How 2020 could be better than 2019
A year rarely begins and ends with similar questions. But 2019 was that kind of a year. With the general election due in the first half of the year, the question at the begining of the year was this: Will the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) manage to retain power after the elections? Today, as the year comes to a close, the question is: Will the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi manage to maintain the party’s popularity among the electorate of this country?
The BJP returned to power in May with a thumping majority. More than 600 million voters exercised their franchise in the national elections, and 44% of them voted the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to power. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s critics said that 56% of the voters rejected him, but the first and foremost mantra of democracy is this: One who wins the majority number of votes in a first-past-the-post system is the winner, and by that yardstick, Modi and Amit Shah were clear winners. The second important mantra of democracy is that no victory is permanent. Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand assembly election results proved that even old political relationships between parties can be fickle.
There were several other important news stories in 2019. One, the terror attack on security forces in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir. The February 14 attack triggered a tide of nationalistic fervour among Indians, and that propelled the BJP to power in the elections. Many questions were raised about the attack, but those were pushed back because there was a wave of nationalist sentiment in the country.
Second, the benefits of strict policies, alert security forces and vigilance of intelligence agencies were visible during the scrapping of Article 370 and Article 35A, the abolition of triple talaq and the verdict on the Ayodhya land dispute. Then came the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in the winter session of Parliament. Many see the amendment as an attack on the Constitution and the idea of India. There have been widespread protests across the country against the CAA, leading to more than 20 deaths. The big question in 2020 will be: When will peace and security return in the country?
Third, a new trend emerged in India in 2019: Internet shutdowns. Internet services have been blocked in Kashmir for the last five months. In other areas of the country too, it is being blocked frequently. Needless to say, this has a direct impact on education, employment, businesses, and immediate medical services.
Fourth, the economic recession. During the year, the growth rate fell to 4.5% (the worst in the last six years), and various rating agencies have slashed India’s growth forecasts. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, the unemployment rate in October was at 8.45%, the highest in the last three years.
Fifth, the issue of air pollution. This issue becomes an important one every year after Diwali. The issue was raised in Parliament, and occupied a fair amount of attention in both the media and public consciousness. The clear message for 2020 is: Either improve (the environment) or die.
Sixth, gender violence: There were huge protests after the gang rape and murder of a 26-year-old veterinary doctor near Hyderabad. A few days after the murder, the four men accused of raping and murdering the woman were shot dead in an “encounter” that followed after the men tried escaping. While many supported the police encounter, many questions remain unanswered: Was the encounter real or staged? If it wasn’t real, then who gave the police the right to indulge in this action? In a civilised and sovereign country, such police actions cannot be supported. Around the same time, another incident happened: A rape victim in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, was burnt alive when she came out of the house to go to Rae Bareli. This incident led to an uproar and negatively impacted our international reputation. Why has the world’s largest democracy become so uncivilised? Why are the toughest possible punishments not able to stop such brutalities?
Under the shadow of these doubts and apprehensions, while greeting you on the New Year, this question that is uppermost in my mind is this: How can 2020 be auspicious without social unity, harmony and respect for women?
Shashi Shekhar is the editor-in-chief, Hindustan
The views expressed are personal