India Today - - UPFRONT - By Raj Chen­gappa

Ana­tion, like Na­ture, ab­hors a vac­uum. When it has a bil­lion-plus peo­ple, as In­dia does, any vac­uum caused—by lead­ers or louts, power or pelf, vic­tors or vil­lains, courage or cow­ardice, glory or gore, tri­umph or tra­vail—is rapidly filled up. That’s also be­cause In­dia is never static—it is in con­stant mo­tion. Be­neath its vast­ness and de­cep­tive calm lies a rest­less sea of hu­man­ity. The churn­ing can at times be ex­traor­di­nar­ily sup­port­ive, caus­ing a ris­ing tide of pros­per­ity and cheer, or on oc­ca­sion be ter­ri­fy­ingly bru­tal, send­ing a ti­dal wave of de­struc­tion and mis­ery.

An­cient In­dia looked upon all this as part of a cos­mic dance of the uni­verse in which gi­ant gal­ax­ies get born or ex­tin­guish them­selves with metro­nomic reg­u­lar­ity. Hindu cos­mol­ogy de­picted it as Nataraja (the Lord of Dance), where Shiva per­forms the Ananda Tan­dava (the dance of bliss) in which, over aeons, the uni­verse is cre­ated, pre­served and then de­stroyed—only to be born anew.

The hu­man species tried to en­cap­su­late Time based on our lim­ited life span. We first used the wax­ing and wan­ing of the moon as our ce­les­tial clock and then the chang­ing sea­sons (never our age­ing bod­ies) to de­fine a year. Later, astronomer­s cal­cu­lated it on the ba­sis of the time taken by the or­bit­ing earth to com­plete a full cir­cle around the sun.

Now, the year is used as a vir­tual marker of both an in­di­vid­ual and a nation’s tran­si­tion. And for a news­magazine like in­dia today to de­ter­mine those in­di­vid­u­als who stood out, dom­i­nated our con­scious­ness and thereby the news, and de­fined the year by their achieve­ments or foibles. In 2017, there was no vac­uum of newsmakers, whether those who in­spired or those who failed us. It was a year of new be­gin­nings as well as old end­ings.

Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, who was our News­maker for 2016, con­tin­ued to be­stride the po­lit­i­cal world and tower over his com­pa­tri­ots. Even as the af­ter­shocks of de­mon­eti­sa­tion were felt across the econ­omy, Modi rammed through the sin­gle big­gest tax re­form since In­de­pen­dence, the Goods and Ser­vices Tax. And for rac­ing it through both Houses of Par­lia­ment and mak­ing it a law, he re­lied on his man for all sea­sons and rea­sons: Arun Jait­ley, the Union min­is­ter for fi­nance. Jait­ley brought both his le­gal acu­men and per­sua­sive skills to bear in ham­mer­ing out dif­fer­ences with state satraps, es­pe­cially those from the Op­po­si­tion par­ties. He per­suaded them to come aboard for the greater good of the coun­try,

list­ing the gains and as­suag­ing their fears over the loss of con­trol over much of their rev­enue.

For a while, though, GST was nei­ther Good nor Sim­ple as the prime min­is­ter promised it would be. Busi­nesses, par­tic­u­larly the small and medium en­ter­prises, were weighed down by tonnes of pa­per­work and baulked at the mul­ti­ple slabs that for some items bor­dered on the ridicu­lous. Mean­while, the dou­ble whammy of de­mon­eti­sa­tion and GST be­gan to hurt the growth of the econ­omy and the GDP fell for a fifth con­sec­u­tive quar­ter be­fore re­cov­er­ing some ground to­wards the end of the year. To add to the gov­ern­ment’s wor­ries, the job cri­sis deep­ened and in­fla­tion be­gan to rear its ugly head. At the end of the year, the jury was still out on these two Big Bang mea­sures and whether it was worth im­ple­ment­ing them in such haste.

The peo­ple of In­dia, though, es­pe­cially those states where the as­sem­bly polls were held, ap­peared to en­dorse the pro­grammes of the prime min­is­ter and his party, the BJP. In March, Modi and his al­ter ego, BJP chief Amit Shah, pow­ered the party to an as­tound­ing win in Ut­tar Pradesh, giv­ing it a two-thirds ma­jor­ity in the coun­try’s most pop­u­lous state. Typ­i­cal of their un­con­ven­tional ap­proach to lead­er­ship, the power duo picked a yogi known more for his head­strong saf­fron views than the ad­min­is­tra­tive skills ex­pected of a chief min­is­ter. Bar­ring a few idio­syn­cra­sies, in­clud­ing paint­ing gov­ern­ment build­ings saf­fron, Yogi has pur­sued a worldly path to gov­ern his state, ex­hibit­ing a pen­chant for hard work and har­mony.

