The ‘Outlook’ magazine year end issue was titled “Thank God, it’s over”. In the cover essay, Ramachandra Guha put the year as one of the worst the Indian nation has faced since independence, ranking it alongside other bad years such as 1948 and 1984.
True, 26/11/2008 will continue to rankle each of us for a long long time to come. 2008 is also a year that will be remembered as a year in which bombings rocked Indian cities with alarming regularity, the year in which Jammu and Kashmir stood divided against each other, the year in which Kosi shifted her course leaving lakhs marooned, the year in which the Indian growth story hit a speed breaker and a year in which the systemic corruption that is plaguing us was on blatant display within the hallowed halls of our Parliament.
But 2008 is also the year when our scientists reached for the moon and our athletes for the gold, the year when a pragmatic India achieved one of its biggest diplomatic victory and the year in which we reaffirmed our trust in democracy with no less than 10 states – including J&K – undergoing free and fair elections.
2008 sure had its dark clouds but there were some silver linings too!
The following are what I consider as important events/trends that emerged in 2008 and would have impact on the future:
1. For over three days Mumbai was under attack. But the aftereffects will continue to rankle us for years to come. I had never felt so sad, angry, helpless and ashamed at the same time. It exposed our lack of preparedness and intelligence capability. We wanted to answer back. And answer we did. In a way that maybe only India can do. When the entire world felt that we would not have been unjustified in attacking Pakistan, we showed the world that we are not Israel or US. I know some among us will consider it a sign of soft state. But I feel that India has taken a very measured approach to the issue. India has capitalized on the sympathy and goodwill of other nations at this juncture, kept up pressure on Pakistan and is now going to launch a diplomatic offensive against terrorism emanating from Pakistan. And that is exactly the right question that is to be answered. India should keep up the diplomatic pressure, make world nations awaken to the dangers of terrorism emanating from Pakistan and call for an integrated UN led initiative to dismantle the terror infrastructure in Pakistan.
2. Parliamentary democracy touched its nadir when wads of currency – allegedly paid as bribe to vote favorably in the vote of confidence – were displayed in front of Live television audience. Salt was added to the wound when the Joint Parliamentary Committee ended up giving clean chit without any thorough investigation. No one is made responsible for the money brought into the Parliament. The allegation true or not, either way someone is responsible and has betrayed our democracy. Those responsible should be nailed and strict punishment meted out. On the other hand, the Lok Sabha speaker was made to resign from his party because he chose to uphold the Constitution. But I feel there was still a silver lining. It was heartening to see that the people of India had not let down her democracy yet. In the elections to the six states that were held towards the end of the year, the people rewarded the performers and threw out non-performers. Development would be the theme that the common man will increasingly vote upon in the future. The voters would differentiate between State issues and National issues and vote accordingly in State and National elections.
3.Jammu and Kashmir stood divided in summer. For the first time in recent years the people of the valley took to streets in mass protests. Jammu imposed an economic blockade. The myth of an harmonious society stood exposed. But soon the storm blew over. The silver lining of this dark cloud is that the people of the valley took to streets in a peaceful protest and terrorist elements were not allowed to hijack the agenda. Towards the end of the year people across the state came out in large numbers to vote in the state elections thus displaying their faith in our democracy. But the results of the elections indicated that Jammu and Kashmir is still divided. It is important for the new government to take cognizance of this fact and take corrective steps to prevent any further standoff between Jammu and Kashmir in the future. In that context, it is heartening to see that NC – the one party which did not take any extreme stand in the faceoff – will be leading the government.
4.On the external affairs front, India had a good year. The 123 deal and the NSG waiver is certainly the best diplomatic victory in recent years. Our immediate neighbourhood situation is still precarious. The end of year saw the fundamentalist parties losing heavily in the Bangladesh and Sheikh Hasina coming to power with landslide majority. Certainly good for India with its porous borders with Bangladesh. However in Nepal the Maosits came into power. It is important for India to have good relations with the democratically elected Maoist government but at the same time we should have a cautious eye on them. For once, the old man in Delhi did not heed to the old man in Chennai and did not intervene in Sri Lanka. But India should be the first country to rush aid as and when the war zone is opened for help. Also the Navy should be put on high alert in the Palk Strait region to avoid any LTTE elements entering Tamil Nadu in their retreat. At the same time it should be ready to make arrangements for relief camps for genuine refugees.
5.Financial markets across the world came tumbling down. Das Kapital became one of the largest selling books. But it also made us realize that unregulated capitalism is bound to fail. India has thus far moved cautiously with respect to financial reforms, albeit due to its coalition politics. But that has proved to be a blessing in disguise. What the current meltdown also brought out is the extent of interdependencies now between the different economies. In today’s world, a regulatory failure in one nation has implications for every other. Multilateral regulations regarding financial markets will evolve in the future as what is at stake is more than what one country can take care of by itself.
6.ISRO had a great year with its Chandrayaan-I success. It reasserted that India is one of the top powers as far as the field of space is concerned. It also saw a lot of applications flooding ISRO with more of our young engineers wanting to work for it. There is no doubt that ISRO will continue to push the boundaries of outer space.
7.Without any doubt, 2008 should rank has THE best year for Indian Sports. Even as our national sport suffered its humiliating low, India’s unofficial national sport was on continuous ascent on all forms of the game starting with the moral victory in Sydney in the first week of year. But 2008 was not about cricket alone. Abhinav Bindra shot his way to glory by winning us our first Olympic Gold. Our boxers heralded our entry as a nation to reckon with in the boxing arena with our male boxers winning one Olympic bronze and four more in the World Championships and Mary Kom winning her fourth World Championship in a row. Wrestler Sushil Kumar won us our second Beijing bronze. It was not all about brawns. Vishwanathan Anand reasserted his supremacy by winning his World Championship playoff against Kramnik. Pankaj Advani won the World Billiards title defeating another Indian Devendra Joshi. And Saina Nehwal won the World Junior Badminton title and broke into the world top ten players. And Indian football team qualified for the 2011 Asian Games, the first since 1984. The momentum should continue. Indian Boxing will make its presence felt. Our marksmen would be inspired by Bindra’s gold just as Bindra himself was by Rathore’s Silver four years back. Saina will not go the Sania way. Indian cricket team will achieve the targets set by Kumble and reemphasized by Shrikanth. Hockey should slowly recover now that Mr.KPS Gill is finally out of the equation. And Anand and Sachin will continue to get better as good old wine does.
Let us hope and pray for more silver linings than dark clouds in 2009!
HAVE A GREAT 2009!!!!