Yearender 2019: It wouldn’t be incorrect if we describe 2019 as the most eventful as well as the controversial year for the Narendra Modi government. This government remained in headlines almost every day for its several decisions, mostly post-May 30 -- the swearing-in ceremony for the Modi 2.0 government. If experts are to be believed, the massive mandate for the NDA government led by Modi in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections gave it the confidence to take many decisions -- be the scrapping of Article 370 or the Triple Talaq Bill -- which looked almost impossible before the polls.
Another game-changer for this government has been BJP president Amit Shah, who was given the charge of Union Home Ministry, replacing Rajnath Singh.
Sangh Parivar members seem suddenly eager to see Shah as a "blunt but bold and decisive" leader who had even surpassed the original "Iron Man", Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, in some ways. Many BJP leaders believe that they see the party president's hand in the way the decisions were taken "ek jhatke mein" (in one stroke).
Here are the top 10 decisions taken by the Narendra Modi in 2019:
Abrogation of Article 370: In perhaps the biggest and one of the most contentious decisions since 2014, the Modi government on August 5 revoked Article 370 to take away Jammu and Kashmir's special status, and bifurcated the state into two union territories, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, that redrew the map and future of a region at the centre of a protracted militancy movement.
Fulfilling an electoral promise of the BJP less than 90 days after the Modi 2.0 government took power, Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced the decision in the Rajya Sabha, which approved both the resolution and the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill. Both were passed by the Lok Sabha as well.
Controversy: Internet was completely snapped in Kashmir, political leaders were detained or placed under house arrest, and even after it. In October, three leaders – Yawar Mir (formerly in People’s Democratic Party), Noor Mohammed (National Conference worker), and Shoaib Lone (Congress District President in North Kashmir) – were released. However, former chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah are still under detention. Former CM and Lok Sabha MP Farooq Abdullah's detention under the Public Safety Act was extended to three months, according to a report dated October 30. On October 24, the Supreme Court asked the government how long it was planning to continue restrictions on Jammu and Kashmir.
Balakot airstrike: Under immense pressure post the Pulwama terror attack, in which 40 CRPF jawans were killed on February 14, the Modi government gave the military a free hand to respond to the strike.
On February 26, the Indian Air Force's Mirage-2000 fighter jets took off from various airfields in India. The fighter jets launched smart bombs that targeted Jaish-e-Mohammad's largest terror facility, located in Balakot in Pakistan's Kyber Pakhtunwa.
Pakistan retaliated on February 27 by attempting to target Indian military installations by sending its fighter jets into India. The Indian Air Force scrambled a pack of its Sukhoi Su-30 and MiG-21 fighter jets.
Controversy: Claims and counterclaims by the government and the Opposition sent political temperatures soaring as the Congress asked why the government was not providing details of the casualties inflicted in the air strikes. Indian intelligence officials mentioned numbers in the range of 300 to 350 to media. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah said 250 terrorists were killed in the airstrike. The government has, however, did not release any evidence of the casualties as demanded by the Opposition.
Anti-terror law: Amid the uproar, the Parliament on August 2 approved an amendment to the anti-terror law to give powers to the central government to designate an individual as a terrorist and seize his properties. While Lok Sabha had passed the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019 that seeks to amend the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 on July 24, Rajya Sabha approved it after rejecting an opposition-sponsored motion to send it to select committee. Replying to a debate on the amendment, Home Minister Amit Shah said declaring individuals as terrorists is required as they float different organisations once an institution is banned. Individuals can be declared terrorists if they commit or participate in acts of terrorism, prepare or promote terror, he said.
Controversy: The bill additionally empowers the government to designate individuals as terrorists on the same grounds. At the same time, it also paves the way for the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to seize property as part of investigations into terror cases. While Congress party Member of Parliament (MP) Karti Chidambaram raised questions about the law being eventually "misused" by governments "in future", he also added that such a law would not be able to prevent any terrorist attacks in the country.
Triple Talaq Bill: Despite several hurdles, the NDA government finally managed to successfully turn the Triple Talaq Bill into an Act on July 30 when Parliament approved the bill that makes instant divorce a criminal offence. The contentious legislation was passed by Rajya Sabha following non-aligned BJD extending support and the NDA constituents JD-U and AIADMK walking out.
The practice of instant divorce by Muslim men is punishable by a jail term of up to three years. The Upper House passed the bill by 99 votes in favour and 84 against it.
Controversy: The bill, which proposes to make the practice of instant triple talaq (talaq-e-biddat) a penal offence, had faced objections from opposition parties from the beginning which claimed that jail term for a man for divorcing his wife was legally untenable. Shashi Tharoor said he was opposed to triple talaq (instant divorce) but was against this bill as it conflates civil and criminal laws. He said there should be a law universally applicable to all in case of abandoning wives.
Asaduddin Owaisi of the AIMIM said the Triple Talaq Bill violates constitutional rights as it stipulates a three-year jail term for guilty Muslim men while non-Muslim men get only one year of jail term for a similar offence, he said.
Merger of banks: In the biggest consolidation exercise in the banking space, the government on August 30 announced four major mergers of public sector banks, bringing down their total number to 12 from 27 in 2017, a move aimed at making state-owned lenders global sized banks. United Bank of India and Oriental Bank of Commerce were merged with Punjab National Bank, making the proposed entity the second largest public sector bank (PSB).
Making the announcements, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said Syndicate Bank was merged with Canara Bank, while Allahabad Bank was amalgamated with Indian Bank. Similarly, Andhra Bank and Corporation Bank were consolidated with Union Bank of India.
Earlier this year, Dena Bank and Vijaya Bank were merged with Bank of Baroda. Prior to this, the government had merged five associate banks of SBI and Bharatiya Mahila Bank with the State Bank of India.
