The end of the year is a moment to reflect on the year gone by, but also the year that lies ahead. For India, 2019 was marked by a paradox. It saw the return of the strongest and most stable Government the country has seen in over three decades. Yet, it also saw the the emergence of new challenges, which pose a threat to India’s stability. How this strong government navigates the emerging issues will shape the India of 2020 and beyond.
First, the year saw citizens of India repose their faith in Narendra Modi’s leadership yet again. The fact that after five years in power, Mr Modi led the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to an even bigger majority shows that it was indeed, as the PM calls it, a “pro-incumbency vote”. The mix of welfare delivery, nationalism, a strong organisational apparatus, a weak Opposition and overwhelming faith of citizens in his leadership helped Mr Modi. It indicated that the older rules of Indian politics did not hold, and the single-party majority of 2014 was not an aberration. But at the root of it was the desire of voters to have a strong government — a government that was not constrained by demanding allies, and which had the legislative strength and executive power to help Indians meet their dreams and aspirations.
The government used precisely this legitimate strength to push through contentious measures — particularly the nullification of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, and the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act — in a bid to tackle legacy issues. But that has produced a new set of challenges. Close to five months after the changes in Kashmir, normalcy is yet to return to the Valley, political leaders remain under detention, communication and connectivity remains constrained, and there is palpable resentment. The CAA provoked widespread protests, in the Northeast, across universities, and by Muslims — with fears expressed about the secular character of the Constitution. Both the moves also added to India’s diplomatic challenge. In addition, the economy has seen a slowdown, with a dip in investment and consumption. To be sure, the government has initiated a range of measures to address the slowdown, but their impact have still not been felt on the ground. It is how the government uses its popularity and mandate to address economic anxieties, maintain social harmony and keep peace and restore democracy in Kashmir which will be key in 2020.
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