An eventful year in retrospect
2017 witnessed a series of Change of Guards to embolden governance, setting the pace for the crucial 2019 Lok Sabha elections
2017 was an eventful year, perhaps more eventful than previous years. The year that went by saw a surge for the BJP: the ruling party, for the first time, has its President housed comfortably in the Rashtrapati Bhawan (APJ Abdul Kalam was a consensus candidate and not a party man). Congress party's Pranab Mukherjee completed his five-year term as President, ending a long, memorable and eventful career in politics. Entering Parliament at the age of 34, Pranab Babu to his friends and Pranab da to the younger generation, he had displayed an unparalleled experience in governance; having held various portfolios as the Minister of Defence, External Affairs, Commerce and Finance. Soon after joining down the highest office of the land, he published a three-volume autobiography: The Dramatic Decade; The Indira Gandhi years, The Turbulent Years and The Coalition Years.
Pranab Babu was succeeded by Ram Nath Kovind, who was previously the Governor of Bihar. Earlier, he was a member of the Rajya Sabha. His six months in office have shown that he has a mind of his own and will not be a rubber-stamp President, even though he is a dedicated BJP man. The year also witnessed the exit of Mohammad Hamid Ansari, who had been the Vice-President for two successive terms. He was succeeded by well-known BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu, who is known for his impromptu coining of phrases and rhyming sentences. As Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, he has shown he is capable of handling the house, which often experiences unprecedented turbulence. His performance has to be watched.
The year 2017 was also a year of exciting elections as polls were held in seven states, the most recent being Gujarat, also considered the most important. Even though the Congress could not get enough number of seats in the state to form the government, it is said, "It was a victory in defeat for the Congress and a defeat in victory for the BJP." Prime Minister Narendra Modi had to put in all his might in retaining his home state. The Gujarat election also saw a resurgent Congress with Rahul Gandhi having established himself as a firm leader; nobody now calls him "Pappu". He has improved tremendously as a public speaker. His election as the Congress President, succeeding his mother Sonia Gandhi, was also an important event of 2017. In Gujarat, Chief Minister, Vijay Rupani, gets his second term, setting at rest the speculation that the state may have a new CM.
Of the seven elections held in the year gone by, the Congress could wrest Punjab from the Akalis. Others states— such as Goa, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur and Himachal Pradesh — were won by the BJP. In Goa and Manipur, the Congress could have formed the government but missed the chance by sheer callousness and misplaced strategy. UP was indeed a big win for the BJP and may help the party tremendously in the 2019 general elections.
In the sphere of the judiciary, the Supreme Court delivered a landmark judgment. In a 4:3 verdict, the apex court held that an appeal for votes during elections on the basis of religion, caste, race, community or language, even that of the electorate, will amount to "corrupt practice" and call for disqualification of the candidate in an election. The Supreme Court saw two chief justices— TS Thakur and JS Khehar — retire and the third one, Dipak Misra, taking over as the Chief Justice of India. Misra appears to be quite an assertive top judge.
India was also affected by Rohingya crisis. The Rohingyas are considered to be the most persecuted minority group in the world, today. They have lived in Myanmar for centuries. Most of them are Muslims in a country in which nearly nine out of ten people are Buddhists. The Rohingyas have long been discriminated against, often violently, and the Myanmar government refuses to acknowledge them as its citizens.
The latest and ugliest surge of violence began in August when Rohingyas began fleeing into neighbouring Bangladesh, telling stories of mass killings, systematic rape, and torture. At the last count, more than 400,000 have fled Myanmar and thousands more have been displaced internally. The Myanmar military denies committing atrocities, insisting that it is combating attacks on police posts and army bases by Rohingya insurgents. But it is clear, as the US government has also charged that Myanmar is engaged in a dreadful process of ethnic cleansing. Aung San Suu Kyi, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and Myanmar's most prominent official, has done precious little to end the violence. That's probably because the military still runs the country despite the political opening in the past few years.
Coming back to India, the government also decided that the Union Budget would be presented on the first working day of February, a departure from the colonial practice of presenting the budget on the last working day of February. Additionally, the Government did not present a separate railway budget but in fact included it in the main budget, ending a 92-year-old British-era practice.
The new year will witness yet another election year with Karnataka going to poll in May. Karnataka is the only state in the South held by the Congress and the BJP may try hard to wrest it. Elections are also due in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan towards the year-end. These elections will set the pace for general election in 2019. IPA
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)