2019: The Year of Political Hubris in Which Even The ‘Superhero’ Met His Kryptonite
Despite a flailing economy and falling GST collections, the Chowkidar, like all superheroes, seemed invulnerable to the arrows of opponents. But towards the end of the year, it looked as if they had found his kryptonite.
File photo of PM Narendra Modi, and Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. (PTI)
A year of many historical 'firsts', 2019 was dominated by larger-than-life images of Narendra Modi.
It will be best remembered in the context of the war on terror. India rewrote the rules of engagement and demonstrated its willingness to use hard power. For the first time since the 1971 conflict, Indian warplanes crossed the Line of Control.
The year began in the style of a graphic novel, in the remote Himalayan fastness, with evil lurking and villains plotting, a bomb exploding and bodies flying. Bitten by the radioactive bugbear of terrorism, Modi seemed to acquire superpowers.
Costumed in the tricolour and wielding the chakra of the air force, the 'Chowkidar' not only cowed the enemy but powered himself to a brute majority in the Lok Sabha. He became the first prime minister since Indira Gandhi to win a second consecutive majority.
A flick of Modi's finger and article 370 went out. Then India reached for the Moon, with the launch of Chandrayaan-2, her first attempt to soft-land on the lunar surface. Modi's consolatory embrace of the ISRO chief when the lander crashed was one of the most heart-warming images of the year.
Cut to Jim Corbett Park, where his “calm in a crisis” enchanted Man vs Wild host Bear Grylls and broke the internet. From Tiger country, he headed to Texas. For the first time ever, a US president and an Indian PM addressed a joint rally on American soil.
Modi's “Howdy” further inflated his Iron Man of India-sized persona, only to suffer the deflationary impact of the economy. Nirmala Sitharaman fought the Hydra-headed NPA monster, decapitating bad debts, but new threats snuck up on her and the “twin balance sheet” problem became a “four balance sheet” crisis. The tut-tutting of economists could barely be heard over the thumps of falling stocks.
It was a year of political hubris.
Rahul Gandhi, the tragic hero, retired hurt when the Chowkidar's sidekick, Shah of all, scripted the BJP's spectacular win. But hubris bit Amit Shah too and the BJP experienced an incredible shrinking sensation. Its footprint shrivelled in tandem with a diminishing number of allies, from two-thirds of the Indian land mass to a mere one-third.
Haryana was salvaged by a foe-turned-friend and Maharashtra lost to a friend-turned-foe. It was to get worse: Jharkhand unambiguously voted for the JMM-Congress alliance, leaving a divided NDA without even the face-saver of “single largest”.
It was also the year of unbearable lightness of political being, when ideologies were rendered meaningless. Uddhav Thackeray found himself in a three-way hug with his ‘frenemy’ Sharad Pawar (a “scoundrel” in his sire's book) and the Congress (once dubbed a “cancer” by the late Bal Thackeray).
For the once-grand old party, a share of power in Maharashtra came at the price of the moral high ground, but hey, anything for a friend. Rahul began the year by losing old friends, Sonia ended it by making new ones.
Despite a flailing economy and falling GST collections, the Chowkidar, like all superheroes, seemed invulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous opponents. But towards the end of the year, it looked as if they had found his kryptonite.
The seemingly innocuous Citizenship Amendment Act provoked protests from both ends of the spectrum: those who didn't want the scope of citizenship expanded to include persecuted minorities and those who wanted it expanded even more to include one and all, persecuted or not.
For the RSS, however, it was a year of unalloyed triumph: mission Jammu & Kashmir accomplished and the temple of its dreams greenlighted by the Supreme Court.
It was a year of anniversaries: the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and the 550th year of Guru Nanak. The former was a token exercise; the message lost in the mementos. The latter, a moment of pure joy: for the first time, visa-free darshan at Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara, the resting place of the Guru.
It was a year of violence and vigilantism. Indians vented their rage on roads, in the lynching of alleged child-lifters and cow-killers, in acts of arson against government policy. Worst of all, women became targets of misogynist maniacs, evoking painful memories of Nirbhaya.
It was a year of loss. Parliament was left poorer as Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and S Jaipal Reddy left for the heavenly realm.
All this, against the backdrop of a mounting climate crisis. Forest and farm fires raged across the Amazon basin, Siberia, Indonesia, sub-Saharan Africa and India. For the first time, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere crossed 415 parts per million.
The road ahead is fraught with challenges: the rashtra must be protected from economic ills and social tensions and the world needs a mantra against climate change ostrichism.
(The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)
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