With just a day to go before we conclude 2018 on a positive note, there must be a list of unbelievable successes we have attained in the year; and a similar list of unchecked boxes that we would have liked to see crossed, but couldn’t for whatsoever reasons may be. In the span of the last 364 days, we lived out another year of our lives. Did we do something different?
2018 has been a rather eventful year for me, and one with surprises filled to the brim. Post the initial hectic months panning all the way from January to May, I earned a seat in KIIT’s Electronics department. Truth be told, shifting to Bhubaneswar wasn’t all that bad. The hostel rooms are decent enough, and mess food isn’t as pathetic as it is the case in many other institutions. Bhubaneswar is not just any smart city, it is the rank-one holder in the list of smart cities published by the Government of India. College life is easy provided you maintain the academic discipline and regularity. It indeed is difficult to keep your concentration together and channelise your energy in the right direction, especially with a number of distractions around. But once you get through, and determine that you have a target to achieve, the process becomes incredibly easy.
Furthermore, 2018 offered me a golden opportunity to restart my passion for writing columns and opinion articles, primarily based on politics, after an appreciable hiatus. This disruption in writing over the most part of late 2017 could be blamed on the strenuous nature of the higher secondary examinations in India. It has been an enjoyable time, writing a good number of columns and reading even more. It also happened to be the second anniversary of my main blog, Politics Now– which now is a site with over 19,000 plus words of unbiased political opinion. Courtesy an extremely congenial professor, and a gem of a person in the institute for management studies (KSOM- Professor S.N. Misra), I have also been undergoing semi-formal training in macroeconomics. What a year has it been from the learning perspective, and with God’s blessings, I hope I can carry this momentum forward.
On Politics and Economy
In the political world, protectionist trends seem to be on the rise, fuelled by agressive nationalism in several nations of the world. The US-China trade feud could have snowballed into a major headache for people around the world; but luckily sense seemed to have prevailed and retaliatory sanctions have been kept to the minimal. The US-North Korea talks also seemed to have failed now after initial hype; and North Korea has reportedly not shut down on its nuclear facilities yet (any rational state would never). In Europe, political turmoil, especially emanating from Britain has taken the toll. There are concerns that the EU may let Britain out without the latter framing a proper exit deal with the European union. Theresa May has been on the receiving end of critics for long. Finally, around mid-December, the POTUS announced the withdrawal of security forces in the Middle East and Afghanistan- sparking genuine concerns of heightened terrorist attacks and a re-run of chaos and destability. In South Asian politics, too, there has been significant activity. Former Maldives strongman Abdul Yameen lost out on the elections and his contemporary, Ibrahim Mohammed Solih, was elected president. The Indian government provided a $1.4billion grant to the Maldives, a number which accurately matches the debt that Maldives owes China. Sri Lanka showed the world its strength in democracy when even after an attempted political coup, President Sirisena had to appoint (courtesy the Supreme Court and the Sri Lankan Parliament) Ranil Wackremsinghe as the Prime Minister after deposing him to put his adversary, Mahinda Rajapakse in charge.
In the domestic circuit too, things appear very charged. The 2019 General Elections are only a few months away now- and parties are all revving up their campaigns to make the most of the seat-fest. Electrification drives have been a success and the Modi government achieved 100% electrification of rural India in April. This does not mean that every household has access to electricity, however- a village is said to be electrified if at least 10% of the households have access to electricity. Yet, the feat cannot be downplayed and the government must be lauded. However, it has mostly been a year of duds for the government. The RBI-Centre spat took an ugly turn after the Centre battled for access to the RBI’s vault, ultimately ending with the resignation of Urjit Patel and the appointment of career bureaucrat Shaktikanta Das. Earlier this year on Valentine’s Day, the Punjab National Bank reported a $1.77 billion fraud by diamantaire Nirav Modi and his uncle, Mehul Choksi, who fled the country. In Kerala, the Sabarimala judgement rendered by the Supreme Court was not acceptable to the localites and they staged massive protests, which continues to the day. Politicians have jumped onto bandwagons that suite their opportunist nature, with hardly anyone batting for an actual solution to end the crisis.
Economic trends from the past year haven’t been all too well. While the Indian economy is making a comeback of sorts, the strength of the recovery is doubtful. While there has been a growth in GVA figures and a corresponding rise in GDP, a closer look at the finer details would help. The services sector has performed exceedingly well, but the industrial sector has been a laggard. The RBI has changed its monetary policy stance to “calibrated tightening”, meaning that a rate cut is off the radars for now. The RBI was hawkish over the first two quarters of 2018, chasing a target of 4% inflation. A rate cut could put back some money in the economy and that the RBI could have some leeway as regards a slight deviation from CPI inflation rate is concerned. Current Account Deficit, a difference between the net import and exports for a country, is projected to widen for FY2019 at 2.6%. The recent e-commerce policy doled out by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, although favourable for small-scale local traders, have dealt a significant blow to the promising FDI sector for online retail. The law effectively mandates any move which offers customers a significant advantage free of cost, to be an instance of discriminatory pricing- so it is probably time to shell out extra bucks for delivery. In 2019, airline fares are also set to ricochet, with fresh taxes being levied on airline fuel and associated costs.
Positives and Hopes for the New Year
As we welcome a new year, it is important to remember and thank God for the gifts we all have received during the past year. If possible, go around and personally meet, or call up your loved ones, to thank them for their time and companionship. Life in the twenty-first century moves at a fast pace, a pace quick enough to blur out faint memories of people who might have impacted our lives at any point.
My 2019 vision for India would be principally centred on political stability. I hope for a stable government at the Centre that delivers on solid governance, and upholds fundamental rights including the much cherished freedom of creative expression. For long enough, there has been suppression of voices and dissenting opinions have become increasingly rare (apart from those in the judiciary). A key concern from the past year, that of institutional independence, needs to be protected with utmost priority. Compromising on the autonomy of crucial operators to attain short-term goals can severely hamper prospects down the line, as biased decision making and corruption would pave their way into the system.
To all my dear readers and visitors alike, I wish you an abundance of grace as you step into the new year. New year resolutions, for the most part of it, are ignored- but if you have a hunch on making one, do make it. If you have had regrets because you were unable to do them last year, make sure you own 2019 and make it your way!