Volatile UPA vs Modi-fied BJP
The more things change the more they remain the same. 2012 rolled in and did not bring with it any clear winners. When the verdict of the five assembly elections came in at last in March, pundits were still scratching their heads. Which alliance will gain in the next Lok Sabha polls?
No one seemed the wiser.
The poll results went like this. The Congress - facing pressure over graft charges - won Uttarakhand and Manipur, the NDA took Goa and Punjab, and the Samajwadi Party swept Uttar Pradesh, dislodging Mayawati. The events of the next few months lent no more clarity to the formidable 2014 puzzle.
Volatile allies gave Congress quite a migraine, while the BJP exhausted by infighting failed to project itself as the viable, votable alternative and the Third Front remained what it has been for many years - a non-starter.
The Congress' woes began with the 19 Lok Sabha MPs of the Trinamool Congress breaking away from the UPA in September over fuel price hikes and FDI in multi-brand retail.
In Andhra Pradesh, the Congress's disconnect with YSR's prodigal son Jagan Mohan Reddy continued, something that could cloud the party's future in the southern state.
Nevertheless, sociologist Vivek Kumar cautions: "As the year ends, Congress has given national politics a spin. It was reeling under corruption charges, but has silently set the agenda through FDI in retail and quotas in promotion for SCs and STs, subtly changing the political discourse."
The BJP for its part tried to ride an anti-corruption wave, but found itself cornered when party chief Nitin Gadkari was accused of business irregularities in October. With multiple prime ministerial hopefuls, the party could not resolve its leadership issue either.
Activist and erstwhile Team Anna man Arvind Kejriwal, who founded the Aam Aadmi Party, grabbed headlines with corruption disclosures. Former Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa also set up his own party - a development likely to harm the BJP in its only southern bastion, where it got 19 seats in 2009.
Key BJP ally Bal Thackeray of the Shiv Sena died in November, leaving the succession issue unsorted. Will estranged nephew Raj Thackeray steal the Sena's thunder next year?
The Congress sought to project its youth leadership. Rahul Gandhi led a high-profile Congress campaign in Uttar Pradesh, but the party could not garner much success. Drawing from this experience, the Congress decided to go for a low-key strategy in Gujarat in December.
Corruption dominated the year's political discourse, followed by reforms toward the end. Identity politics surfaced intermittently - in the Assam Bodo-Muslim riots in July when north-east students got threats as far away as Bangalore and the controversy over SC/ST promotion quotas. While the BSP backed promotion quotas, the SP opposed the move to attract OBCs and upper castes. The OBC vs Dalit political contest points to new social fissures.
As the year wrapped up with polls in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, there were still no clear winners. The BJP won Gujarat but Congress wrested Himachal from the saffron party. Only one thing was clear - Modi's entry at the national level may well be round the corner.
THE WRAP: Exhausted by infighting, the BJP failed to project itself as a viable alternative, even as allies gave the Congress a migraine.
- Vikas Pathak
Champions in chaos
It was the year when India's golden generation of batting finally broke up with the retirements of Rahul Dravid and Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman. Sachin Tendulkar also drew the curtains on a 23-year-long ODI career.
The team were handed a 0-4 Test series rout in Australia early in the year, a repeat of what they suffered in England the previous summer.
As the year ends, India's cricket team is still searching for the kind of talent that took them to great heights in all three departments - batting, spin and pace bowling.
England left the team, and captain MS Dhoni, with plenty to think about after snatching their first Test series victory in India for 28 years. The first reverse at home in eight years has left Dhoni's position as captain shaky and it remains to be seen if the board at least splits the job.
Hope soared in individual Olympic sports across disciplines as the nation's athletes accounted for a record six-medal haul, although gold eluded India at the London Olympics.
Wrestler Sushil Kumar became the first Indian to win individual medals in more than one Olympics, while shooter Vijay Kumar's silver medal was the best of the lot. Badminton ace Saina Nehwal and boxer Mary Kom won bronze medals and emerged as inspirational figures in a medal-starved nation.
However, Indian hopes that their male boxing contingent would add to the lone bronze medal won by Vijender Singh in Beijing four years earlier were dashed, leaving the contingent to work on its skills.
Towards the end of the year, it was gloom and doom, whether it was in cricket or the Olympic movement in the nation.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended the National Olympic Committee for flouting guidelines after a messy election build-up.
With the sports ministry refusing to acknowledge the new set of office-bearers and the IOC declaring the elections null and void, it remains to be seen whether the wrangling and power-hungry officials - most with political patronage - and many politicians themselves, will allow professional sports management to take root in India and athletes gain priority over officials.
Of course, there are many federation bosses who have clung on to their positions for decades.
They often block the setting up of proper administration mechanisms at the state level which in turn hurts the development of sports at the grassroots level.
