Six years of The Sunday Indian and six defining changes in India



These have been truly turbulent years. Between then and now, we have seen Mayawati sweep Uttar Pradesh and then lose it badly. Between then and now, India has miserably lost the Cricket World Cup and then won it handsomely. Between then and now, the Indian economy has changed from being a rampaging elephant to a caged tiger once again. Between then and now, the three Khans of Bollywood have further cemented their supremacy over the box office. Between then and now, Rahul Gandhi has been transformed from being the latest Great White Hope to a question mark and an enigma. Between then and now, the loot and plunder of natural resources through crony capitalism have gathered momentum. Between then and now, Ratan Tata has endured the disgrace of Singur to fade triumphantly into retirement. Between then and now, Mamata Didi has remained Mamata Didi... So much has happened over the last six years that it would require many multiple books to chronicle contemporary history. And my readers know I do not write history books :-) And yet, I have identified six major and defining trends of the last few years that will have a lasting impact on India for at least another decade. In no order of preference and importance, here is my list:

1: Good governance gets pro-incumbency verdicts: In 2005, when my team and I had started planning the launch of The Sunday Indian – after having launched Business & Economy and 4Ps Business & Marketing – Nitish Kumar narrowly failed to achieve his dream of becoming the Bihar Chief Minister. In 2006, when this magazine was launched, Nitish Kumar won a decisive verdict. In 2011, he won an even more decisive verdict. So much so that people are now openly talking of his ambitions to be Prime Minister. Ditto for Narendra Modi. Barring a miracle for the Congress, Modi is all set to win Gujarat for the third successive time. Like Nitish, he too is a contender for the post of Prime Minister. Sheila Dixit and Naveen Patnaik have already won three successive elections in Delhi and Odisha respectively. The incumbent Left Front in Kerala almost pulled off a shock victory over Congress last year, losing the assembly by just one seat. The Akali Dal-BJP combine achieved what was thought impossible: winning a second successive term in Punjab. And it does look like Shiv Raj Chauhan and Raman Singh will win their third successive elections in Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh next year. It is not as if all incumbent governments are winning. The DMK-Congress alliance was humiliated in Tamil Nadu last year; Mayawati lost badly in UP this year; the BJP lost Rajasthan in 2008; and the Congress was trounced in Goa this year. I really don’t need to add more. If the voter thinks you are delivering decent governance, you have her support.

2: The high and mighty are going behind bars: In 2006, when the first issue of The Sunday Indian hit the stands, there was mounting anger against the manner in which the alleged killers of Priyadarshini Mattoo, Jessica Lal and Nitish Katara were using their proximity to power and privileges to get away scot free. Activists and the media launched many a campaign against this miscarriage of justice. Within a short while of The Sunday Indian being launched, Santosh Singh, Manu Sharma and Vikas Yadav were all convicted to life sentences. Around that time, the formidable and geared strongman of Siwan in Bihar, Mohammad Shahabuddin, was convicted to multiple life sentences. So was former minister and Uttar Pradesh strongman Amarmani Tripathi for the murder of Madhumita Shukla. A little after Americans realized in late October that their economy was in a shambles and many of their corporate icons were scam artists, Indians got their homemade Ramalingam Raju of Satyam. And then came the avalanche of arrests in the 2G and Commonwealth Game scams. Two dollar billionaires and two Union Cabinet level ministers went behind bars, not to mention Kanimozhi, the daughter of the formidable UPA ally Karunanidhi. Around that time, a special court had convicted and sentenced a former MP in Odisha for the Kandhamal riots. Recently, a former minister of Gujarat Maya Kodnani has been sentenced to 28 years in jail for her role in the 2002 Gujarat riots. Sure, many high and mighty are still getting away. But the last six years have perhaps made them realize that they can actually go behind bars, no matter now much money they have and what connections they flaunt.

3: A communications revolution has transformed India: When we were thinking of a launch strategy and planning content for The Sunday Indian, the media was full of stories about the hurdles India was facing in achieving a target of 200 million mobile phone subscribers. How silly that looks in hindsight! We now have more than 900 million mobile phone connections; and despite the spate of scams and underhand deals, this is one sector that has truly transformed India. From cycle-rickshaw pullers to plumbers to tailors to small farmers to pushcart vendors, the mobile phone has become a powerful tool of empowerment and enhanced economic opportunities. I would say that the proliferation of mobile phones has been the most powerful, positive influence on genuine democracy since the days of Jaiprakash Narain in the 1970s. Of course, there are some who crib that mobile phones also mean mischief and that communal riots spread through provocative and inflammatory text messages. But that is nonsense. Mobile phones and social media don’t cause riots. People do. Riots have been occurring even when we did not have mobile phones. In the coming six years, I think Internet connections too will spread as fast as mobile connections did in the previous six years. That will empower more and more Indians. Let millions of new mutinies be spread through millions of mobile phones and Internet connections!

