Like 1991, 2017 will go down as an important year in the history of India.
If 1991 saw the PV Narasimha Rao government liberalize the Indian economy, 2017 will always be remembered for the launch of the Goods and Service Tax (GST) that languished in parliament for over a decade. As we draw close to the end of the year and look to welcome the New Year, let us look back at some of the important events that took place during the year in India.
1) Launch of GST – The Goods and Service Tax (GST), after languishing in Parliament for over a decade, finally came into effect on July 1, 2017. This has completely changed our Indirect Taxation, with taxes like VAT, CST, Service Tax, Octroi, Entertainment Tax, Luxury Tax, Central Excise and a bunch of others being subsumed into the GST. India is a vast country with 31 states, with one of the key aspects in the country being cooperative federalism. Hence, although GST is not as simple as one would like it to be with CGST, SGST and IGST taxes and multiple rates being applied depending on the place of supply, it is still the most significant taxation reform to have taken place in independent India. One may criticize Finance Minister Arun Jaitley for some of his policies, but this is one area where he has done an excellent job by coordinating with the various states and chairing the GST council to decide on the various laws and rates. With a reform of such a large magnitude, teething issues are bound to be there, but the government has been proactive and several changes have been made with respect to the tax rates. Unless petroleum is brought in the ambit of GST, the implementation is still not a cent percent complete and one hopes that petroleum will also be in the ambit of GST soon. The GST did have its aftereffects with the GDP growth in the subsequent quarter dipping to 5.7% and then witnessing a rebound.
2) BJP winning key states – In India, elections take place every year with some or the other state always going to polls. 2017 was no different and we had Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh going to polls. Among these states, Uttar Pradesh was especially important as it is the largest state in India with over four hundred assembly seats. Eventually, it turned out to be a no-contest in UP with the BJP bagging 325 seats and the secular parties BSP and the Congress-SP combine biting the dust. It was a similar story in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh and we witnessed a BJP master class in both the states. Goa and Manipur saw fractured mandates with the BJP eventually forming governments with post election allies. Gujarat, with 22 years of anti incumbency and young caste based leaders Hardik Patel (Patidar), Jignesh Mewani (Dalit) and Alpesh Thakor (OBC) joining the Congress, witnessed a tough battle with the BJP narrowly emerging victorious for the fifth time in a row. Punjab was the only state that the Congress wrested from the SAD-BJP combine, all thanks to their local leader Captain Amrinder Singh. Apart from the state elections, the BJP did extremely well in almost all the local body elections that took place, thereby making inroads in parts of West Bengal.
3) Elevation of Rahul Gandhi as Congress President – Despite the Congress losing state after state after being reduced to a 44 MP party in 2014 under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi, he was elevated as the President of the grand old party. Sonia Gandhi, who was the longest serving Congress President, finally made way for her son and thereafter decided to holiday in Goa. The Congress sycophants jumped with rapture on seeing their crown prince take charge and former PM Dr Manmohan Singh termed him ‘darling of Congress party’. While it was always a done deal for Rahul Gandhi owing to his lineage, it has been proven yet again that the Congress is a family party and democracy is the last thing alive in this party. Shahzad Poonawala was the one Congressman who openly showed his displeasure at the way the party is being run and looking at his tweets, one won’t be surprised if he eventually joins the BJP.
4) Corruption no big deal in this part of the world – 2017 saw a lot of raids by IT and the ED on the premises of various politicians and businessmen and we got to hear the term ‘Sting Operation’ on a multitude of occasions, but the unfortunate part of it all is that no big fish is yet in jail. Sasikala is one exception to this and she is unfortunately leading a five star life in jail with the whistleblower D Roopa being shoddily treated by the Karnataka government. Premises of Karnataka Power Minister DK Sivakumar, RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav’s daughter and son in law, former Karnataka CM SM Krishna’s son in law, Karti Chidambaram were all raided and Times Now even managed to locate unaccounted cash in DK Shivakumar’s premises, but none of them have found their way to the prison where they rightfully belong. As if this was not enough, we witnessed the CBI botching up the 2G verdict with the Special Court giving the famous ‘clean chit’ to D Raja, Kanimozhi and all others involved in the huge scam. Kapil Sibal, the proponent of the famous Zero Loss theory, had the last laugh. The citizens of the country got a royal snub and were mocked at by the rotten and corrupt establishment.
5) Triple Talaq Bill passed in Lok Sabha – No government in the past has dared to go against the radical Islamists. They are a significant part of the vote bank and a government that goes against them runs the risk of being termed communal, fascist and anti-minority by our liberals. The current government did the unthinkable and got the Triple Talaq Bill passed by the Lok Sabha with a 3-year jail term for anyone who gives Triple Talaq. Of course, this was a result of the Supreme Court judgement a couple of back, when the top court left it to the government to bring in a legislature. But the fact remains that the Modi government has been the most vocal about the evil practice and has been instrumental in bringing in the bill.