Mean­while, the Modi-Shah jug­ger­naut seemed un­stop­pable, win­ning elec­tions or in­stalling BJP gov­ern­ments by other means in six of the other states that went to polls dur­ing the year. They in­cluded Gu­jarat where the prime min­is­ter even stooped to con­quer his home state. But the face-sav­ing vic­tory also gave face to Rahul Gandhi who by the end of the year fi­nally took over as pres­i­dent of the Congress party from his mother So­nia Gandhi in what smacked of a dy­nas­tic suc­ces­sion. Rahul sur­prised the prime min­is­ter with his new-found com­bat­ive­ness and con­nect with the elec­torate. And nearly pulled off a coup in Gu­jarat by al­ly­ing with dis­con­tented groups, in­clud­ing Pati­dar leader Hardik Pa­tel. Rahul may have lost the bat­tle, but he lifted the Congress out of obliv­ion and made it once again the prime challenger to the BJP’s dom­i­nance.

In­ter­na­tion­ally, another al­pha na­tion­al­ist leader like Modi as­serted his pre-em­i­nence—the Chi­nese pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping. In­ter­nally, Xi cracked down on high-level cor­rup­tion, and ex­ter­nally he fol­lowed a mus­cu­lar and ex­pan­sion­ist for­eign pol­icy (re­mem­ber Dok­lam) de­signed to shift the world’s cen­tre of grav­ity away from the US to China. By the year-end, Xi had put him­self in the same league as that of his coun­try’s leg­endary lead­ers Mao Ze­dong and Deng Xiaop­ing. Pak­istan, In­dia’s other ma­jor neigh­bour, con­tin­ued to regress and go down the path of self-de­struc­tion. Nawaz Sharif was forced to step down as prime min­is­ter af­ter the Supreme Court dis­qual­i­fied him for with­hold­ing in­for­ma­tion on his as­sets that were brought to light by the Panama Pa­pers. Sharif, though, re­tained con­trol of the gov­ern­ment by ap­point­ing a proxy, thumb­ing his nose at the Es­tab­lish­ment (read the Army).

What de­fined In­dia, how­ever, was not the sor­did shenani­gans of the self-pro­claimed god­man Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who turned out to be more of a mes­sen­ger of evil. Or the messy board­room bat­tles of cor­po­rate In­dia, in­clud­ing one waged by the iconic for­mer chief of Infosys, N.R. Narayana Murthy, to oust his suc­ces­sor. Not even the In­dian film in­dus­try, with its phan­tas­magor­i­cal se­quel to the block­buster Baahubali or the for­est fire of protests that spread for the yet to be re­leased Pad­ma­vati.

It was in­stead the other re­li­gion of the coun­try: cricket. Par­tic­u­larly the team’s in­spir­ing cap­tain Vi­rat Kohli who through­out the year kept In­di­ans in thrall, his feats over­shad­ow­ing even our star bad­minton play­ers, P.V. Sindhu and Ki­dambi Srikanth who had taken the bad­minton world by storm. It was not just Vi­rat’s prodi­gious bat­ting prow­ess (2,818 in­ter­na­tional runs in a cal­en­dar year, in­clud­ing six Test cen­turies, two of them back-to-back dou­ble cen­turies, apart from six cen­turies in the one­day for­mat) or his feats as cap­tain (nine back-to-back se­ries wins as cap­tain) or even his sparkling off-the-field life in­clud­ing his much cel­e­brated mar­riage with ac­tor Anushka Sharma re­cently. More than any­thing else, Vi­rat trans­formed the In­dian cricket team, mak­ing it an ul­tra-fit, fight­ing ma­chine in his own mould. He wowed us with the in­ten­sity with which he plays the game, mes­merised us with his stroke play and he made us proud of his be­lief that noth­ing short of a win mat­ters.

In 2017, Vi­rat emerged as the Sam­rat of mod­ern-day cricket and the new God to In­dia’s scream­ing mil­lions. For that rea­son, he is in­dia today’s News­maker of the Year. Do rise and ap­plaud him.

2017 was a year of new be­gin­nings and old end­ings. It had no dearth of newsmakers— those who in­spired and those who failed us.

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