The Past as Farce
At the end of a hard, divisive 2011, a quirky look at the year that wasn’t, but just might have been
As in all new beginnings, the start of a new year is a time to look forward with hope, in anticipation of a better tomorrow. It is also a time to look back at the year gone by and to take stock of successes and failures, triumphs and tragedies. Many would consider 2011 a sad year for India. Beginning with the country riding high, following a sustained burst of high growth that defied the fears of a slump after the US crisis in 2008, the year ended with deep economic woes, a parliamentary logjam and India’s image taking a considerable beating.
Critics bemoaned the lack of strong leadership, a governance deficit, policy paralysis, corruption and cronyism. Most fire was directed at the government, though some companies and their top executives are also in the dock for corruption. Civil society too, fighting for probity in government, has not always been beyond reproach.
Even the year-end festive merriment failed to lift the gloom of high inflation and low growth; a ‘fast’ movement and a slow government; large outlays and small achievements. To help dispel despair, so inappropriate at the inception of a fresh and unsullied year, we look back here at 2011 in a lighter vein. CPM continued to be the most popular and crucial factor for the country. Lest rightthinking compatriots (and much of corporate India) throw a fit and quote ancient scriptures to prove that the left is never right, and before big brother and elder sister threaten mass agitations, let it be clarified that the acronym mentioned is not their bête noire, but refers to cricket, politics and movies. Despite the Commonwealth Games and the whitewash in England, cricket continues to be the dominant sport in India. While the ever-larger moral police squad and the nanny government rant against dirty pictures on the Internet, Dirty Picture on the big screen draws even bigger crowds: emphasising, once again, the centrality of movies in the mind-space of Indians. As for politics, it is to India what weather is to the British: fickle, unpredictable, all-pervasive, and a topic of conversation even amongst strangers.
The food security law, touted as version 2 of NREGA in terms of being an electionwinner for UPA-II, polarised views. Some see it as another crucial element in the social security net, a welcome antipoverty measure; others view it as one more leakageprone populist and profligate measure that the country can ill-afford. Many worried about the adequacy of government stocks of grain to meet the commitment. They overlooked the brilliant strategic thinking of government, whose subtle moves led Anna to go on an indefinite fast. With many threatening to join him, the consequent drop in grain consumption could have helped to build buffer stocks for the food security scheme. Furthermore, the mass fast would have quickly brought down worrisome inflation in food prices. On the other hand, calling off the fast meant a political victory for government: a truly Machiavellian manoeuvre that ensured a heads-Iwin-tails-you-lose situation. Clearly, the government — pilloried for being incompetent and stupid in its handling of the Anna movement — deserves credit.
Anna and Lokpal were the staple diet of the year for media. Every flutter of the flag at Ramlila Maidan was covered, analysed and deconstructed by experts on each TV channel. The verbosity and volume of voices from TV studios was such that one could probably hear them in all of Delhi without the aid of TV transmissions — a new form of direct-to-home. The anchors may not always have been models of objectivity, but they were certainly leagues ahead of MPs in the art of interrupting and sheer lung power to outshout others. In terms of headlinegrabbing sensational statements, though, they were considerably behind the head of a media body.
In Delhi, everyone is ji (including Uncleji and Auntyji); thanks to 2G, the most popular new ji is CAG. Some are unhappy with his astronomical imputed-loss figure of . 1,76,000 crore (roughly 2 followed by a dozen zeroes). Just wait till he calculates other imputed losses caused by government policies. For example, the loss due to government’s education policy: if seats in IIMs, IITs and other such premier institutions were auctioned, tens of thousands of crores could have been collected over the last 50 years. After all, if Harvard charges well over $100,000 for an MBA seat, surely the IIMs too can fetch as much. All computations for past seats will, of course, be done at today’s rates.
Meanwhile, the judicial system has found its own solution to the continuous barbs about justice delayed being justice denied. It has hit on the idea of jail first, trial later — after all, like presumptive loss, there can be presumptive guilt.
Some see 2011 as a year of wasted opportunity, with brand India losing a lot of its sheen. Yet, we Indians are given to meanderings, interrupting our journeys to savour roadside distractions. Like traffic on our streets, or Brownian motion of particles, there is chaos at the micro level, but a steady onward flow at the macro level. Anyway, if the world is ending in 2012 — as prophesied by some — then why hurry? And, if it is not, then what’s the rush? To ensure good spirits all around, the government announced a cut in the import duty on alcohol at the end of the year. A crucial session in the Rajya Sabha helped to take the focus off another lost opportunity in Melbourne. But then, tomorrow is another day. RIP, 2011; welcome 2012.