It’s that time of the year when we look back, retrospect and reflect on the events and happenings that affected and influenced our country in the last 365 days or so. There was never a dull moment in 2018 as far as politics. Let’s have recap of political events that rocked country.
Congress-led Bharat Bandh, called by 21 parties on September 10, stalled activities at several parts of the country like Karnataka, Maharashtra, Kerala and Bihar. The bandh was called to protest the enormous price hike of fuels and the depreciation of rupee. Only TMC didn’t take part in the bandh. Nationwide protests against record high petrol and diesel prices shut down businesses, government offices and schools in many parts of India. Fuel prices were witnessing a hike in several states across the country, burning a hole in the pocket of common man.
Tens of thousands of Indian farmers marched to the parliament in the capital, Delhi, on November 29 to highlight the deepening agrarian crisis. Indian agriculture has been blighted by a depleting water table and declining productivity for decades. Many farmer protests have been held this year. Farmers make up important voting bloc in the country and, political pundits say, given the scale of the protests, their discontentment could hurt the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in next year’s general election.
Farmers from the states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan are also asking for a guaranteed minimum income for farmers. The farmers are asking for government support to address the crisis in a sector that employs the majority of the country’s workforce.
The Parliament is in the middle of a storm over the Rafale deal between India and France over the purchase of fighter jets. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress are at war with both sides ruthlessly attacking Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Lok Sabha and outside, respectively. The bone of contention is multi-crore Rafale fighter jets agreement between India and France that was finalised on September 23 in 2016.
Rahul Gandhi has taken potshots at the government at various points of time on the issue. A political row broke out between the ruling BJP and the Opposition Congress a few months after the deal was signed. HAL was not part of the deal anymore. Also, questions were raised about how the IAF’s requirement for the number of planes it had earlier demanded would be met.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi alleged that Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence Limited was favoured in a non-transparent manner to be Dassault’s offset partner, and that the cost per aircraft had shot up considerably from what the UPA government had negotiated.
The BJP denied all charges. Ministers in the Modi government say that the agreement made by the NDA was much better than the one being negotiated by the previous government. Also, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has claimed that the finer details of the deal such as pricing were sensitive information and classified in nature. Recently, Supreme Court also gave clean chit to the government.
Caste Politics: 16% Maratha quota approved in Maharashtra
Quota politics and caste violence took centre stage in Maharashtra during the year, which also saw ruling BJP and Shiv Sena continue their blow-hot-and-cold relationship. Marathas, who constitute around 30 per cent of the state’s 12 crore population, got 16 per cent reservations in jobs and education after a protracted pro-quota agitation. The Devendra Fadnavis-led government set up the State Backward Class Commission which declared Marathas as socially and educationally backward class citizens. The previous Congress-NCP regime had granted 16 per cent quota to Marathas, but the decision could not withstand legal scrutiny. The Rane committee, which recommended the 16 per cent quota, lacked statutory powers, which the Commission had. The Maratha quota decision has been challenged in the Bombay High Court, even as the state government decided to go ahead with its mega recruitment drive for 36,000 of the 72,000 vacant posts in various departments. In July, Maratha quota protests turned violent in Marathwada and spread across the state after a youth Kakasaheb Shinde allegedly committed suicide by jumping in the Godavari River in Aurangabad district.
RBI vs Govt
The rift between the government and the RBI, especially its Governor Urjit Patel, has widened over several past months as both increasingly differed on key issues. The tensions between the finance ministry and the RBI have risen since the bank’s deputy Governor Viral Acharya said in a speech that undermining a central bank’s independence could be “potentially catastrophic”, an indication that the regulator is pushing back hard against government pressure to relax its policies and reduce its powers.
Citing personal reasons, Urjit Patel resigned as the Reserve Bank of India governor. His resignation comes against the backdrop of increasing tensions between the Finance ministry and the Reserve Bank of India. After this, former Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das was named the 25th governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to succeed Urjit Patel, who quit abruptly on Monday amid a bitter dispute over the regulator’s autonomy. The appointment means that the central bank will once again be headed by a former Indian Administrative Services (IAS) officer.
