Sreelata lists 10 major takeaways from 2017. She tells us the year that was and also the year that could be, in the Special Feature, exclusively for Different Truths.
2017 dawned with the remnants of the ‘blow’ rendered by the sword of Damocles as it was still hanging over its head. The reverberations caused by the shock and awe of the November 2016 announcement had yet to subside. Notwithstanding the dictum that without pain there could be no gain and the Prime Minister’s plea to give it a chance to work ‘Demonetisation’ in one single stroke made every citizen monetarily impotent. The most powerful man in the country effectively rendered three-quarters of his people powerless. While many spoke of the economic impact on the common man few dwelt on
its psychological effect. However good the intentions, for many – housewives included – to be told without any warning that as of that moment the money – the nest egg you hold – rightly or wrongly – and perhaps scrimped and saved over the years is useless unless accounted for was to not only turn them physically into paupers overnight but also strangle them mentally. Regardless of the black money narrative and the need to turn us into a cashless economy, the implications of this radical move also – politically and economically – continued to echo and linger throughout the year. 2018 should blunt
the blow somewhat with the slew of tax reforms supposedly in the works.
2. Goods and Services Tax
It was soon compounded by another apparently good policy move that was to turn disastrous. The Goods and Services Tax much to every trader’s dismay caused more confusion than clarity after it was -despite many an amendment- introduced and implemented. Coming as it did after the presentation of the Union Budget where for the first time in Independent India’s history the Railway Budget was incorporated into and merged with the General Budget it was expected to bring all our myriad taxes under one umbrella and help our traders go digital. With no more hidden taxes or price changes, commodities were to be finally taxed under a single tax bracket. Suffice it to say that whatever be its many perceived benefits, at the moment, six months into its implementation the opposition has gone to town terming it ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’ after the iconic villain of the film Sholay. 2018 should hopefully bring about more clarity if we are to believe our Finance Minister who promises us that GST is a work in progress with everything that is baffling eventually falling into place. Needless to say hope springs eternal.
3. Aadhar Card
Causing a lot of heartburn and trepidation is another move that insists on linking our Aadhar Card to not only our bank accounts but to every conceivable utility we might need to use. Pan card, Credit cards, mobile phone services, investments, loans, you name it -even to avail benefits of social schemes like LPG cylinder subsidies, one is required to indicate one’s Aadhar number to the authorities. Fear of misuse has had petitioners questioning its legality and it is currently pending before the Supreme Court. The Aadhar linking deadlines with various services has been extended by three months to March 31, 2018.
4. Assembly Elections
With a new President, Kovind, Vice-president, Venkaiah Naidu and Chief Justice, Dipak Mishra in place and Assembly Elections happening in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Punjab, Himachal and Gujarat where barring Punjab, BJP has managed to hold sway and with no real opposition to play deterrent, the government is sitting pretty (19 Chief Ministers – more than even Indira Gandhi said the PM). The run-up to these elections though has been nothing but ugly. Divisive, abusive and personal, the ruling party has had a no holds barred walk in the park. Though to be honest the latest results from Gujarat suggest that it may no longer be such an easy run. Rahul Gandhi and local youngsters (Hardik/Alpesh/Jignesh) now emerging plausible contenders -despite attempts to ridicule and malign them any which way- the stage seems set for the 2019 General Elections. With four more states – Karnataka, Nagaland, Tripura, Meghalaya – to go in 2018 one needs to wait and see which way the wind will subsequently blow.
5. ‘Modi Doctrine’
Notching up more and more air miles in the four years he has been in power our globe-trotting PM has from ‘Barack’ Obama-ing and hugging world leaders to gatecrashing the Pakistan PM’s party and hosting the Japanese Premier in Ahmedabad attempted to dynamically change our foreign policy narrative. The so-called ‘Modi Doctrine’ which puts India first, our neighborhood next, the necessity to engage with- irrespective of historical hesitations- our global competition third and finally the Indian diaspora
outreach, seems to be unraveling as fast as it made its initial much-applauded shock advent. For all his good intentions doing the unpredictable sadly seems to be losing its use- by- date appeal while slowly corroding the good work put in by the past mandarins of MEA. Despite all his sincere initiatives Pakistan refuses to play ball (e.g. 780 cross-border violations/Kulbhushan Yadav etc.). Kashmir also under the current greatly hyped BJP-PDP dispensation has not been able to deliver or contain the killings in the
valley and our soldiers losing their lives -in spite of regular surgical strikes- has become an everyday affair. Notwithstanding the seemingly compatible swing ride the ‘Doklam Affair’ continues to expose our blow hot blow cold relationship with China. Russia’s sudden overtures to Pakistan indicate an India cooling off hitherto never seen. The newfound back slapping friendship with the US appears to be going every which way other than India. Relationships with other countries? Only time will tell. That there is a sudden reversal in the narrative is indicative of a course correction when India –despite the Israel overture-voted with Palestine over the Jerusalem affair.
