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Posted at: Dec 31, 2017, 3:01 PM; last updated: Dec 31, 2017, 3:54 PM (IST)NATION

Hardly anything to cheer about

From DeMo to GST and religious vigilantism to various tragedies, happiness quotient remained low

KV Prasad

Barely had the citizens recovered from the effects of demonetisation that ran them aground towards the end of 2016, the decision of the government to unroll the biggest ever tax reform — Goods and Services Tax (GST) reinforced the effect of disruptions on everyday life. Economic slowdown and its effects across different walks of life continued to be a matter of discussion but it was the GST that triggered a tug-of-war with the Opposition, led by the Congress, seeking to put the Modi government in a tight spot because of it.

The government was equally quick to carry out course correction to check the sense of unease creeping across various sections — the working class, the middle class and the entrepreneurs — as the complexities of the tax structure and its various slabs added to the confusion. Part of the restructuring by the Modi government was prompted by the elections in Gujarat, a state where the GST effect hit the people the most. 

The BJP under the Modi-Amit Shah leadership proved to be an effective election-winning strategist, decimating the opponents and pulling off astounding victories in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. In Goa and Manipur, the party’s smart strategies helped it in forming a government despite getting lesser number of seats than the Congress. Yet, as the year drew to a close, the results in Gujarat shorn the BJP of its political sheen, despite a poll victory.

The year had many events that would have a long-standing impact on the society. Be it a proposed law against instant triple talaq; uproar over Jallikattu; characterising sex as rape of wife for those below 15 years of age; granting 26 weeks of paid maternity leave; and move to act against unruly air travellers.

The Supreme Court’s move to ban liquor vends near the highways led to several corrections, while the court’s intervention against bursting of crackers in Delhi and the NCR near Diwali received an enthusiastic response from an environmentally conscious society.

On the flip side, the inadequacy of state administrations to cater to the basic needs came to the fore when a large number of infants died due the lack of oxygen and other primary facilities in Gorakhpur, Farrukhabad and Nashik. This apathy was further highlighted in Mumbai where 22 died in a stampede at Elphinstone Road. The mishap occurred when office-goers crammed together on a foot overbridge, that was too narrow to handle the rush. 

 Equally chilling was the gunning down of journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru, leading to the suspicion that she was killed for her writings against the fundamentalists, while killings of Junaid Khan and others like him continued for allegedly indulging in slaughter/transportation of animals holy to the majority community.

If reports of retaliatory acts by self-professed cow vigilantes remained in the news, so did the ‘love jihad’ with the Hadiya case reaching the apex court, both for protection of rights of adults to lead a life together by choice irrespective of different religious persuasions. 

The most fearful entry was the fatal game of Blue Whale that led to the death of many teenagers, lured into taking their own lives.

The year ended with the sorry saga of Sasikala landing in the prison and the warring factions in Jayalalithaa's AIADMK appearing to close ranks against her, while in Bihar, Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar called it quits to their nascent political alliance.

And towards the year-end, the Congress members heaved a sigh of relief as Rahul Gandhi finally became president of the grand old party. 

Dammed, finally!

No project in the world, perhaps, has faced so many controversies as the Narmada project. Nearly 56 years after its foundation was laid by former PM Jawaharlal Nehru on April 5, 1961, the Sardar Sarovar dam became a reality in September. The project was mired in many controversies and faced impediments from pro- and anti-dam activists, till finally the Supreme Court gave the nod for its construction in 2000. The delay in the completion of the dam was due to several reasons, including a dispute between Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh on the sharing of water and electricity. The dispute that started in 1964 was finally resolved in December 1979, after which the construction was started in 1980. Soon after activist Medha Patkar launched an anti-dam agitation, the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), and took the matter to the Supreme Court over environmental concerns and the rehabilitation of tribals as their lands were likely to be submerged in the dam water. However, despite the court verdict, the construction of the dam continued to face hurdles over the rehabilitation issue. 

Rahul, the president

Rahul Gandhi was elected the Congress president in December, marking a generational shift in the grand old party and becoming the sixth member of the influential Nehru-Gandhi clan to occupy the post. He took over the reins from his mother Sonia Gandhi, who remained at the helm for 19 years, the longest in the party’s 132-year history. Rahul Gandhi, who appeared reluctant to take on the mantle of Congress president, gave clear indication about his readiness to accept the responsibility of running the party during an interaction at the University of California, Berkeley, in September this year. While pageantry would herald the dawn of a new era in the Congress, which has ruled the country for over half-a-century since Independence, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family will face the daunting task of restoring lost glory of the party whose fortunes have seen a downswing in the recent past.

