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Annus Horribilis: 2019

Annus Horribilis: 2019

As the curtain rings down on yet another year, for we the people of India, the year 2019 has been on all fronts truly an ‘annus horribilis’, if not the most horrible year since we gained freedom in 1947. 

In a no-holds barred and exclusive  interview on December 25, 2019 with the  CEO of NDTV Prannoy Roy, the former Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India, Arvind Subramanian, speaking on the ‘State of the Indian economy’ said that “ the Government’s figures of GDP growth  of 4.5 percent is a rosier picture than the underlying reality.” He went on to add, “the economic downturn the Indian economy is facing is not an ordinary slowdown, but something that hasn’t been seen in the last 20-30 years.” Coming from an economist, who was hand-picked as the economic advisor of the country in October 2014, by the current regime – his words have to be taken seriously.

The Indian economy is in the doldrums. The past year has never been so bad economically for the common man of the country. Recession and inflation are at an all-time high. The purchasing power of the poor has reached abysmal depths. The cost of the innocuous onion, which together with a chilli and a roti is an essential part of the daily diet of the poorest of the poor, has sky-rocketed in some places to more than Rs 150 a kilo.

Farmers continue committing suicide because they do not even get a pittance for their toil and tears. Millions of youth are unemployed all over the country. Crony capitalism is on the rise. A few rich of the country have milked the country for their profiteering. The gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ has reached a scandalous proportion. 

The demonetization drive which totally unjustified and a corrupt act a couple of years earlier continued to have a negative impact all through 2019. Air India continued with its loss-making spree. Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) a state-owned enterprise dealing in telecom services is in deep financial crisis. From an operation profit of Rs 10,000 crore in 2015 it has come to a debt of Rs 13,000 crore in 2019; to pay the salaries of the employees, it has requested the government to lend Rs 2500 crores only to keep it afloat for a few months. Its demise is imminent, leaving 176,000 employees jobless within the next few months. The stage is all set for its privatization, and of course, it will be taken over by one of the capitalist honchos of the current regime. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), with over 30,000 employees, is cashless and about to go bankrupt. 

The list of premier industries that have gone bust or in deep debt in the recent past is unbelievable. These include among others Videocon Industries, Tata DoCoMo, Café Coffee Day and Parle. The profit-making auto industry is in shambles. Maruti Motors says that it will halt all production because it has Rs 55,000 crores worth of unsold cars at its dealers’ premises. 465,000 people have lost their jobs in the auto industry alone. The percentage downfall in sales in the past quarter alone is 31%. An unheard of figure in any auto industry around the world. 

Then the GST was raised from 18% to 28% and it killed the auto industry within months. Such a huge increase in GST by Modi government was needed because India cannot survive economically in the next few years without such huge taxes. The same 28% GST also killed the construction industry because of rise in material costs; together with it almost 176 ancillary industries -- mostly steel, cement and transportation -- were also killed. With the economy in an unprecedented mess, towards the end of August 2019, the Government in a totally unacceptable move decided to take 1.76 lakh crores from the reserves of the Reserve Bank of India; it was a decision which was not merely catastrophic but hurled the country towards bankruptcy and an economic emergency. 

So, 2019 was clearly a watershed in the economic annals of the country which has showed that the Government was incompetent, corrupt and unable to deliver on its promises to the people of India. ‘Good Governance’ gave way to the shrill cries of ‘Jai Shri Ram’; in a series of meticulously planned moves and in a style which characterized Hitler and his Nazi regime – what was given to the people of India as fodder to ruminate upon was a communal agenda with policies and decisions which were divisive, discriminatory and draconian; an effective diversionary tactic from the economic ills which were the lot of the ordinary citizen

August 5, 2019 will rank as one of the blackest days in the country’s history – if not, the blackest! In a blatantly unconstitutional and anti-people act, the BJP-led NDA Government abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution regarding Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The way by which it was done, was not merely insidious and autocratic, but an onslaught against democracy. It was sneaky and secretive, without prior consultation with major stakeholders and particularly, without taking the people of Kashmir into confidence. The draconian deed is a clear betrayal of the values embedded in the hearts and minds of most Indians.

For almost a week before 5 August, the Government was on an over- kill: with surreptitious yet strategic acts ensuring a build-up, which kept the nation wondering; the people of Kashmir were kept on tenterhooks and in utter darkness. There was a massive upscaling in deployment of military forces, random frisking of people, the imposition of indefinite curfew, the arrests of former Chief Ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah and other key Kashmiri leaders; a total black-out in communications, the suspension of civil activity, the sudden evacuation of all tourists and particularly pilgrims to Amarnath in an attempt to terrorise citizens and bulldoze the aspirations of the people of the state. The abrogation of Article 370 has always been part of the DNA of the ‘Sangh Parivar’. The BJP election manifesto clearly highlights it – and to their cheering ‘bhakts’ they have made good their promise. 

