2016 was unlike any other year in the history of India. While the demonetization drive, that has got Indians queuing up outside banks and ATMs in unprecedented numbers, is the definite highlight of the year, the rolling out of 4G service heralded the onset of the age of smartphones in world’s most populous democracy.
Politically, New Delhi faced a domestic challenge in Kashmir where locals took to streets in defiance of India’s authority. On the international stage, battle lines seem to have been drawn as our powerful neighbour China challenges the regional status quo in its rise to supremacy, which affects India too.
Significant progress was made on the front of gender rights in India as well, as women fought their way into temples and shrines that had barred them from entering in the past.
We can’t overstate the importance of 2016. Here’s why India steps in 2017 as a changed country.
The bold decision to scrap overnight 500 and 1000-rupee notes, the two highest denominations that made up 86 per cent of the currency in circulation touched the lives of nearly everyone of 1.25 billion Indians. The massive scale of the exercise and the original 50-day time window set by the Narendra Modi administration for public to
get their old notes exchanged, or deposited, left many economists confounded.
The growth prediction for the Indian economy for the coming quarter has been cut by almost a percentage point, suggesting the massive impact the ongoing economic overhaul will have on the economy. Cash crunch, and decreasing consumer spending leading to slump in earnings for businesses, led many to question the government’s wisdom in undertaking such a move in a hugely cash-reliant Indian economy.
The decision to abolish high value notes has been criticised by the opposition parties for being rolled out in an unplanned manner, even as it enjoyed wide support among people, at least until three weeks into the economic drive. Around 72 per cent of people interviewed expressed support for demonetisation on Nov
18, according to an independent survey. A survey floated by PM Modi’s office found that nearly 93 percent of Indians supported the government’s decision.
The Modi administration has, however, come under increased scrutiny for what many say is ‘moving the goalposts’. Media reports have noted how the ultimate aims of the exercise have changed over time, from originally stamping out black money and curb counterfeiting of notes, to now making India a digital and ‘cashless’ economy.
2. The death of Jayalalithaa
The passing away of actress-turned-politician and former Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa was viewed as end of an era in Indian politics, more so in the politics of Tamil Nadu. The supremo of the socialist All India Anna Dravida Munetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) party, Jayalalithaa led her party to five state election wins. Her
populist and pro-poor policies directly touched the lives of many people from humble backgrounds, earning her the sobriquet ‘Amma’.
Her passing away at the Apollo hospital in Chennai led to scenes of mass wailing by her supporters, symbolic of the sheer influence she enjoyed in Tamil Nadu.
— T S Sudhir (@Iamtssudhir) December 5, 2016
But her legacy is debated. ‘Amma’ was also involved in an alleged corruption scandal during her first term in office from 1991 to 1996, for which she was sentenced to a four-year jail term in 2014. She was also the first Indian chief minister to be disqualified from office, under a law that bars politicians convicted of
wrongdoing from holding elected office.
3. The unrest in Kashmir
Starting July, Kashmir slid into protests as people took to streets to protest the killing of separatist leader Burhan Wani. The tumultuous political phase in Kashmir saw Indian authorities pitted against a sizable population of Kashmir, and brought the protracted Kashmir dispute back to international limelight.
Separatist parties in Kashmir had reportedly been whipping up anti-India sentiment in the wake of state election last year, in which a local outfit, People’s Democratic Party (PDP), formed an alliance with India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP’s stated goal of abolishing Article 370, an Indian Constitution
provision that affords partial autonomy to the state, has put the Hindu nationalist party the line of fire of many seperatists in predominantly Muslim Kashmir valley.
— Syed Ali Geelani (@sageelani) December 17, 2016
People’s anger reached boiling point at the killing of Wani, a separatist commander who pledged allegiance to terror group Hizbul Mujahideen, by Indian security. The irate protesters defied curfew imposed across Kashmir a week after the encounter, taking to streets as they risked gunfire by security forces. While there was a curfew in place to check protester activity for 53 days until August 31, and then on and off right until November, it had little impact on morale of protesters. The Indian security forces eventually resorted to use of pellet guns to intimidate protestors, resulting in serious eye injuries.
According to some accounts, a total of 87 people including 2 security personnel lost their lives during the period. At least 35,000 from the ranks of protesters were injured, with many injuries attributed to security’s use of pellet guns.
4. The emergence of China and the US-India axis
2016 will also be remembered as the year which saw the redrawing of lines in the great Asian power politics. Beijing, which had kept its dislike of India mostly under wraps, emerged from the shadow to take a more assertive anti-India line, even as it inched closer to New Delhi’s arch-rival Pakistan. This stance toward New Delhi has
coincided with increased miltarisation of the South China Sea, where the dragon has built artificial islands and installed on them advanced anti-aircraft and anti- missile systems, much to the unease of its smaller maritime neighbours in East Asia.
China reportedly vetoed India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an elite grouping of countries controlling trade in nuclear technology. Beijing also vetoed an Indian proposal at the UN earlier this year, that would have ended up designating Pakistan-backed Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. India’s retaliation was swift, as it boycotted Chinese imports jeopardising the $70 billion trade relationship.
