India is always a story of shadows and sunshine. Which of the two
prevails at a particular time gives it bad or good name. The passing
year, 2011, is no different except that the shadows have lengthened.
Corruption darkened the atmosphere throughout the year and what it
exposed was that the system was reeking with graft. Non-governance
tormented the nation further.
In 2011, many skeletons tumbled out of the government’s closet, one
after the other. Early in the year, Commonwealth games were a splendid
success but it got sullied by bogus contracts, exaggerated charges and
poor workmanship. When Chief Organisor Suresh Kalmadi and his aides
were arrested, the nation felt humiliated. Even though India won the
world cup in cricket, the stigma of Commonwealth games scandal did not
Still worse was another skeleton that tumbled out of government’s
closet was the 2G spectrum relating to mobiles. A sum of Rs. 40,000
crores had been denied to the state exchequer, the mother of all
scandals. Telecommuniation Minister A.Raja was arrested. Another
minister M. Maran, also from Tamilnadu, representing the ruling
Congress ally, the DMK, resigned from government. It was a triumph of
media and public pressure.
However, one positive development was the emergence of the Gandhian
Anna Hazare who demanded the establishment of Ombudsman (Lokpal)
machinery to deal with corruption. Hazare was in real the face of
civil society’s resentment against government. Thousands came on the
streets to demand the Lokpal. So heavy was the public pressure and
Hazare’s threat to go on fast that parliament had to extend its winter
session for the relevant bill.
A new kind of India began taking shape. People felt that their voice
counted if they would only raise it. It was a heartening to see all
political parties except the ruling Congress, collecting on the same
platform. Unfortunately, the government was busy in locking the
stables after the bullocks had run away and did little to regain the
credibility. Non-governance told upon the economy. Prices began to
rise, the inflation touching a double figure.
Still worse was the fall in the industrial production, only 5.4 per
cent growth against last year’s 10.6 per cent. Investors, both foreign
and Indian, held back their hand and the rupees against US dollars
fell by 18 per cent. Optimism of the past, particularly the people’s
self-confidence, sagged and they were stung with the fear of further
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the messiah of economic reforms,
brought before parliament the proposal of Foreign Direct Investment
(FDI) in retail to attract reportedly 100 million dollars and the
Pensions bill to utilize the accumulated money for development. The
fear of big joints like the Wall mart crowding out small shopkeepers
and snapping direct ties between farmers and local mandis made all
political parties including the allies of the Congress to close their
ranks. It was yet another blow to the Prime Minister whose graph of
popularity came down by a few notches more.
People’s confidence in him is shaken because they do not see him
raising the growth rate to 9 per cent as he had done earlier. Now it
is hovering around 7 per cent, the minimum to avoid the lay offs and
dire unemployment. The ruling Congress has retrieved a bit of
reputation because BJP has supported it on the Pension bill but
putting a limit of 26 per cent on FDI.
The last days of the year has seen measures to give security of food
to the poor, nearly 65 per cent of the population. Congress President
Sonia Gandhi, who does the back seat driving has pushed the unwilling
prime minister to own the measure. However, the project will put a
burden of Rs. 95,000 crore on the over-stretched exchequer. But it may
win the Congress votes in the forthcoming elections in five states,
including UP, Punjab and Uttrakhand.
The prime minister’s belated firmness is visible from the announcement
that Kundan Kalam 1000 MW nuclear power plant will open in Tamilnadu
despite its Chief Minister Jaya Lalitha’s opposition. The same
determination is reflected in his announcement that FDI in retail
would be introduced in March. The pro-reform lobby has not yet given
up the hope and some billionaires in America are closely watching
whether he would open the nuclear plant and whether he brings round
his political opponents to accept FDI in retail.
The sunny side of Manmohan Singh’s government is that it has improved
its relations with the neighbouring countries. It has signed pact with
Afghanistan to have a ‘strategic’ relationship. Bangladesh is happy
over his visit to Dhaka, even though it is yet to get its share from
the Teesta River. Islamabad looks forward to having free trade with
India now that it has been extended Most Favoured Nation. People to
people contact between the two countries has improved and both are
discussing steps on easing visa facilities. The Prime Minister has
visited Russia and has also met Presidents of China and America to
underline the importance of equation with India. New Delhi expects to
become the Security council’s permanent members next year because
China, the only country to be bar the entry, has given favourable
The biggest plus point of India- and it holds good for the next year
and the year after—is that the country is settling down to its
democratic and secular ethos. Hindu and Muslims have learnt that they
have to coexist. True, the minorities are increasingly assertive
because their slice from the cake continues to be small. But their
fight is democratic and within the precincts of the constitution.
Their disappointment is in the slow process to bring Gujarat Chief
Minister Narender Modi, guilty of pogrom, to book.
The joint command of security forces eliminated Kishenji, a key leader
of moist who are demoralized because of his absence but not deterred
since poverty and under development in most areas still help them to
thrive. New Delhi considers moists’ repulsion as the biggest
achievement in the year.
However, the stalling of parliament over minor problem has evoked
cynicism over the system. People accept that parliament is the apex
body. But the proposal to have the presidential system of government
is being seriously discussed in influential quarters.
True, India will maintain 7 per cent growth in the next year. But at
least 9 per cent is required to eliminate poverty. It will be a
challenging year again. Probably what India’s first Prime Minister
Jawaharlal Nehru said that the next generations were sentenced to hard
work is true. Yet the confidence which the persons have developed in
themselves and in the country, sustains hope that 2012 will see the
sun light increasing and the shadows receding. Optimism is a moral
duty of every Indian. EOM