THERE are individuals who epitomise a year. There are events that symbolise the same. Then there are trends that concretise views on what’s really wrong with governance and governments. In 2019, as can be witnessed from the 12 covers of gfiles, we relentlessly focused on all of them. We talked of things that are relevant to our lives, as well to the working of a free and transparent democracy. We picked up issues that highlighted the state of the elitist power centres—governments and civil services—as also those of the poor, underprivileged, and middle class.
While analysing leaders like India’s Narendra Modi and the US’ Donald Trump, we told the readers about a new style of irreverent, centralised, and discursive style of governance that has emerged across the globe. ‘Howdy Modi’, the former’s latest visit to the latter’s democratic bastion, highlighted how the concept of democracy has transformed, and large sections of global citizens have enthusiastically, though in a half-baked form, accepted it. The narratives have changed in the past few years, and 2019 possibly witnessed their entrenchment in several nations.
Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal, who stormed into one of the most important political citadels, was believed to be the anti-thesis of the above-mentioned governance style. He came across as a radical, someone whose approach was more anarchist and, hence, revolutionary. In the end, he conclusively proved that he was the other side of the same Modi-Trump coin. The appointment of India’s new foreign secretary, S. Jaishankar, indicated that New Delhi was keener to ally with Washington, even as it tried to balance its acts with Moscow, Beijing, Tokyo, London and Riyadh.
No event was more important in 2019 than the national elections. Our two covers, which focused on them, revealed two of the most crucial trends across the globe. The first was, of course, how social media emerged as the nucleus around which winning campaigns are built and executed. First-time voters, youth, and fence-sitters can be both cajoled to vote for a certain political party, or sit at home. More importantly, we said that a party had to influence a tiny minority, a few millions in specific constituencies, rather than a hundred million voters.
Despite this huge change in election campaign strategy, the Parliament remained the same. Most Lok Sabha MPs in 2019 were either politico-businessmen or criminals. Wealth played a huge role in electoral victories. So did the fact that one had a criminal record. As we said in one of the cover stories, “The business of politics, today, is more important than politics. In fact, politics is now taken over by business, either in terms of the entry of unscrupulous and discredited entrepreneurs in politics, or the increasing importance of ill-earned moneybags to win elections.”
The state of the economy and farmers’ distress, including suicides and ability to spend on essentials like food and clothing, continued to anger and frustrate the common man. Even India Inc staggered and swayed, and was beset with fear and despair. Despite grandiose welfare schemes, the farmers stayed poor— when there was glut, they dumped their produce on the roads. When there were shortages and prices shot up, they remained depressed because their crops were routed by rains and floods.
In fact, one of our foremost columnists, MG Devasahayam, wrote about the urgent need to reclaim the Indian republic and re-democratise it. “But seven decades into its working, it is tottering and sinking, because the virtue, public spirit and intelligence of India’s citizens are under assault and the ‘wise among her sons and daughters have been banished from the public councils for their honesty and integrity, and the profligates rewarded because they are venal, communal, and servile’.”
Still, there is real hope for positive change. This is adequately reflected in the works, activities, initiatives, and efforts of the winners of this year’s gfiles Governance Awards. We salute them— they are India’s real future.