Updated on: Tuesday, January 04, 2022, 08:51 AM IST

Coming to grips with COVID-19 third wave, politics & the economy, writes A L I Chougule


Every year throws up enduring images – some heart-warming, some heartbreaking, some absurd and some that leave us angry – that stay with us for a long time. And so did 2021.It was a year of political and governance challenges for the ruling dispensation, as the second wave of Covid convulsed the country before farmer unions marched to Delhi borders. It was also a year that saw a rare occurrence of the Narendra Modi-led government bowing to organised protests mounted by farmers against three agriculture reform laws and the BJP’s enviable election machinery coming up short against a popular regional leader in West Bengal. But overall, 2021 may be a year we may not be proud of.

We have entered 2022 on the cusp of what now looks like the third wave, as the trend in daily cases has started rising exponentially. While this is the third year of the pandemic, we have entered the new year fortified with more than 145 crore doses of vaccine and more than 60 crore adults being fully vaccinated. Besides, while the Covid-19 virus is evolving and mutating into new variants, we also have more data and experience in handling a crisis arising out of another wave. However, there is a cause for concern despite cautious optimism mainly because Omicron, which is now the dominant variant, is highly transmissible.

While the pandemic continues, we do not know whether 2022 will be the endgame of the Covid virus, though there is hope that the pandemic may become endemic, with the virus mutating into less lethal variants. Some epidemiologists are of the view that the virus at the end of its lifecycle will mutate with less severity and that is how the Spanish flu also ended. But when the pandemic’s end will become a social and medical event remains to be seen. However, 2022, apart from being historically significant, could be an important year for the anticipated events that could potentially shape and influence India’s politics, policies and economy in the medium to long term.

It is a significant year in India’s post-Independence history, as the country completes 75 years of independence, an occasion to look back and introspect on the achievements and failures of independent India and also an occasion to look ahead and plan for the future. The fact that India, as a democracy and constitutional republic, has survived many challenges and flourished against many odds is an achievement we should be proud of. But there are many challenges and hurdles we need to cross. Since we inherited an impoverished nation at the time of Independence, our biggest challenge is to lift millions of people out of poverty, besides improving social and physical infrastructure. Of course, the road to prosperity and all-round development is a long haul.

Talking about economy, India’s GDP is expected to return to the pre-Covid levels by the end of 2021-22. Though there are reasons for optimism, there are concerns that persist, given that some sectors are still struggling, the number of unemployed remains high and private consumption is low. Moving onto GST, billed as the biggest reform, it will complete five years of rollout on July 1, 2022. Launched at a grand midnight event in Parliament after more than a decade of confabulations, the new indirect tax system, five years and several amendments later, is still an unfinished project, with many pain points still to be ironed out, particularly the multiple tax slabs, which go against the core construct of the tax reform: unified and uniform nation-wide tax system. It is probably time to make GST a simple and easy-to-administer two-slab tax system.

Uttar Pradesh will go to the polls with Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur, with the Election Commission likely to announce the dates any time this month. But just before these elections, the Union Budget will be presented for 2022-23 and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is likely to take extra care that the Budget does not contain any measure that will rile voters in poll-bound states. These elections are the most consequential for both the BJP and the opposition since the 2019 general elections, as the results will tell if the road to 2024 is getting bumpier for the BJP or the Opposition challenge remains elusive. Political experts believe that UP elections will hold the key, as the BJP’s massive win in 2017 in the state made it the favourite for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The outcome of the assembly elections will also have a bearing on several events, both political and economic, including the presidential election. The BJP’s performance in UP, particularly, will influence who moves into the Rashtrapati Bhawan later this year. Another consequential presidential election due in August-September is that of the Congress party, which will decide whether the new Congress president will be someone from outside the Nehru-Gandhi family. While chances are Rahul Gandhi is likely to be elected as the grand old party’s president, the Congress party’s performance, particularly in Punjab, Goa and Uttarakhand as also to a certain extent in UP, will set the stage for the Opposition’s strategy for the 2024 general elections. Finally, towards the fag end of 2022, the crucial assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh will see the Congress and BJP in a head-to-head fight.

Of the seven states that will go to polls this year, the BJP is in power in six of them, making the stakes high for the party. While the results of these elections will decide which way the political wind blows, Mamata Banerjee’s success in quelling the saffron challenge in West Bengal has sowed the seeds of possible realignment in the opposition camp in taking on the BJP. But what shape opposition politics will take will also depend a lot on the outcome of the state elections this year.

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Published on: Tuesday, January 04, 2022, 08:51 AM IST