On the other hand, the US and India warmed up to each other and even signed a defense agreement that would allow both the countries to use each other’s military facilities and logistics in a ‘peaceful’ context. The backers of the US-India alliance see Washington’s growing engagement with New Delhi as a strategy to counter
China’s growing military and economic heft in Asia and beyond.
5. 4G comes to India
Mobile service provider Airtel in April became the first company to roll out 4G service in India. The fourth generation mobile technology allows users much faster internet speeds, as compared to 3G and previous technologies. Other telecom companies soon followed in the footsteps of Airtel as they introduced their customers to this revolutionary mobile technology.
A powerful government push toward digitalisation of economy, a largely unexplored market and a young demographic bodes well for the future of 4G in India, which has more than 220 million smartphone users.
6. India signs Paris deal to curb climate change
The Narendra Modi administration ratified the Paris Climate deal in October, an accord part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that demands of countries to set ‘national targets’ in order to cut global carbon emissions.
India and other developing countries were historically seen as being opposed to a climate agreement, arguing that a cut in carbon emissions would inhibit their economic growth and put them at disadvantage with the developed countries. However, hectic negotiations with other countries and inclusion of some of its concerns in the final wording of the agreement saw India taking up a leadership role in tackling climate change. The ratification of Paris agreement is set to bring along economic benefits as well, including giving New Delhi a strong voice at important renewables technology conferences in coming years.
India is no stranger to the effects of climate change, with some parts of the south Asian country facing rain crunch that’s reportedly affected around 300 million people.
7. Going to the movies is never going to be the same again
A December Supreme Court directive made it mandatory for India’s national anthem to be played in theatres across the country before the movie screening. In the aftermath of the order, there were at least two instances of cinema goers being booked for not standing up during the playing of the national anthem.
In one of the cases in Tamil Nadu, eight persons were assaulted on being found sitting during the playing of the national anthem by activists pledging allegiance to the youth wing of the BJP. After being beaten up, the persons were booked by police.
Also read: This Malayalam writer was arrested for insulting the national anthem. What did he exactly say?
Critics of the decision argue that making it binding on people to stand during the playing of the national anthem was akin to ‘shoving patriotism down their throat’. It is also feared that the directive may inspire vigilantism inside movie theatres by nationalist groups, many of them affiliated with the ruling party.
8. ‘Discrediting’ of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU)
Jawaharalal Nehru University, until last year, was associated with academic excellence and known to produce some of India’s finest graduates. However, tables were turned on JNU’s students for the worse after some of them were found to have held a meeting to commemorate the execution of Kashmiri insurgent Afzal Guru, convicted for facilitating a terrorist attack on Indian Parliament in 2001.
The aftermath of the protest saw police cracking down on JNU student leaders allegedly involved in the controversial protest, where it was alleged that slogans advocating freedom for Kashmir were also raised. A countrywide media campaign to discredit JNU on account of ‘anti-national’ mentality that it fosters in its students
and scholars ended up in the prestigious institution taking a big reputation hit. Eventually, sedition charges were pressed against the main leader of the protest, Kanhaiya Kumar.
(Source: Youtube. The footage couldn’t be verified.)
At a court hearing for Kumar, nationalist lawyer groups reportedly beat up journalists belonging to news organisations who had been critical of the Modi administration.
While Kanhaiya Kumar was released after doing a short jail term, the episode marred public reputation of JNU as an institute of higher learning.
Some people opposing #NationalAnthem in cinemas…!!!!!!!!!!Are they same who supported freedom to raise ‘Anti-national’ slogans in JNU..?
— Manak Gupta (@manakgupta) November 30, 2016
9. Women rights make inroads in religion
India’s religious beliefs have often been viewed as peddling patriarchy, much to the anger of gender equality advocates and feminists.
In the context of women empowerment, 2016 was a milestone year as it heralded an ongoing campaign advocating for women’s entry into India’s male-dominated religious institutions.
The ‘Right to Pray’ movement, led by noted activist Trupti Desai, saw groups of women entering Mumbai’s Haji Ali Dargah after a protracted legal battle over ‘equal access’ to religious places. Desai also led a group of women into the sanctum sanctorum of Shani Shingnapur Temple in Maharashtra, helping break a 400-year old tradition that kept females from going near the main deity.
Desai’s Bhumata Brigade is now involved in a campaign advocating women entry into Kerala’s famous Sabrimala Temple, where women between the ages of 10 and 50 are barred from entering the shrine.
10. Good bye, Arnab Goswami
Television anchor Arnab Goswami quit his position as the editor of Times Now, an English news channel he had headed since its founding in 2006.
Goswami’s rise to fame was characterized by impassioned rants on his TV show News Hour on issues of the day, which endeared him to many Indian viewers. However, his critics accuse him of blurring the line between news and opinion by practising a brand of journalism that gave more precedence to emotions than hard facts.
All reservations against him notwithstanding, Goswami led Times Now to top of the TRP ratings chart.
Goswami said that he would return to journalism as head of a new news channel, Republic, which will go live around April 2017.