Controversy: Bank unions opposed the mega-merger of banks, saying the move is bereft of logic and lacks any rationale. "The proposals which the government has moved are unmindful since it has no logic or rationale. Neither, it is the case that a weak bank is merged with a strong one nor geographically compatible banks are being merged," All-India Bank Employees Association said in a statement. The unions also said United Bank, headquartered in Kolkata is being merged with the Delhi-based Punjab National Bank, while Syndicate Bank is being merged with Canara having a network in the same geographical areas.
Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA): In the biggest victory for the Modi government this year, Rajya Sabha on December 11 approved the most controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, completing the legislative procedure for giving Indian citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
To repeated questions from the opposition of Muslims being left out, he said Muslims from other countries have the right to apply for Indian citizenship as per existing rules. As many as 566 Muslims have been given citizenship, he said.
Controversy: The CAA received opposition from across-section of the political spectrum and citizenry. It led to widespread protests across the nation, mainly in Assam, Delhi, and West Bengal. Protesters staged strikes, set vehicles afire, took part in sit-in movements, blocked streets and indulged in clashes. Protesters in Assam and other Northeastern states do not want Indian citizenship to be granted to any refugee or immigrant, regardless of their religion, as they fear it would alter the region's demographic balance. In other parts of India, protesters are concerned that the new law discriminates against Muslims, is unconstitutional, and believe that the amendment should be scrapped.
Assam NRC: On August 31, the final list of updated NRC was released that excluded nearly 1.9 people in Assam. In the final draft of the NRC, out of 33 million applicants, 31.1 million were found to be eligible for inclusion in the updated NRC, and 1.9 million were excluded. The barred people approached the Foreigners' Tribunal with an appeal against their non-inclusion. The Assam government assured that people who were not in the final list of the NRC would get legal aid.
Controversy: Many of those deemed 'foreigner' and 'doubtful voter' were sent to detention centres, triggering condemnation. NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela was subsequently transferred out of the state amid allegations of 'huge irregularities and anomalies' in the conduct of the exercise, which entailed an expenditure of Rs 1,200 crore.
Influential state minister Himanta Biswa Sarma was among those who said the final register, in its current form, was not acceptable and should be scrapped as it 'failed to fulfil the aspirations of people'.Union Home Minister Amit Shah later announced that NRC would be implemented across states and Assam would have to undergo the process again to rectify the errors. It is not known if the process will be undertaken at all after Prime Minister Narendra Modi'sassertion that a pan-India NRC was never discussed by his government, a statement that was endorsed by Shah.
National Population Register (NPR): Even as students, activists and locals were on the streets across the country against the Citizenship(Amendment) Act, the Union Cabinet on Tuesday announced that it has allocated around Rs 3,500 crore for updating National Population Register (NPR). The process shall commence from April next year and will be completed by September.NPR was first done in 2010 and was later updated in 2015 when it was linked with the Aadhaar. However, Home Ministry officials said, "at present, there is no proposal to create NRC in the country based on the NPR data". Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said while updating the NPR, the government will not seek any document from the people nor any biometric data. "Whatever the citizens will give, we will accept in the form of self-declaration," he said.
Controversy: Since the announcement of the NPR update has come in the middle of a raging controversy on the NRC, there is widespread confusion between the two. Many have also confused the NPR with Census, which is also due. The question remains that if the government has Census than why does it needs the NPR.
Corporate tax rate cut: To infuse fresh energy into the corporate sector, the government on September 20 slashed the income tax rate for companies by almost 10 percentage points to 25.17 per cent and offered a lower rate to 17.01 per cent for new manufacturing firms to boost economic growth rate from a six-year low by incentivising investments to help create jobs. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the reduction in tax rates has been done by promulgating an ordinance to an amendment to the Income Tax Act
The rate, a long-standing industry demand, was seen as one of the many reliefs for key sectors, including auto and FMCG.
Controversy: The Congress said the government's "constant roll-backs" may give an "impression of progress through stock market bumps" but these will lead to worsening of the economic situation and are unlikely to revive investments. Questioning the timing of the corporate tax cut announcement, the opposition party alleged that it has been dictated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'Howdy Modi' event in the US. Reducing taxes to boost investments is a myth spread by businesses, said Abhijit Banerjee, this year’s winner of the Nobel prize for economics. “You are giving incentives to the rich who are already sitting on tons of cash.”
Kartarpur Corridor: The Kartarpur Corridor, which links Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan -- the final resting place of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak Dev -- to Dera Baba Nanak shrine in India, was formally inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan on November 9. Modi flagged off the first batch of over 500 Indian pilgrims led by Akal Takhat Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib through the corridor, which was thrown open to the public on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak Dev.
Controversy: A video released by Pakistan's Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to mark the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor landed in controversy for displaying posters of Khalistani separatist leaders Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, Maj Gen Shabeg Singh and Amrik Singh Khalsa in the background in a clip. All three were killed when the Indian Army stormed Golden Temple in June 1984 in Operation Blue Star to free it of terrorists holed up inside.
Other key decisions taken by the Modi government this year:
Storming out of RCEP: In a surprising move, India on November 4 decided to walk out of the biggest regional trade partnership the world could have seen. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) could have given — possibly it still can — almost unrestricted access of each other’s markets to the members.
Chief of Army Staff (CDS): Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat was named India's first Chief of Defence Staff on December 30, a day before he was to retire from service after completing a full three-year term as the Chief of Army Staff.
General Rawat is the first officer to hold the post of the Chief of Defence Staff, which was set up just days ago.
Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act: The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill 2019 was passed by Parliament in July and its steep fines came into effect from September 1, though some states pushed it back saying people needed time to get acquainted with the enhanced penalties.
(With PTI inputs)