WHY VIRAT IS SAMRAT
IN THE CHURNING NEWS CYCLES OF 2017, SOME NEW STARS WERE BORN, OTHERS DIMMED, BUT CAPTAIN INDIA’S BURNED THE BRIGHTEST OF ALL
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.