The International Boxing Association and the government have suspended the boxing federation for flouting norms in its election. What's more, the ministry has disaffiliated the archery body too for ignoring its Sports Code.
With huge sums of tax-payers' money going into sports promotion, it is time accountability becomes a norm in sports management rather than an exception.
THE WRAP: Towards the end of the year, it was all gloom and doom - whether it was in the fortunes of the Indian cricket team or the Indian Olympic movement.
- N Ananthanarayan
Who's afraid of being online?
It was a year when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, famous for his silence, decided to get a Twitter handle and current arch-foe of the Congress, Narendra Modi, crossed one million followers on Twitter.
Later in the year, Modi also used social media effectively to build a frenzied following ahead of state elections in Gujarat.
If politics is hot, can controversy be far behind? The Right vs Liberal game played out actively on social media, with some ugly consequences. An exodus of northeastern students from Bangalore and Pune was partly based on social media that spread panic - and its roots lay in morphed visuals of events in Burma where ethnic Bengali Rohingya Muslims suffered violence.
Things got uglier when detentions and arrests of social media users happened - based on allegations of defamatory and abusive content under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act.
While free speech activists rose in protest, alleging Draconian high-handedness, communications and IT Minister Kapil Sibal had to put on his legalistic best to defend a UPA accused of political victimisation of its critics.
As the year ends, the controversial law stands - though its enforcement has been lifted to higher levels of the police hierarchy. Still, a pall hangs over social media in India: Is free speech under threat?
At the same time, the rise of abusive content brought in strong questions on the responsibility of social media.
But Indians are in a celebratory mood on Facebook, which seems to have the colourful character - and song and dance - of a Bollywood movie. While Facebook went public during the year in a blockbuster debut on the stock market (and later suffered as financial success was questioned), its chief and founder Mark Zuckerburg openly bet on India as a key growth zone in the future.
Facebook users in India are now more than 60 million, having crossed the 50-million mark this year. A study in August estimated that Indians spent one in four minutes online on social networks.
With cheap smartphones under Rs 3,000, and even cheaper smart "feature" phones being enabled for social media, and tablet PCs coming close to Rs 5,000, the explosion has just begun.
If any doubt was left about the power of social media, the Pope removed it. The pontiff had one million followers ready even before his first tweet in December!
THE WRAP: The PM went atwitter, Modi used social media to scale up his campaign and the aam aadmi was disciplined with the 66A stick
Little ventured, even less gained
After a three-year stint, educational reforms man Kapil Sibal quietly exited from the ministry of human resource development (MHRD) in October, to be replaced by Pallam Raju.
During his action-packed tenure, Sibal stirred and shook awake the education sector.
He scrapped the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) Class 10 Boards, initiated a continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE) to assess students and introduced a single entrance examination for premium engineering and medical institutions.
But Parliament pressed the pause button on a whole lot of crucial bills meant to bring in massive education reforms.
There was some movement on the part of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and the University Grants Commission (UGC), two bodies that actively sought alternative routes to improve the education system.
Private players emerged in a better light than the sarkar this year, if one goes by the findings of the FICCI-Ernst and Young report on Higher Education 2012.
Still, in a year when most college principals focused on trivialities such as enforcing medieval dress codes and university teachers and students locked horns over the implementation of semester systems, serious initiatives to improve the system on the part of regulatory authorities, public and private institutes were few and far between.
THE WRAP: Not enough was done
- Ayesha Banerjee
Poor healthcare and ailing India
Despite the best medical minds and hi-tech medical townships, India's public healthcare delivery continues to flounder.
World Health Statistics data 2012 showed that 39 million people in India are pushed into poverty each year and one of the reasons is expensive healthcare. Around 47% of all rural hospital admissions and 31% of admissions in urban India are financed by loans and sale of assets.
Little wonder then that almost one in three people in rural India did not seek treatment because they couldn't afford it.
And yet India's healthcare spending remains a shoe-string 4.2% of GDP, which means as many as 86.4% of medicals bills are mostly out-of-pocket spending or money people spend from their own savings.
This makes India's private spend among the highest in the world, comparing poorly not only with developed countries (US 23.4% and France 33.1%), and developing economies (Brazil 57.2% and Thailand 59.6%), but also neighbours Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan (72.4%, 82.5% and 81.9%) respectively.
What can change all this is the Universal Health Coverage (UHC), meant to offer free and cashless treatment to everyone at all district hospitals and primary health centres and sub-centres by 2017.
But as always, implementation is the key - for the UHC to work, primary health centres and sub-centres need to be strengthened, which, despite efforts, has not happened over the years.
THE WRAP: Rural India suffered, public healthcare floundered
- Sanchita Sharma
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