The scam that wasn’t

In December, a CBI Special Court former telecom minister A Raja, DMK leader Kanimozhi and 16 other accused in the 2G scam case, saying the prosecution miserably failed to prove the charges against them. The three companies, allegedly involved in the case that politically damaged the UPA government, were also acquitted. The acquittal of all 17 accused in the 2G scam case is a huge embarrassment for the Modi government and, conversely, a belated vindication of the position taken by the former UPA government and Kapil Sibal, in particular, when the allegations of corruption first surfaced. This is bound to have a serious and lasting impact on Indian politics.  This acquittal removes one of the two key pillars supporting Mr Modi's claim that the UPA was the most corrupt government ever. The other pillar is the coal scam case which could now end with similar acquittals. Indeed, social media is already questioning whether the Modi government won the 2014 election on false accusations of corruption.  

In the news

‘Low’ blow

His ‘ignorance’ about the intricacies of Hindi cost Congress’ Mani Shankar Aiyar his primary membership of the party after he called PM Narendra Modi a “neech aadmi” (vile man). The party disapproved of Aiyar’s remark . The latter apologised for using the word “neech” (low) for Modi but maintained that “There is a difference in English between words ‘low’ and ‘low-born’. But in Hindi if low means low-born, then I tender apology.” 

A fair defence

Despite having a large number of women in politics, it took India 65 years after its first elected Parliament to have its first full-time woman Defence Minister when Nirmala Sitharaman assumed charge of the defence ministry. Indira Gandhi had held the additional charge of defence twice in 1975 and then from 1980-1982. Sitharaman has had a good track record as BJP spokesperson. She had joined the government in 2014 as a Minister of State. 

Judging justice

In a first, the Supreme Court in May convicted sitting HC Judge of contempt of court and sentenced him to six months’ imprisonment. Judge CS Karnan,  hearing a contempt case, had  “convicted” some other judges, “awarding” them five-year imprisonment. The judge, who was to retire in June, was arrested from Coimbatore on June 20 after he had evaded the police for over a month. 

Fodder for fraud

A special CBI court convicted former Bihar CM Lalu Prasad and 15 others in a fodder scam case while acquitting six, including another former CM Jagannath Mishra. The case pertained to fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 89.27 lakh from Deoghar Treasury between 1991 and 1994. A chargesheet was filed against 38 persons in 1997. Eleven died, three turned approvers while two confessed and were convicted in 2006-07.

Three-year jail for instant triple talaq 

The contentious Bill on instant triple talaq was passed, making it non-bailable offence, with up to three years in jail for the husband and a fine. The Bill was passed after the Lok Sabha rejected a string of amendments moved by various opposition members. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill would only be applicable on instant triple talaq or 'talaq-e- biddat'. It gives power to the victim to approach a magistrate seeking "subsistence allowance" for herself and minor children. A victim can also seek the custody of her minor children from the magistrate. Under the law, instant triple talaq in any form — spoken, in writing or by electronic means such as email, SMS and WhatsApp — would be illegal and void. The proposed law would be applicable to the entire country, except Jammu and Kashmir.

Raisina Hill’s new resident

In July, NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind was elected as the 14th President of India. Registering a win over  Meira Kumar, he got 65.65 per cent of the electoral college votes. The race to Raisina Hill was tilted in favour of Kovind from the day (June 27) BJP chief Amit Shah announced his name, taking everyone by surprise. 

Unfair to fair sex

A woman student of Banaras Hindu University was harassed on the campus while returning to her hostel. Her warden raised questions about her late arrival. Angered at the lackadaisical attitude of authorities, students  protested. They were lathicharged as a result of which some students and journalists were hurt.

Forces under Naxal attack

In April, 25 CRPF men were killed and six hurt in Chhattisgarh's Sukma district in an attack by Naxalites. The 300- strong Naxalite group mounted the assault in Kalapathar area of south Bastar region, one of the worst-hit by Left-wing extremism in India. The CRPF men were sanitising the area for a road being laid there, when the attack happened.


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