CBI vs CBI
A war is taking place inside India’s premier investigation agency. The Central Bureau of Investigation arrested one of its own senior officers, in a case involving bribes allegedly accepted by the agency’s no 2 official, Special Director Rakesh Asthana. The investigation into the alleged corruption of Asthana – believed to have been hand-picked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi – came amid the backdrop of Asthana accusing the CBI chief, Alok Verma, of illicit activity. Add to this cast of characters the infamous meat exporter Moin Qureshi, a special director in India’s external intelligence agency and shady middlemen, and you have a script more complicated than most movies.
The protests have Lord Ayyappa devotees on one side, who cite tradition to oppose a Supreme Court judgment overturning a ban on the entry of women into the temple. On the other side, the fight has been spearheaded by women rights activists, who are determined to visit the shrine and uphold the SC’s judgment allowing women of all ages to enter. The SC’s landmark judgment came on September 28, and declared the ban on women ages 10-40 entering the temple ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘discriminatory’. The 4:1 judgment was delivered by a five-judge bench consisting then CJI Dipak Misra and Justices RF Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, with Malhotra dissenting. It is believed that Hindu God Ayyappa meditated in Sabarimala after killing the powerful demon Mahishi. Another tale says that ‘Parasurama Maharshi’ lifted Kerala from the sea by throwing his axe and installed the idol of Ayyappa at Sabarimala. For years there were restrictions on the entry of women in the age group of 10 to 50 years in the shrine because the presiding deity Lord Ayyappa is considered to be a ‘naishtika brahmachari’ (perennial celibate).
State assembly elections and Congress comeback
The results of elections in five Indian states on December 11 saw a dramatic change in the country’s political map, with three Congress chief ministers now in place in Hindi-belt states that were all previously held by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Though the Congress was booted out in Mizoram and K Chandrasekhar Rao registered a thumping victory in Telangana, most of the headlines focused on the North Indian states because of the straightforward BJP vs Congress contests in all three.
The results themselves were significant – especially because the Congress managed to come to power in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh after 15 years of BJP rule. But they were also being viewed through the prism of general elections, which are due in 2019. From this lens, the results were something of a semi-final, suggesting that the BJP’s North Indian hegemony is not as secure as many expected and that the Congress as well as the wider Opposition may be able to give it a fight.
City name changing
The Modi government is often accused of tying new name-ribbons around existing welfare schemes and presenting them as new. The Centre has given consent to the renaming of at least 25 towns and villages across India in the past one year and among the pending proposals is one for the state of West Bengal. Allahabad and Faizabad are the latest additions to the growing list of places that have been renamed.
The proposals to change the names of Allahabad to Prayagraj and Faizabad to Ayodhya are yet to be received by the ministry from the Uttar Pradesh government. Some of the approved name change proposals are: Rajahmundry as Rajamahendravaram in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh; Outer Wheeler as A P J Abdul Kalam Island, situated in Bhadrak district of Odisha; Arikkod as Areekode in Malappura district of Kerala; Pindari as Pandu-Pindara in Jind district of Haryana; and Samphur as Sanphure in Kiphire district of Nagaland. Approval was also given to add the word “Maharaj” in Mumbai’s iconic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. It is now known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus.
Inspired by the success of his party’s election victories in the just-concluded Assembly elections, Congress President Rahul Gandhi has made the call that all farmer loans should be written off. It is clear that Gandhi is proposing to make it central to his party’s electoral agenda ahead of the 2019 general election. The bigger risk is that this desperate gamble may set in motion an aggressive round of competitive populism.
The Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute is one that makes a comeback ahead of every election season, but this time, it is the Supreme Court that has the subject in focus. India’s highest judicial body turned down two pleas in the Ayodhya case — one that directly deals with the way the disputed land was split according to the 2010 Allahabad High Court ruling, and another that would have had a direct impact on the Supreme Court’s final verdict in the case.
The Ayodhya dispute is at the heart of the Hindu-Muslim communal rift. For more than half a century, the dispute has fuelled mass polarisation in the state and has prompted the country’s worst spate of religious violence since the Partition. The dispute has been a subject of inciting political rhetoric in the lead up to almost all elections in the state and has taken centre-stage since Yogi Adityanath took charge as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.
