New Delhi – In February 2021, India and Pakistan announcing a ceasefire along the blazing Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir. This was three months after the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor in Punjab. So one could say that the year 2021 began on a promising note for India, Pakistan relations.
Unfortunately, it ended with more tensions and hostility. Internally, the year brought more communal tensions, with Hindu nationalists targeting minorities and even threatening to engineer genocide against Muslims.
The second deadly Covid-19 wave affected almost every household in India. A lack of oxygen left thousands dead. Now with the third wave staring usin the eyes, the economy continues to be in the doldrums. The ruling party leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi is busy making political calculations to win the election in India’s largest populated and politically significant state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and the border state of Punjab in early 2022.
The ceasefire along the LoC, the joint military exercise under the Shanghai Corporation Organization, and India allowing Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to travel through its air space on his visit to Sri Lanka had brought hope that the two countries may see each other eye to eye to discuss skewed issues. The permission to use air space was seen as a positive gesture. This is because after the abrogation of provisions of Article 370 that guaranteed a limited degree of autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir in 2019, Pakistan had denied permission to Indian Prime Minister Narender Modi to use Pakistan airspace on his visit to the US and Saudi Arabia. India’s President Ram Nath Kovind was also denied permission to fly over Pakistan air space in September 2019 when he was visiting Europe.
But in October 2021, India’s powerful Home Minister Amit Shah dug up old graves and talked about conducting a surgical strike inside Pakistan. Earlier he did this in in 2016, days after an attack on a military base in Uri. India’s claim of a successful strike back then was dismissed by Islamabad as an illusion.
Shah’s statement was meant to do more than just provoke Pakistan. It was meant to rake up nationalist feeling amongst Indian voters and to drive across a point that only Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) dared to take on Pakistan and Muslims. Ahead of provincial elections in 2022, he wanted to convey to voters that this party alone that could safeguard the Hindu interest.
Pakistan, A Whipping Boy
Of late, Pakistan has become an ideal whipping boy for the entire BJP leadership, from the prime minister to its ordinary workers, to create a poll frenzy and polarise voters to their advantage.
“The BJP has nothing to show. Their claims of Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas (everyone’s support and everyone’s development) has fallen flat on its face. So, the most sellable strategy is polarised. This makes people forget about basic life issues like employment and inflation,” says veteran political journalist Arvind Kumar, who hails from Uttar Pradesh.
He said for years BJP has banked on mandir politics and polarisation to win elections. While earlier they would also garner votes by raising corruption, scams and inefficiency of Congress-led governments to lure voters, now they do not have any economic agenda left.
“They have realised that Lord Rama and Lord Shiva are not enough to win elections, so after Ayodhya and Kashi Vishwanath, the mandir and masjid politics has begun in Mathura,” he added.
Mathura is associated with Lord Krishna. It has a mosque in the vicinity of the temple, and right-wing Hindu groups including senior BJP leaders have been calling to raze the mosque and meagre the place into the temple premise.
If only half the money used for building and renovating temples had been put to build health infrastructure, the Covid-19 crises that India faced between April and June could have been avoided. During the second Covid-19 wave, when the government was busy contesting assembly elections, ignoring all Covid-19 protocols, lakhs of Indians died for a lack of hospital beds and medication, exposing the shambling health infrastructure of the country.
Dignified last rites were denied to the dead, as bodies queued outside the crematoriums and graveyards for days. Corpses were left abandoned on the river bank. India’s holiest river Ganga was full of floating dead bodies. The horrifying images sent shivers down the spine.
Since the pandemic in 2020, democracy in India has been choking for breath. Under the garb of a pandemic, parliament sessions have been squeezed, and journalists have been denied access to the Parliament House. Laws are made and repealed without discussion and debate.
Farm Protests Made Modi Nervous
Three farm laws were passed in 2020 without any debate. Farm Law Repeal Bill 2021 was also passed in less than 10 minutes in both houses. They were repealed in the same manner and speed that they were introduced in. The Opposition parties’ demand for a debate over the bill was rejected inside both houses.
According to the PSR Legislative Research, 76 per cent of the Indian budget was passed without discussion. On average the two houses of the Parliament do not spend more than 40 minutes while discussing a bill.
Parliamentarians demanding discussion on bills face suspension from the House. Even during the recently commenced Winter Session, 12 opposition members were suspended from the Upper House for the entire session, because they demanded a discussion on the attack on farmers at Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri. The accused in the case is the son of a union minister and the opposition party demanded his suspension.
The one good thing that the year 2021 taught us all was the art of conducting a street protest. The farmers of India who protested outside the gates of Delhi for more than a year made the government relent, and also taught the world how to keep a protest apolitical and stand firm.
Repealing the three contentious farm laws and relenting to the demands of the protesting farmer was a first-of-its-kind incident for this government. They have never backed away from their position under public pressure. As agri-economist Devinder Sharma sums up: “A farmer teaches us to be like a seed. You sow it, water it and take care of it till the time it germinates and bears the desired fruit.”