The UPA scams which were its undoing also seem to be coming apart. The 2-G scam according to the learned judge ‘was no scam at all’ while the Congress CM of Maharashtra appears to have been declared innocent in the ‘Adarsh Ghotala’ though Laloo Yadav’s ‘Fodder’ adventure and Madhu Koda’s ‘coal allocations’ appear to have come unstuck with the courts proclaiming them guilty. The media’s negative role in playing ducks and drakes this year with people’s lives also cannot be overstated. The blatant media bias of the electronic channels –two English language channels in particular- taking its cue from the government perhaps, mocked, derided and accused opposition leaders, of all kinds of conspiracies. The PM set the proverbial ball rolling during the Gujarat campaign (where else) with his far-fetched theory of our former PM colluding with Pakistan to bring the BJP down. He also went to town on the ‘Neech’
remark made by the hapless Mani Shankar Aiyer. Even Aurangzeb and Khilji were not spared. If not contained 2018 will see more acrimony than harmony 7. Farmer Suicides, Unemployment, Air pollution, Crimes against women, Farmer suicides, unemployment, air pollution and crimes against women continued to make the headlines. Hitherto an agrarian country, suicides (since 1995- 300,000 overall-2017 saw 1100 in Maharashtra alone) despite a marginal dip appeared to still be the only way out for our beleaguered farmers. Climate change – a droughts/floods/inadequate monsoons hand in hand with the burden of enormous debts and the lack of serious government initiatives to address the problem appeared to take its toll. With a promise to go on fast if not Anna Hazare hopes the Swaminathan
Commission recommendations will be taken up in real earnest in 2018. Lack of jobs and the inadequate educational infrastructure combined with money power a.k.a corruption that compounds it seems to cripple the aspirations of our youth. The Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh appears to be a prime example indicative of the problem. The opposition has begun to use it as a drumbeat against the government. Air pollution saw a tremendous spike in northern India. Despite the odd /even number scheme and other
initiatives by the Delhi government, no great change is evident. Crimes against women across the country also continued to make the news. More Nirbhayas than less seemed to indicate that our men have a serious problem with how they see and treat women.
8. Political Killings
Beef lynching / Cow protection at the cost of human lives, CPI-M/RSS and other ruthless political killings , callous-mercenary private hospitals, unhygienic government hospitals and the inadequacy and apathetic government response-despite the greatly appreciated Swach Bharat campaigns and toilet programs- are all indicative of how little we value human lives in modern digital India. Kudos to the media who at least threw up these issues, again and again, hoping to stir the collective consciousness of an indifferent
couldn’t-care- less-people living on a nonstop diet of electronic sensationalism and governmental apathy.
9. Government Initiatives
With the PM an orator par excellence still being the only viable leader on offer- popular as he is, he continued to corner headlines despite changing caste equations (e.g. Gujarat), disruptive student politics (BHU/DU) and a nitpicking opposition. His Make in India initiatives, Defence deals (Rafale), Divestment of Public sector undertakings, Cooking Gas subsidies, attempted black money crackdown, Jan Dhan Yojana (10 core bank accounts opened), Triple Talaq bill in the offing, Metro expansion, Settling the border issue with Bangladesh, timely rescue of Indians stuck abroad, Making India count internationally (SAARC/UN/ BRICS/MTCR/Climate Accord) are all among the major 2017 initiatives that proclaimed he meant business and have allowed us to hold our heads high somewhat.
10. Dis-information and Intolerance
Finally, the most unhappy and obtrusive take-ways from 2017 were the vituperative attacks on the Nehru-Gandhi legacy, the abusive media trolling/ misinformation emanating from the social-media cells of the ruling party, the restrictions on freedom of speech and yes the unsubtle attempts to change the religious narrative of the nation. It is perhaps a deep-seated sense of insecurity or inadequacy when faced with the spit and polish of Lutyen’s Delhi and its hitherto unchallenged Ivy League coterie and lineage that causes the ruling party to reserve their vitriolic best for the Nehruvian brand. Sadly it vitiates the atmosphere. ‘Freedom of speech and Expression’ came a cropper too with people- for their views- being regularly asked to go to Pakistan and the ‘Padmavati’ row. ‘Sabke Saath Sabke Vikas’ also went for a toss with ‘Love Jihad’ and moral policing taking center stage. What the BJP/RSS combine and the fundamentalists also wish to forget is that ‘We the people of India gave unto ourselves a Constitution’ that placed all
religions on an equal footing. Despite our Hindu majority, it is by choice that we were never a ‘Hindu’ nation unlike other ‘Christian’ dominated or ‘Muslim’ dominated nations who chose religion as their mainstay. So to term, them among the minorities who not only chose to stay back but also fought shoulder to shoulder with the Hindus to gain independence, ‘anti-nationals’ is to do the idea of India a grave disservice.
So when Rahul Gandhi in an endeavor to change the present atmosphere of abusive intolerance calls for a change of dialogue-to fight abuse with decency, anger with dignity and to stay on course for the betterment of India through issue related development, it is a welcome change and to be applauded. Therein lies our hope for a better tomorrow.
Is our PM listening?
Photos from the Internet
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