It is four times taller than the Statue of Liberty. Built as a memorial to the ‘Iron Man of India’ Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the construction work of Statue of Unity was completed this year. Touted to be the tallest statue in the world, the nearly 600-foot creation says as much about India’s global aspirations as it does about the political ego of its leader. On the other hand, BJP government in Uttar Pradesh has cleared a 221-metre-tall statue of Lord Ram, to come up on the banks of the Saryu in the temple town. While the government did not reveal the details of cost, funding, or exact location, it announced the expected size of the statue, which seems to outdo the 182-metre Sardar Patel statue in Gujarat.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is going around giving speeches in other states as the BJP’s Grand National Polariser. He fires the imagination of the faithful and entertains them. But they are going to vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) anyway. His inability to swing the vote in any place else is now evident.
Cow politics, lynching
For Hindus, the cow has long been holy. In ancient scriptures, it is celebrated for its ability to nurture humanity and is compared to deities. But for past few years the cow has taken on additional political significance. The government does not maintain specific data on lynching incidents in the country, the Rajya Sabha was informed. While the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) does not maintain any database on violence related to cow vigilantism, IndiaSpend’s database records of hate crimes shows that almost 86 incidents of cow-related violence were reported since 2012 in India. Over the six years since 2012, 33 people have been killed in cow-related hate violence. The number of people who were majorly assaulted during the cow-related violence incidents stood at 188, while as the number of the people with minor injuries were 81. The total number of victims due to cow-related violence were 288. 37 of these incidents were reported in 2017 alone. Most of these incidents have occurred over the last four years since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) assumed power in May 2014. Only one incident each was reported in 2012 and 2013. Of all victims killed or injured, whose identity was reported in news reports, 56% were Muslim, 11% were Dalit, and 9% were Hindu. According to the IndiaSpend’s data, 47 of these incidents were reported from the BJP ruled states.
Bhima-Koregaon violence case
Bhima-Koregaon incident refers to violence that broke out following an annual celebratory gathering at Bhima-Koregaon to mark the 200th year of the Battle of Bhima-Koregaon. The gathering consisted largely of Dalits, and interference by upper caste Maratha groups on the Dalit gathering resulted in escalation of an already tense gathering into violence. The aftermath consisted of various protests resulting in one death, 30 policemen being injured as well as over 300 people being detained. A Maharashtra bandh was called by Dalit groups on 3 January 2018. Protests were staged all over Maharashtra. In Mumbai, suburban trains were affected due to which Dabbawalas suspended their services.
Investigation by the police in the following months resulted in various arrests, such as that of Rona Wilson in June 2018 under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. In August 2018 five activists, including Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha, were picked up in simultaneous raids across the country, the police alleged that the activists had ties to Maoists, apart from links to the Bhima Korgaon incident.
An FIR was filed against Manohar ‘Sambhaji’ Bhide and Milind Ekbote for instigating violence on Dalits. The District Rural Police of Pune arrested Milind Ekbote. The Supreme Court cancelled his interim bail plea after he did not cooperate with the probe agencies, refusing to hand over his mobile phone and despite five summons for interrogation.
Navjot Singh Sidhu
Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu has always surrounded by controversies. Whether it be hugging Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa at the oath-taking ceremony of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad has earned him the wrath of many, including his party colleagues. The uproar over his visit to Pakistan to attend the oath ceremony of Prime Minister Imran Khan and his embrace to Army chief Qamar Bajwa had hardly died down that Sidhu decided to visit the neighbouring country again. This time, it was to attend the ground-breaking ceremony of the Kartarpur corridor. After being criticised for his decision to accept Pakistan’s invitation for the event and shower praise on Imran Khan for his role in the opening of the corridor, a new row involving him erupted when he was clicked with “pro-Khalistan” leader Gopal Singh Chawla.
MeToo hits MJ
Union minister of state for external affairs M.J. Akbar resigned from his position on October 17 after multiple allegations of sexual harassment and molestation emerged against him. In a statement, Akbar said, quoted by ANI, “Since I have decided to seek justice in a court of law in my personal capacity, I deem it appropriate to step down from office and challenge the false accusations levied against me, also in a personal capacity. I have therefore tendered my resignation from the office of minister of state for external affairs. I am deeply grateful to the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and to the external affairs minister Smt Sushma Swaraj for the opportunity they gave me to serve my country.” At least 15 women journalists openly came out with harassment allegations against Akbar.
(Inputs from Agencies)