressive Secular Alliance’. But late DMK leader and Tamil political stalwart M. Karunanidhi told Sonia Gandhi in a meeting on May 16, 2004, that secular in Tamil means non-religious. Then he suggested naming it Progressive Alliance, which was accepted by all and thus, the name of this alliance was United Progressive Alliance (UPA) or United Progressive Alliance.

When was the first UPA government formed?

On May 22, 2004, the first UPA government was formed, with Manmohan Singh taking oath as the Prime Minister. Prominent leaders of this alliance who took oath in the first government include NCP chief Sharad Pawar, RJD president Lalu Prasad, LJP president Ram Vilas Paswan, JMM chief Shibu Soran, TRS chief K Chandrashekhar Rao, DMK’s TR Baalu, Dayanidhi Maran and A Raja, and Anbumani Ramadoss, son of PMK chief S Ramdas.

Which party parted ways from UPA?

Shortly after the formation of the UPA, separating the parties involved in it also started due to different reasons.

  • The first to leave the UPA in 2006 was K Chandrasekhar Rao’s TRS, whose leader Narendra resigned from the UPA government in response to the party’s demand to form a new Telangana state.
  • In 2007, the MDMK withdrew support to the UPA alleging non-compliance with the Common Minimum Programme.
  • The most significant blow to the UPA in 2008 was the withdrawal of the support of the four Left parties from the Manmohan Singh government to move forward on the Indo-US nuclear deal. With the departure of support from the Left, the Manmohan Singh government was reduced to a minority, but then Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party saved it from collapse.
  • In 2009, the PDP and the DMK left the UPA for the politics of their respective states.

UPA reached its peak in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections?

In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the UPA did its best. The Congress alone won 206 seats, but they still needed other parties for a majority. The UPA had won 262 seats in these elections.

  • Some new parties in UPA-2 also joined this alliance, including parties like Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and National Conference. However, this time the number of allies decreased as compared to UPA-1.
  • In UPA-2, only five parties, Trinamool Congress, NCP, DMK, National Conference, and Indian Union Muslim League, took oath along with Congress. Mamta Banerjee was appointed as the railway minister.
  • UPA-2 did not have the support of Left parties and Ram Vilas Paswan (LJP) and Lalu (RJD). However, after the formation of the government, Lalu’s RJD supported the Manmohan Singh government. But in 2010, he also withdrew support in protest against the introduction of the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha.
  • In UPA-2, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samajwadi Party also supported the Manmohan Singh government.
  • Several regional parties, such as All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), Sikkim Democratic Front and Bodoland People’s Front, supported the UPA government without any ministerial posts.

When did the downfall of UPA begin?

Along with the Congress, the fall of the UPA also started with the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. BJP won a landslide victory in these elections (NDA-336, BJP-282 seats), and the Congress was reduced to its lowest figure of 44 seats. The UPA alliance also failed and won only 59 seats. Although the alliance of the parties with the Congress was technically being called UPA even after these elections, after the 2014 elections, any UPA reached a moribund state.

UPA did not stand in front of NDA even in the 2019 general elections

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the graph of Congress and UPA was slightly better than the previous elections, but BJP and NDA got more significant victories (NDA-353 seats, BJP-303). The Congress won 52 seats, while the NDA’s graph was slightly better at 90 seats than the previous elections. The UPA may have remained alive in principle after its defeat in two consecutive Lok Sabha elections, but its grip on Indian politics has been loosening day by day.


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