4: Crony capitalism has intensified: All those who have read my columns and editorials over the last six years will know that I have never been impressed when Forbes or Fortune have announced yet another list of Indian billionaires. Barring a few honourable exceptions, virtually all the billionaires have been what I usually call blood billionaires. They have not created world-class products that can compete in global markets and they have not created a single brand that holds sway in global markets. They have mostly used their access to the State and their unique ability to “manage the environment” to grab land, spectrum, forests, mines, projects, PIL and gas fields and much more to plunder the country. Despite the repeated and vehement denials of the UPA regime and its cheerleaders in the media, it has been now conclusively established that the CAG was almost certainly right when it calculated the losses to the exchequer because of the 2G scam at 1.76 lakh cores. You can persuasively argue that the actual loss is less than 1.76 lakh crores. But even the most shameless sycophant of this regime can no longer deny that 2G represented crony capitalism at its worst. As does the now unravelling coal gate. As did the monumental fraud perpetrated on Indian citizens through the so called SEZ schemes. As did the monumental fraud perpetrated on Indian air passengers through the so called privatization of airports. I remember how some captains of India Inc. raised objections when a Rs 60,000 farm loan waiver was announced in 2008. More than 2 lakh farmers had already committed suicide by then in less than a decade or so. Corporate India’s objections were visibly muted and then disappeared when someone pointed out that India Inc. was defaulting on loans worth more than Rs 10 lakh crores! Any way you look at it, crony capitalism has been the biggest blight to plague India in the last years. And sadly, despite an aggressive CAG and stinging indictments and verdicts from even the Supreme Court, I don’t see it vanishing in the next years.

5: The dynasty debate is closed: Immediately after the UPA won a historic mandate in May 2009, this magazine came out with a cover headline that stated: “The dynasty debate is closed”. Quite simply, dynasties are here to stay in India in the foreseeable future. Rahul Gandhi is being cajoled and pressurized to take his “rightful place”. Akhilesh Yadav has taken over as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Sukhbir Singh Badal is the de facto chief minister of Punjab. The sons and daughters of Karunanidhi are fighting over succession; just as Raj Thackeray and Uddhav Thackeray are fighting over the legacy of Balasaheb. The daughter of Sharad Pawar, Supriya Sule, seems to be fighting with her cousin brother Ajit Pawar. Omar Abdullah effortlessly replaced father Farooq Abdullah in Kashmir. A recent analysis indicated that almost every Lok Sabha MP of the Congress under 35 years of age belongs to a political dynasty. All political parties have been infected by this bug, except the Communists perhaps. There are some who seemed to have succeeded in fusing both political and business dynasties. O.P Jindal was a businessman who took to active politics in the later stages of his life. His son Naveen Jindal now not only controls a huge chunk of Jindal business empire, but is also a Congress Lok Sabha MP! Dynasties have become the norm in every sphere in India. You will rarely hear of promotor families ceding management control to professionals in India Inc., the way it has often happened in the US and Europe. Look at even Bollywood and see how the roster of stars and superstars is dominated by dynasties! Aamir, Salman, Hrithik, Ranbir, Shahid... I could just go on and on. But let me point out something interesting here. In Bollywood, belonging to a dynasty doesn’t guarantee box office success. Many have flopped miserably despite repeated attempts by their families to push them. You see, there is a free market out there and the moviegoer has a genuine, democratic choice! I don’t see something similar in Indian politics! That goes to show how shallow our so called electoral democracy actually is!

6: Media is a necessary evil: Like communications, the media has virtually exploded across the length and breadth of India in the last six years. Print, TV, Digital, radio, online, national, regional, local – you will find media flourishing across all platforms. Often, this cacophonous and headline-chasing media does things which appear unforgivable in hindsight. We all remember vividly how news TV channels competed madly with each other to cover the 26/11 outrage. Recently, the Supreme Court, while upholding the death sentence for terrorist Ajmal Kasab, slammed them for their breathless and senseless coverage, going so far as to say that their antics actually helped the terrorists cause more havoc. That is the downside. There are enormous pluses too. Without an active and loud media, there is every chance that the likes of Manu Sharma, Santosh Singh, Amarmani Tripathi and Maya Kodnani would not have faced judicial music behind bars. The proliferation of media across all platforms has made it even more difficult – some say impossible – for the powerful to “manage the media” as they have done so successfully in the past by either hiding scams or by gradually diverting attention from them. There is always a blogger out there somewhere who will write what the mainstream media has been persuaded not to write or talk about. Thousands will comment and retweet to an extent that mainstream media is then forced to break its studied silence. We have a unique situation where top media personalities are actually advocating restrictions on social media. Of course, there can be no doubt that many misuse social media platforms or peddle personal hatreds and prejudices and think nothing of abusing people and tarnishing their reputations. Perhaps a more transparent, fair and effective implementation of libel and defamation laws will help here. But there is simply no denying it. You may love it or hate it; but you cannot ignore it. Like politicians, it is a necessary evil to be found in democracies!

Related Articles