Events that shook India in 2018
For Indians, 2018 was a year of disappointments, reflections and small bits of good news
SC judges’ press meet
In an unprecedented move, four senior-most Supreme Court judges – Justices J Chelameswar, Madan B Lokur, Kurian Joseph and present CJI Ranjan Gogoi – held a press meet in January, 2018, criticising the then CJI, Dipak Misra, for “ignoring the concerns voiced by them”. Adding that “all is not well” in the apex court, the judges questioned Misra over the manner in which the cases were assigned in the roster. “Unless this institution is preserved, democracy will not survive in this country,” Justice Chelameswar said. “We don’t want wise men saying 20 years from now that we sold our souls and didn’t do the right thing by our Constitution,” the statement of the judges read. Assignment of the Judge Loya case to Arun Mishra’s bench was the immediate reason for the extraordinary’ press conference.
Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi’s bank loot
Diamond merchant Nirav Modi and his maternal uncle Mehul Choksi, a jeweller, duped Punjab National Bank to the tune of Rs 13,600 crore through fraudulent issue of LoUs and foreign letters of credit. PNB told the CBI said that the bank found out about the fraud in the third week of January. Both Modi and Choksi left India in the first week of January. Nirav Modi is in the UK where he has applied for asylum in June, 2018. Choksi became a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda. Both the fugitives were allegedly close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In one video that surfaced in the aftermath of the fraud, the PM is seen calling Choksi “Mehulbhai”.
Assam NRC excludes 40 lakh people
The final draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) list in Assam dropped a total of 40 lakh names out of 3.29 crore applicants when the list came out in July, 2018. The Supreme Court extended the last date of filing claims to be included till December 31. The court also said no one could be deported though detention centres were set up in the state where many have been kept confined. Incidentally, most of those excluded are Bengali speakers and a majority of those from the Barak Valley region. Also, many prominent Assamese including ex servicemen, former MLAs and former ministers have seen their own or their family members names missing from the list, thus questioning the method that was followed.
A more-than-normal southwest monsoon in Kerala unleashed massive floods and landslides in the state. The state government led by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, with support from Opposition Congress, battled the calamity that was unprecedented in magnitude for nearly a century. It claimed almost 500 lives and displaced almost a million people. Even after 3 months of the disaster, the biggest challenge for the state has been to raise money for the relief and rehabilitation process as the Centre’s allocation has been pretty measly.
2018 witnessed massive agitations by farmers across the country. Thousands and thousands of farmers marched to Mumbai, Delhi, Jaipur among other places demanding farm loan waivers and just price for their produce. The Congress made farmers’ plight a central plank in their campaign in the 2018 Assembly elections and successfully formed the governments in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. After coming to power, the Congress has announced loan waiver of Rs 38,000 crore, Rs 18,000 crore and Rs 6,100 crore for Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh respectively which was a part of its poll manifestoes in those states. The Modi rule has seen an uptick in the number of farmers committing suicide to escape their penury.
Of changing names and erecting tall statues
Battling a perception problem for worsening law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh, the Yogi government went on a renaming overdrive this year. Allahabad became Prayagraj, Faizabad was renamed Ayodhya and the railway junction of Mughal Sarai name was changed to Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Junction. PM Modi, also facing brickbats for tall talks and little delivery, unveiled the world’s tallest statue — Statue of Unity — as a tribute to India’s first Home Minister Sardar Vallabh Patel who ironically had banned the RSS during his tenure as Home Minister following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. The 182-metre long statue, twice the size of the Statue of Liberty, has been built at a whopping cost of Rs 3,000 crore. Not to be outdone, Yogi Adityanath’s UP government also announced that it would build a 221-metre-tall statue of Lord Ram in Ayodhya. Soon after this, the BJP government of Maharashtra said that it would increase the height of the proposed Shivaji memorial statue (212 m) to make it taller than the Ram statue.
CBI vs CBI
2018 also witnessed the never-before fight between former CBI Director Alok Verma and his number two, Special Director Rakesh Asthana, which made the premier investigating agency an object of ridicule and has severely lowered its credibility. With accusations and allegations flying left, right and the centre, the government decided to divest the two officers of their duty as an interim measure and Nageshwar Rao, then CBI Joint Director, was appointed as the Director. It is widely believed that NSA Ajit Kumar Doval had a huge hand behind the mess and that both Verma and Asthana, the latter allegedly close to Modi, were being investigated by their very agency for reaping scrupulous financial benefits.
