2010: Looking Back

Written by  //  December 29, 2010  //  National Politics  //  2 Comments

Politics in India in 2010 has been a microcosm of the transition in which India, as a country finds itself today. In many respects it has been forward-looking— principled support by major opposition parties to several bills, including the much-delayed bill to provide 33% reservation for women in Parliament, elections won on a developmental agenda rather than narrow, sectarian or parochial interests, a dynamic minister for environment giving the environment its rightful place in the high table of political issues, and a genuine effort by the MEA to engage with the world, friends and foes alike. At the same time, India’s historical baggage of scams, scandals, corruption, Kashmir, internal security failures have also had much more than a fair share of the limelight. As a result, looking back at 2010, Indian politics continues to defy neat theorisation, an oddball mix of heroes and villains, meaningful debate and petty divisiveness, uninformed demagoguery and rational argument, sets of opposing and mutually hostile forces, the continuing interactions between which seem likely to shape India’s destiny in the coming decade.

Putting the Past Behind

Nitish Kumar’s resounding victory in the Bihar elections was the surest sign yet of the emergence of the new-age India. Casting caste and the clichéd logic of anti-incumbency aside, the NDA government in Bihar was rewarded with a fresh five-year term in a landslide mandate. Development became the new site for contestation as the petty vote-bank politics of the Lalu-Paswan mould and futile contestations on the nature of Indian secularism suffered its strongest rebuke. Only time will tell whether this election and the issues on which it was won or lost is a one-off but given the hype over the ‘Nitish model’ and the alacrity shown by other state governments in attempting to replicate it, the politics of development deciding electoral results seems to be an idea whose time has come.

Further testimony to the centrality of development to the Indian polity can be found in the concomitant decline of secularism as a vote-catcher. The Ayodhya judgment delivered by the three-judge Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court, undoubtedly the landmark judicial  development of the year as mentioned by Anirudh in his post, cautiously held out an olive branch for rapprochement between the Hindu and Muslim communities. Though parts of its order may be legally questionable, on the whole, it wedged a prudent middle path which ensured that a relative quietus descended over an issue which defined Indian elections and politics for the last two decades. The fact that, apart from a failed attempt by Mulayam to stir up minority sentiment, no political mileage was sought to be extracted from the judgment by parties on left and right alike is a tentatively welcome sign of the slow death of a petty politics based on religion and a collective desire of Indians to put the past behind.

A refreshing sign of the new breed of politics and politicians came with the heated parliamentary debate on the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill. For the first time in recent memory, a legislation with its constituent provisos and sub-clauses was scrutinised threadbare both in Parliament as well as in the national media. Politicians, irrespective of ideological affiliations displayed a genuine desire to secure India’s national interest and to ensure that this was translated into the letter of the law. Such precision in drafting, stirring parliamentary debate on an issue of little electoral value, and well-researched commentary in the national media, has seldom been seen in the recent past and one can only hope that this is a lodestar for the future of the legislative process and politics in India.

But not entirely

Lest the above convey a sense of optimism of India turning over a new leaf in its entirety, the country came crashing down to terra firma courtesy eye-catching scams, corruption in the hitherto above board institutions of the higher judiciary and the army and widespread violence in Kashmir and the Naxal-dominated regions.

Financial scams of astronomical proportions were the cause celebre of the year. While the wooden spoon (or the ‘golden spoon’ shall we say?) which made India hang its head in shame was the spectrum scandal where a purported Rs. 1.76 lakh crore was siphoned off, the Commonwealth Games loot was hardly far behind. At the same time, corruption in the judiciary acquired a new dimension with the Supreme Court passing strictures against the ‘rotten’ Allahabad High Court; a statutory panel recommending impeachment of tainted judge Soumitro Sen of the Calcutta High Court and the Chief Justice of India ordering an enquiry against Nirmal Yadav, formerly of the Punjab and Haryana High Court for financial impropriety. More shocking was the needle of suspicion pointing to the Supreme Court itself and the office of the former Chief Justice of India, KG Balakrishnan. Balakrishnan, currently the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, allegedly took no action on a complaint by Justice Regupathi of the Madras High Court which categorically stated (as verified by Justice HL Gokhale, then Chief Justice of Madras High Court and current Supreme Court judge) that Union Minister A Raja had attempted to influence him in a criminal matter. At the same time assets of members of his family in Kerala and their astronomical rise in the past few years, has also been publicly questioned.

Much like the judiciary, the army, popularly perceived as a bastion of efficiency in an otherwise crumbling state machinery, has arguably had its worst year non-militarily in 2010. For the first time, two Lieutenant Generals faced court martials in the Sukna land scam in West Bengal in February (the second, Lt. Gen. Avadesh Prakash, a close aide of the former General Deepak Kapoor only after intervention by the Defence Minister, overruling Kapoor’s recommendation of mere administrative proceedings). Matters worsened with the Adarsh land scandal, with members of the army top brass accused of siphoning off flats at throwaway prices in a posh locality in South Mumbai; flats originally intended for Kargil war widows. The shocking nature of this revelation, and the brazenness with which the armed forces purportedly and unhesitatingly siphoned off entitlements of families of their erstwhile colleagues has left an indelible black mark on a hitherto respected and much-admired institution.

And so things go on

It is perhaps a testament, and not an entirely salutary one, to India’s foundations as a nation that the more things change, the more they remain the same. While rising growth, increasing employment and burgeoning markets have made India a powerful and dynamic nation which has had the P-5 queuing up to visit it in this calendar year, and caused a fundamental change in the way in which elections are won and lost, old problems of self-determination in Kashmir, Naxal violence in the heartland, rampant corruption and abject poverty in several regions across the country continue as before. So as 2010 ends, we look forward to 2011 both with a sense of caution and hope: caution so that we don’t get hoodwinked into believing that all is well in India and we are a superpower whose time on the world stage has come, but more so with hope that, that time is not very far away.

A very Happy New Year to all our readers.

2 Comments on "2010: Looking Back"

  1. Dinesh Kumar. P January 6, 2011 at 6:26 pm ·

    I lik d photo..!! Very good representation..!!

  2. simin February 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm ·

    Where is it taken?

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