One hundred and fifty days later, Kashmir is on a lockdown. Kashmiris are denied basic rights and freedom. The new ‘Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act -- UAPA 2019 (Amendment Act)’ clearly infringes on the fundamental rights of citizens. Harassments, intimidation and threats to human rights defenders, media personnel, intellectuals and other activists, who have the courage to take a stand for truth and justice, continue with frightening regularity. Freedom of speech and expression, the right to dissent is almost a thing of the past in an extremely autocratic atmosphere .

The ignominy heaped on women and children of our country continues unabated. Millions of our children are deprived of their childhood. From farmers to sewage workers; from those who receive unjust wages to the unemployed – the vicious circle of poverty and injustice is hardly addressed. In fact, there is apparently a concerted effort to keep millions of people in a dehumanised condition.

Corruption has been completely institutionalised during the year. The issuance of ‘Electoral bonds’, despite being overruled by the RBI, provided great dividends to the ruling regime in the General Elections 2019. They received huge ‘anonymous’ donations whilst donors to opposition parties were targeted. During the year, law-makers were bought to cross from one party to another: in Karnataka, Goa, Sikkim and elsewhere. The CBI and the Enforcement Directorate did not investigate into corrupt acts and major scams like the Rafael deal, those who have made windfall profits from demonetisation and those who toe the line of the current ruling dispensation. 

Most of the country were hoping for a change in rulers in the General Elections; their hopes were belied. The BJP and their allies together with ‘paid media’ and corrupt corporates were able to use their money, muscle and manipulative strategies effectively. There is no doubt that EVMs in several places were tampered with and greatly aided them to come to power for a second successive term.

The Judiciary, which is meant to be totally independent, impartial, objective and just, hardly did itself proud during the year. The judgement on Ayodhya, the way it responded to the Raffaele scam, its lethargy to take a stand on Constitutional matters like the abrogation of article 370 in Kashmir and the Citizens Amendment Act have left a good section of the population worried about the future of the country.  Constitutional bodies meant to be totally impartial and objective have been made impotent; by the way they conduct themselves, they send a strong message to the country: that they have become ‘caged parrots’ -- they are just tools of a vindictive Government. 

Minorities are on the backfoot as never before! Lynchings continue as the ‘new normal’. Muslims, Christians and other minorities continue to be at the receiving end of hate and violence. Every effort is being made to ensure   majoritarianism and ultimately to impose the ‘hindutva’ agenda on the nation. So, the Prime Minister speaks about family planning, bringing in a national anti-conversion law, makes Parliament to abolish the ‘triple talaq’, and wants to curb foreign funds to certain NGOs.

The building of the ‘Ram Temple’ now has a new impetus! There is growing talk of a ‘Uniform Civil Code’. On September 16, the Government announced a tightening of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) norms: henceforward, each functionary and member of a nongovernmental organization (NGO) seeking registration under FCRA will have to file an affidavit declaring that “the individual has not been involved in any act of religious conversion or prosecuted for communal disharmony”. A most ridiculous condition but patently against the minorities! 

Women and children have had a bad year too! They continue to be victims of human trafficking; children are deprived of their basic rights; women are raped /molested and even murdered by a nation which has become more of a male chauvinist. 

Significantly, on September 12, a report submitted by a UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance linked the BJP with incidents of violence against members of Dalit, Muslim, tribal and Christian communities. The report prepared by Tendayi Achiume, an independent human rights expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in response to a 2017 UN General Assembly resolution that asked a special rapporteur to profile countries on counts of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Among other details, Achiume says that “the victory of the "Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has been linked to incidents of violence against members of Dalit, Muslim, tribal and Christian communities". The report has documented the "use of inflammatory remarks by BJP leaders against minority groups" and the " rise of vigilantism targeting Muslims, Christians and Dalits". 

On December 12, The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) was promulgated, after the President of India gave his assent to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 (CAB). The Bill was earlier passed by both the lower and upper Houses of Parliament. The CAA is blatantly discriminatory, divisive and draconian: besides, it is patently unconstitutional and it goes against the grain and spirit of India’s democratic framework. Fortunately at this moment there is a wave of protests all over the country demanding that the Government revoke/stall the CAA, the National Register of Citizenship (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR); besides the Government has to close down its detention centres which is a cruel reminder of the concentration camps of Hitler.

There have been some silver linings too: the BJP and its allies have been systematically losing State elections during the year – including Jharkhand and Maharashtra recently. Millions have come out against the CAA, NRC and NPR – which is certainly a cause of concern for the ruling regime, despite their brutality and vindictiveness. The year 2019 has truly been an ‘annus horribilis’ for the people of India We need to do better in 2020 – we must ensure that justice and truth triumph and that the basic values enshrined in our Constitution will no longer be tampered with. 

(The writer is a human rights and peace activist/writer. Contact: cedricprakash@gmail.com )

(Published on 06th January 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 01)