Rafale scam bombs the government
The Rafale deal controversy has been possibly the one that blew the perception of the Modi government as free from corruption like no other. The government has failed to come clean on the pricing details of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France’s Dassault Aviation, has not said why Defence Acquisition Council and Cabinet Committee on Security were bypassed, why a 13-day-old Reliance company of Anil Ambani was given the offsets contract, why there was a massive price escalation, why the number of aircraft was reduced to 36 from 126 and why no Transfer of Technology was taking place. The matter went to Supreme Court where the government got a lucky reprieve. However, the issue is far from settled as the Opposition has asked for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the matter, saying the government misled the court with wrong facts. The government has been saying no to the demand which has only increased the degree of suspicion about impropriety of the deal.
Resignation of RBI Governor
Urjit Patel resigned as RBI Governor as the year drew to a close, amid a bitter dispute with the Centre over the Central Bank’s autonomy. Bureaucrat Shaktikanta Das, who has a Masters in History, was appointed the new RBI Governor. The government had earlier invoked Section 7 of the RBI Act which sought to infringe on the autonomy of the institution. It has been widely speculated that the government was eyeing the RBI’s surplus to bail it out in face of falling revenue collections. The new Governor will have to juggle the issues of loan restructuring and infusing liquidity.
Indian Air Force gets its first women fighter pilots
In February, 24-year-old Flight Lieutenant Avani Chaturvedi became the first woman in India to fly a fighter jet alone. The flying officer flew a MiG-21 Bison. Her maiden sortie lasted 30 minutes and put India on a global list of countries like USA, Israel and the UK which have women combat pilots. Mohana Singh and Bhawana Kanth complete the trio of India’s first women fighter pilots.
Gymnast Dipa Karmakar becomes first Indian to clinch Gold at a global event
In July 2018, Karmakar became the first Indian gymnast to win a gold medal at a global event, when she finished first in the vault event of the FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Challenge Cup at Mersin, Turkey. Karmakar is one of the only five women in the history of gymnastics who have successfully landed the Produnova, which is regarded as the most difficult vault currently performed in women’s gymnastics.
ISRO launches 31 satellites on single rocket
ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, in its forty second flight, successfully launched the 710 kg Cartosat-2 Series Remote Sensing Satellite along with 30 co-passenger satellites today (January 12, 2018) from Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota. This flight was designated as PSLV-C40. Nearly a year before this launch, PSLV-C37, in the 39th mission of the Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) successfully carried and deployed a record number of 104 satellites in sun-synchronous orbits. Launched on February 15, 2017, it broke the earlier record of launching 37 satellites by a Russian Dnepr rocket on June 19, 2014.
The #MeToo storm
#MeToo had its India moment in 2018 with many women coming out to accuse and name men who had harassed or sexually assaulted them. Several prominent media and entertainment industry professionals were outed like Alok Nath, Nana Patekar, Sajid Khan, Subhash Ghai, Kailash Kher, Anu Malik, Vinod Dua, Prashant Jha, Suhel Seth, BJP leader MJ Akbar, author Chetan Bhagat among others. MJ Akbar had to resign from his ministry. The campaign spread like a wildfire after actor Tanushree Dutta accused Nana Patekar of sexually harassing her during a film shoot that had taken place ten years before. It is a good thing Indian women are finally outing harassers and sexual predators.
SC rulings on gay sex, Sabarimala, Aadhar, adultery
In 2018, the Supreme Court passed judgments on significant matters including women’s entry into the Sabarimala shrine, Section 377 that deemed homosexuality illegal, Aadhaar, Adultery among others. Gay sex was decriminalised. In a controversial verdict, the court lifted the prohibition of the entry of menstruating women aged between 10 and 50 years from entering the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala. However, despite several attempts, till date, no woman has been able to enter the temple due to widespread and fanatical protests. The SC also ruled that Aadhaar is constitutional but said that it is unconstitutional to make it compulsory when a citizen wants to avail government services. Banks and telecommunication companies also were told not to make it mandatory for their subscribers to link Aadhaar numbers to their phone number and bank accounts. It also quashed adultery as a punishable offence while holding that it was still ground for divorce.