Aakar Patel | From Dec 2019 to Dec 2021: A time of trouble, problems grow

The state today has no democracy and is the only Indian state/Union territory without an elected government

Update: 2021-12-06 20:27 GMT
People crowd a market after further ease in COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, in Patna. (Representational Photo:PTI)

This month marks the beginning of the time two years ago when the Narendra Modi government lost its way. The unusual thing about this period — from December 2019 to December 2021 — is that earlier the Modi government thought that it was flying high.

It had fixed the three things that it had been campaigning for strongly for decades. The law criminalising triple talaq came on August 1, 2019. The Supreme Court had already declared triple talaq invalid, so there was no real reason for the government to criminalise it, but this was done anyway.

Four days later, on August 5, Jammu and Kashmir lost whatever level of  autonomy that it allegedly had, and Article 370 was “de-operationalised”. Earlier in the year the Balakot airstrikes had apparently sorted out India’s national security problems.

On November 9, the Supreme Court delivered its verdict on the Babri Masjid issue which had been pending for three decades in favour of the Hindu groups. On December 11, after Union home minister Amit Shah had assured Parliament a day before that a nationwide National Register of Citizens was on its way, the government passed the Citizenship Amendment Act. Four days later, on December 15, the Shaheen Bagh protests began in one corner of New Delhi, sparking a nationwide movement against the discriminatory law. After this, the Modi government has not been able to enforce its agenda and it is striking to see what has happened in the two years since compared to the months before Shaheen Bagh. Of course, the first steps back came after the NRC was shelved. State Assemblies across India passed resolutions against the NRC. The last of these was Bihar, on February 20, where the BJP legislators joined a unanimous resolution against what Shah had promised was coming in Parliament. The Shaheen Bagh protests wrapped up the next month but victory had been already achieved. The Delhi pogrom and the fury of figures like Anurag Kashyap and Kapil Mishra showed how deeply affected the government was by the setback. In March began the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown flattened the Indian economy. The per capita GDP then fell behind Bangladesh, the fiscal deficit was blown and a stressed government passed on the costs of governance to all Indians through extortionate taxes on petrol and diesel.

The effects of the lockdown were felt for the full 12 months of the 2020-21 financial year, and we are still to recover from it. Twenty-three crore Indians fell into poverty during the Covid-19 pandemic and the unemployment rate, which had already reached a post-1947 high of six per cent by 2018, remains there.

In June 2020, the farm ordinances were passed during the pandemic. In September, the Bills were passed in Parliament without a division vote. The farmers arrived at New Delhi’s outskirts at the end of November and they remain there even today. The government, of course, has rolled back the three agricultural laws, but now faces trouble over the issue of a guarantee on the Minimum Support Price. It is also apparently worried by the fallout of the agitation on its constituency, especially among the farmers in western Uttar Pradesh, a state which is going to the polls in a few months.

In January 2021, the administration of President Joe Biden took charge in Washington, after the defeat of Mr Modi’s friend Donald Trump in the presidential elections (other friends like Japan’s Shinzo Abe and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu have also departed). A few days after that, India lifted the 17-month Internet blockade on Kashmiris, fearing pressure from Mr Biden’s democracy.

In May 2020, India was told the Chinese were aggressively moving into Ladakh. On June 15 last year the two sides clashed with clubs and stones and 20 Indians lost their lives. The situation remains tense along the border and the government suddenly made peace with Pakistan on the Line of Control and shifted tens of thousands of troops over to the China frontier. The problem of national security, assumed to have been solved after the Balakot airstrike, was apparently not really solved at all. India’s naval alliance with the United States and two other nations (the so-called Quad) was demoted this year when the US announced a proper military and naval alliance with Britain and Australia in the region.

The issue of Kashmir also has not proven to be “solved”. The state today has no democracy and is the only Indian state/Union territory without an elected government. Violence has not come down as we can see from events daily and from the data. The population has become even more hostile. In effect, an Army that was tasked with two things -- managing a hostile border with Pakistan and a counter-insurgency in Kashmir is now tasked with three major things, the third being China. It is not easy to see how the government and the Prime Minister will come out of this period of slump easily. The nation’s economy is said to be growing at over eight per cent this year, but that merely brings the total GDP back to where it was before the pandemic, when it had already slowed to a crawl.

Perhaps the BJP will win the Uttar Pradesh elections but that will be a political win and will leave the problems on the ground — from the economy to national security to the disaffected farmers and minorities – completely intact.

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