The year that was and the year ahead

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Madhusudhana Rao S

What was the most significant and turning point in mankind’s history in 2016 to which the world said goodbye a few hours ago? The defining event depends on the people and their geographical location. For us, Indians, it was demonetization on November 8, 2016 whose effects on ordinary people are being carried forward at least for another three months in 2017. For Americans, it was Donald Trump’s upset win and they face the real test of his presidency from now onwards. For Europe, it was Britain’s exit from European Union. For the Islamic world, it was the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS, in short IS) whose barbarism in its occupied lands had epitomized man’s brutality towards fellow human beings. For the world, it was the threat of urban and cyber terrorism.

Politics and economics aside, in one way or the other, every country and every person had gone through a mix of good, bad and ugly events and experiences. The year that passed saw more bloodshed and violence than the previous year in almost every corner of the globe. The Middle East continued to boil with Syria becoming the epicenter of internecine battles. Like too many cooks spoil the froth, too many power players with sectarian interests and geopolitical aims for regional domination ruined the country. Even if a modicum of normalcy returns to Syria, occupied by different groups backed by regional and global powers, it is unlikely the country would see peace in 2017. Syria would follow the familiar narrative the Islamic world keeps witnessing after an internal strife. If it was Lebanon earlier, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, Sudan and many other countries in Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) later, it was the turn of Syria now. Syrian fallout in that region can’t be ruled out in 2017.

When we look at Big Brother US, Trump presidency can be eventful, colourful and unpredictable. For, he will try to bring into the White house his business acumen in running the most powerful country in the world. If we go by the short track record since he set the transition in motion, he is capable of turning enemies into his friends and vice versa. For example, his dealings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and treatment of China.

Europe which faced a massive influx of refugees from conflict zones in the Arab world and elsewhere in 2016 has to decide between humanitarianism and impending perils of hosting thousands of refugees, providing them with jobs and ultimately making them assimilate into an alien western culture. Apart from being an economic challenge to host nations, such gigantic process is a political challenge to European liberals. Terrorist attacks in 2016 in European urban areas, particularly in Germany and Turkey, had given an opportunity to far right parties to ascend their way up in popular perception. So, liberalism can take a backseat in 2017 polls in Europe.

Africa remains a black horse since only death and destruction there make news for the world. However, conflict-prone hot spots in countries like Sudan where tribal loyalties shift with war lords, innocent people continue to suffer in the hands of powerful and merciless chieftains. Most of the time, the outside world, including the UN, leaves it to African nations themselves to resolve their internal problems.

When it comes to Asia, the biggest continent has two giants –China and India – and an economic powerhouse Japan. Their economic and political interests always impinge on each other. We witnessed conflicts of various interests of these three countries in almost every sphere of activity. While the continuing border dispute between India and China had had its moments of tension, Sino-Japanese ties were edgy in 2016. From territorial waters to trade, their ties were dominated by mutual mistrust. It is unlikely that 2017 will see improvement in the situation.

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi in control of the situation in India, all eyes are on Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. Would BJP gain control of that State in 2017? While the political see-saw battle is going on, it’s anybody’s guess. Political pundits see a dip in the saffron party’s winning chances after the demonetization. People had suffered a great deal for nearly two months in 2016 because of ban on Rs 1000 and Rs 500 notes, curbs on withdrawals and no cash in ATMs. People had taken all the problems caused by cash crunch in their stride, hoping one day the Messiah of the masses would end the evils perpetrated by a section of political class, the rich and the mighty. Will Modi deliver what all he had and has been promising in 2017? Or, will he continue to pontificate ‘achhe din’ are ahead? Sit, fingers crossed!

The past year saw India’s relations with Pakistan nosedive. We had reached a point of no return as far as our neighbour was concerned. Two major terrorist attacks – Pathankot and Uri – by Pak-based militants had shaken both military and intelligence establishments. If border incidents were taken into consideration, India had paid dearly in terms of loss of life of our security forces.

Would 2017 change the Indo-Pak situation for the better or will it continue to boil? Signs are Pakistan is likely to maintain restraint on border but improve its ties with China further and forge a new strategic relationship with Moscow. The triangle relationship will automatically alienate the US. In the process, Russia will regain a foothold in Afghanistan, Pakistan will get a hold on its neighbour and China will have a sway. Such realignment will force India to rethink its interests and reassess its strategies in global context.

On the domestic political front, it was sad that the main national party Congress had been reduced to a non-entity in 2016. In 2017, its chances of regaining a slice of its old glory are nil. As long as Rahul Gandhi targets Prime Minister Modi, the Congress vice-president can’t put life into his party. His agenda is person-specific, not nation-centric. That’s why his arguments don’t carry any weight and connect with the youth population. What it wants is change for the better, not perpetuating the legacy of the ‘great’ leaders of yore. Whoever shows a new path will be the winner. And, as the saying goes, winner takes it all.

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