2009 is in. As curtains are drawn on 2008, it would go down as one of those years that never ceased to surprise both on the domestic and on the international front in every aspect. This post is an attempt to summarize the year, its highs and lows, and what it means for India as a nation in 2009.
The American dream was kept alive and kicking. In the land of opportunities, few were surprised at the defeat of the republican candidate given the disastrous policies of George Bush. The young voted in huge numbers attracted by a charismatic leader who innovated in campaign style, whose mantra was taking everyone together with a “can do” spirit. It just happened that he is an African American and hence his election, a first of its kind. The World waits with bated breath for him to take complete charge and initiate the promised change. The signs are very encouraging though India waits for the Indian Obama in desperation.
Closer home, three countries embraced democracy after long periods of struggle. Nepal with Prachanda at the helm, Pakistan with PPP and very recently Bangladesh with Sheikh Hasina demonstrated clearly that it is better to have elected Governments than persistent misrule. It remains to be seen how the experiments play out – the threat of a military takeover looms large in at least two of these nations. How these nations engage with us diplomatically will decide and dictate key foreign policy initiatives. In the south, Sri Lanka remains dangerous with emotions running high.
Indian politics hit a string of lows with the “cash for votes” scandal rocking Parliament and the Government barely scraping through to survive. Opportunism and Vote bank – these dreaded products of coalition era politics took centre stage everywhere. From the Amarnath controversy to the positioning on the nuclear deal, this was evident all along.
Alliances were forged with erstwhile unimaginable partners. Ideology, if such a thing exists was lost somewhere in the mayhem. Parliament become a mockery with bills rushed through, debates lost in shouts and attendance thinned with every passing day. Nothing can repair the damage done and people’s faith in the elected representatives touched rock bottom in the last week of November. Politicians became inept at handling the media. RR Patil, Jaswant Singh, Shivraj Patil, VS Achuthanandan, Sheila Dikshit and countless others have set lofty standards to emulate.
The assembly elections left even the most seasoned political analysts hungry for more. Development and stability was the war cry of the voter. The rosiest picture is that of J&K and the turnout. It has resulted in a younger helmsman and expectations consequently run high. The upcoming Lok Sabha election is again a test for the Indian electorate. It is up to us to vote and vote right.
Our nation distinguished itself by not learning from mistakes. Floods and stampedes made headlines and the Government’s response was most predictable with commissions and inquiries. Existence has become a component of choice and good luck due to the spate of terror attacks across the country. Again displaying new heights of insensitivity, nothing was done until forcefully jolted into superficial action when 26/11 happened. By amending UAPA to incorporate POTA provisions save one and setting up a new agency, we run the risk of falling into the same trappings of short sighted action. Populist measures targeted to woo vote banks were the norm. The nuclear deal was a strange exception to the rule here. Pursued with a rare vigor, this will bear fruit in the future.
The courts gave landmark verdicts.Creamy layer cap, periodic review on reservation, the blurring lines on obscenity and freedom of expression, Mumbai blasts conviction - it was action packed. Judicial reforms and accountability did see some progressive steps and this would be most welcome in 2009.
Economy watchers found that they were not left with nails to bite. Recession, almost forgotten in the beginning of the year hit the US and in a globalized world, every country faces the heat now. No takers for exports; cut down in production; unwillingness to lend; diving stocks – disbelief could not be more quintessential. There is no magic wand to correct this and the immediate future looks bleak.
Course correction will need precious time and in the meanwhile, heart burns, pink slips and downward revisions might become increasingly common. Prices fluctuated and inflation threatened to derail some prospects during the assembly elections. Despite the gloom in the later part of the year, HCL and WIPRO flexed their muscles and emerged successful in their bargains. Thanks to the presence of a large domestic market, recession and its impact can be lessened in 2009.
In the literary scene, Arvind Adiga grabbed headlines though not many find his work authentic enough to deserve all the accolades. The spate of mediocre books continues with a rare gem here and there. If art and literature have to play their rightful role in influencing lives and inspiring the young, this situation is glaringly inadequate. 2009 urgently needs writers and artists of caliber and merit.
Falling victim to compulsions and situations, Tibet has gone on the backburner after surfacing during the Olympics. After witnessing the infrastructure on display, India can hardly hope to match China in organization and conduct of any sport in the future. Abhinav Bindra, Saina Nehwal, Sushil Kumar and Vijendar Singh broke into our living rooms thanks to their efforts despite the system. Sport and its infrastructure and encouragement continue to be low on the priority list.
On the cricket front, we had lots to cheer about. The conquest of T20, a young and confident side under an able and inspiring leader meant that two seniors quit in quick succession and no vacuum was felt. IPL reinvented the game and was a marketing innovation and crowd puller in every aspect changing the face of the game in profound ways.
Bollywood promised a lot and more than lived upto expectations. Aamir, Shaurya, A Wednesday, Mumbai Meri Jaan and Rock On wouldn’t have been possible without multiplexes and maturity in an audience that is thirsty for more. Low budget, good stories and some fantastic acting got due credit. Hence, it was a trendsetter of sorts. One hopes that the trend continues in 2009.
To conclude, the overpowering public mood in 2008 was that of resignation with individuals seldom demonstrating the rare ability to rise above surroundings. It was a year that threw up a lot of opportunities to introspect, learn from mistakes and correct course. This New Year begins with hope. As the popular belief goes, it shouldn’t gravitate towards resignation at dusk and “hopefully” won’t.