6) Political murders and violence galore – Political murders continued to take place in the state of Kerala under the patronage of the ruling CPI(M) government headed by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. One witnessed many RSS workers being brutally killed by the communists although our liberal media more often than not chose to make it a non issue. On the other side, we saw the uncouth Gau Rakshaks wrecking havoc by resorting to violence and this was very efficiently covered by the media. In Karnataka, noted writer Gauri Lankesh was murdered, with her killer firing bullets at her near her residence. Without any proof, the left liberals were as usual quick to pounce on Hindutva elements behind the murder, but the Congress government in Karnataka has not made much headway in this case. The Karni Sena took to violence by vandalizing the sets of filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali for his film Padmavati that supposedly shows their revered queen in bad light.
7) Journalism plunging to new depths – Journalists in India, for all their tall talks of neutrality and credibility, have often been extremely biased and have often taken some very communal stands. The leader of them all, Rajdeep Sardesai, along with Shekhar Gupta, is now busy in establishing the myths that Dalits and the lower classes are still not present in the political spectrum (despite the President and PM both belonging to the so called lower caste) and that a Dalit scamster often ends up getting more severe punishment. These irresponsible journalists just don’t realize that bringing caste and creed into each and every discussion is not going to take India as a nation anywhere. In 2017, Sagarika Ghose has improved on her ability to spread lies and create panic among the Muslims. She went to the extent of tweeting that that Muslims in India are being found and killed mercilessly, which she deleted after Madhu Kishwar threatened to file an FIR for spreading misinformation. 2017 also witnessed rabid Modi hater media houses like The Wire and Caravan resorting to unfounded stories of crony capitalism, death of a judge and Muslim suppression, especially during the peak of Gujarat election campaign. On the other side, 2017 also witnessed the launch of Republic with the Lutyens-hating Arnab Goswami as the star anchor. Republic, along with Times Now, are referred to as North Korean Channels and have often taken a pro-government and anti-opposition stand, some of which have been juvenile (like Rahul Gandhi watching Star Wars after Gujarat election loss). 2017 also witnessed activists like Prashant Bhushan showing their true colors by exposing their pro-Congress and anti-Hindu stands.
8) Pakistan and terrorists dealt with aggressively – The Indian Army has claimed to have killed over 200 militants in 2017, including some big names like Hizbul Commanders Sabzar Bhat and Abdul Qayoom. This number is a seven year high and it is very apparent that the Army has been given a free hand by the government. Every other day, we hear news of terrorists being dispatched to jannat. On the other side of the border, Pakistan (or Terroristan as it is called) has been very cruel in handling the Kulbhushan Jadhav matter, with his wife and mother being shabbily treated. It is to the credit of the Modi government that they tasked top lawyer Harish Salve to stop the death penalty that Pakistan had meted out to Jadhav without any proof that he is a spy or a RAW agent.
9) Cabinet Shuffle and true women empowerment – 2017 saw India have its first full time woman Defense Minister in Nirmala Sitaraman, who was rewarded for showing efficiency, first as a party spokesperson and then as Commerce Minister. Smirit Irani, who was removed from HRD Ministry and given Textile, was given the additional charge of I&B. Dharmendra Pradhan and Piyush Goyal were rewarded cabinet berths for the good work done in Oil and Power respectively. Suresh Prabhu was by no means an underperformer in the Railway Ministry, but the year saw a large amount of rail accidents, thereby prompting his removal from the rail ministry and induction as Commerce Minister. Uma Bharati, who has been an underperformer in the Namami Gange cleaning, has been stripped of her leadership in the Cleam Ganga mission of the government and she has handed over the baton to Nitin Gadkari, arguably the most efficient Cabinet Minister.
10) Saffron President and saffron Vice President – For the first time, the country witnessed the President, Vice President, Prime Minister and Lok Sabha Speaker having a common saffron ideology. While the BJP always had an upper hand in the President election, Modi sprang a surprise in declaring Ramnath Kovind as the NDA candidate (a lot of people had not even heard about him till then), overlooking some of the other tall leaders in the BJP. Kovind took charge from Congressman Pranab Mukherjee, who claimed to have a very cordial working relationship with the Prime Minister and the current government. Hamid Ansari, who during his tenure represented only one community, made way for Venkiah Naidu as the Vice President.
Despite tough reforms like demonetization and GST, the Modi government continues to have the support of a large portion of the county’s populace. This is evident in the huge mandate that the BJP has got in most of the elections. Having said that, there is some amount of disillusionment building up. The middle class, which has loyally stood by Modi thus far, has not been given any relief. High petrol prices, no significant reform in the Direct Taxation, food inflation and no reduction in prices of essential commodities are some of the factors that the common man is disgruntled with. One hopes that after taking some strong measures that have inconvenienced the common man, the Modi government provides significant relief to the middle class in 2018, when the government would present its last full time budget in this tenure. Uniform Civil Code and abolishment of Article 370 have regularly been featured in the BJP Election Manifesto, but the government has hardly done anything in these aspects. UPA-2 witnessed some big ticket scams like 2G, Coalgate, Commonwealth, Augusta Westland and National Herald, but the sad part is almost all perpetrators are scot free and having them behind bars is only part of election campaigns. The citizens are still waiting for the one big fish to spend his lifetime behind bars, but alas that seems like a distant possibility in this great land of ours.