As the midnight of August 14, 1947 promised India a new sunrise, Pt Jawaharlal Nehru addressed an independent India for the first time. When Nehru raised our national flag, the spectators were filled with new excitement and expectations – from our future, from our tryst with destiny.
72 years later, we celebrate yet another Independence day, in a country so diverse in its culture, so rich in its history. As the tricolour is hoisted again on the tower of Lal Quila, let’s take a look at the magnificence of our nation and its journey- from August 15, 2018 to August 15, 2019- India in 365 days.
Since 2014, India has overtaken China, becoming the world’s fastest growing economy. As compared to a nominal GDP of US$ 2.72 trillion in 2018, India’s GDP is projected at US$ 2.97 trillion in 2019. We have also became the seventh largest economy in the world by nominal GDP, and third largest by purchasing power parity (PPP). With our growth rates remaining high, some economists also predict that India can potentially outstrip UK to bag the 5th position in the coming times.
While the World Bank figures spread like wildfire, and Indian chests swell up with pride, one must take a look at the per capita GDP, a more suitable benchmark for development. We rank 142 and 119 respectively in terms of nominal GDP per capita and GDP (PPP) per capita. The Human Development Index (HDI) too continues to be low at 0.640. The grim reality, therefore, remains the same. If we consider our humongous population, our growth figures are barely competitive.
On August 10, 2018, petrol prices in India were at 77.10 Rs/litre (New Delhi); on July 22, 2019, the prices stand at 73.41 Rs/litre (New Delhi). Prices in Mumbai for the same time frame were Rs 84.54 and 79.01 respectively. The graph of stability in these 365 days, however, has been anything but a straight line. With prices spiralling out of control, opposition and critiques have time and again pointed out the faults in petrol pricing. But while the exchange rates (US dollars and Rs) soar up as well, it becomes too complicated a picture to say anything with certainty.
According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) data, the unemployment rate of the country increased from 5.29% in February 2018 to 7.2% in February 2019. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi says India is facing a data crisis, not a job crisis, CMIE’s managing-director Mahesh Vyas disagrees. According to Vyas, the high unemployment rate reflects our current economical scenario. The total number of employed persons in February 2019 is estimated at 400 million, lower than the 406 million employed in February 2018. “While the labour participation rate has been falling, the unemployment rate has been rising,” he said. In India, the working age population grows by an estimated 23 million people a year. If adequate job opportunities are not created, it can lead to social unrest.
In 2018, India emerged as the best performing stock market in Asia, and the second best performing major market in the world after Brazil.
2018 was a good year for the stock market in other terms as well. The market capitalisation of BSE-listed companies stood at Rs 153 lakh crore on July 1, 2018 before hitting the all-time high of Rs 159 lakh crore in August 2018. But by June 1, 2019 this year, it had declined to less than Rs 152 lakh crore. Though the S&P BSE Sensex crossed 40,000 on May 23, 2019 on emerging trends of NDA smoothly cruising to a great victory, by August 9, it had plummeted to 37,581.91 level. China US trade war, tensions in the Gulf between US and Iran leading to uncertainty in crude oil prices, and drama surrounding Brexit are also affecting Indian stock markets. Moreover, stocks belonging to domestic financial sector, auto sector and FMCG are specially facing downward selling pressure.
Rupee in the Currency Market
On August 13, 2018, 1 US Dollar was equivalent to INR 69.46. Thereafter, it hit an all time high of INR 74.25 on October 10, 2018. It opened at a high rate in 2019, but after rising to a high of INR 71.7065 in February 2019, US Dollar has been drifting lower on US-China trade concerns and not so encouraging US housing market data. By August 9, it had come down to INR 70.80. Though the Rupee strengthening against the US Dollar is good for India’s import bill, it is likely to put further pressure on exports by impacting our competitiveness against international rivals.
In the latter half of 2018, the state assembly elections in Rajasthan (December), Madhya Pradesh (November) and Chhattisgarh (November) captured the limelight. Indian National Congress (INC), the principal opposition party, managed to cash in on its increasing popularity, securing the highest number of votes in these 3 states. Moreover, it got an opportunity to install the current Chief Ministers in these following states: Ashok Gehlot (Rajasthan), Kamal Nath (Madhya Pradesh) and Bhupesh Baghel (Chhattisgarh) respectively. In 2019, legislative assembly elections were held in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim simultaneously along with general elections 2019. On April 11, 2019 from Andhra Pradesh, Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSR Congress Party) won in state assembly elections and lead to the victory of Y.S Jaganmohan Reddy. In Odisha, Biju Janata Dal won in elections, marking the success of Naveen Patnaik. Meanwhile, in Arunachal Pradesh, Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) succeeded in assembly elections 2019, appointing Pema Khandu as the CM of the state. Whereas, in Sikkim, Sikkim Krantikari Morcha was victorious, which made Prem Singh Tamang the Chief Minister of this beautiful northeastern state of India.
April/ May 2019 also witnessed voters across the length and breadth of India casting their votes for the 2019 General Elections. Voting was held in seven phases by the Election Commission of India, and largely remained peaceful except for sporadic violence in West Bengal. In the counting held on May 23, 2019, BJP emerged victorious with 303 seats and the NDA reached a total of 353 seats. UPA tally was less than 100; its score of 91 included 52 seats for Indian National Congress. So it failed to get the requisite 54 seats for claiming the title of opposition party. DMK, Trinamool Congress and YSR Congress also managed to win more than 20 seats each.
Major Bills Passed
In August, 2017, the Supreme Court declared the practice of triple talaq as unconstitutional. Subsequently, a year later, Lok Sabha passed The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, outlawing talaq-e-biddat. The bill lapsed in the Rajya Sabha. A fresh bill has now been re-tabled in Lok Sabha in June 2019 by Modi 2.0. With the Lok Sabha passing The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2018 in July, Rajya Sabha followed suit in August, 2018. The bill imposes stricter punishment for rapes, including death penalty for rape of girls under 12 years of age.
In the span of last 365 days, Lok Sabha passed certain important bills to strengthen the administrative and judicial machinery. In August, 2018, the Parliament passed the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (PoA) Amendment Bill, 2018. The bill, among other amendments, would eliminate any provision of anticipatory bail for people indicted with atrocities against SC/STs, not waiting for a court order. Lok Sabha also passed the famous Representation of the People Act (Amendment) Bill, 2017, in the Monsoon session (August), 2018. The bill allows proxy voting for NRIs.
The Central Universities (Amendment) Bill of 2019 was passed to establish Central Tribal and Central University in the state of Andhra Pradesh till July 12, 2019. These universities will offer research facilities in the field of culture, art and technology to the tribal people. Another bill which was passed on July 8, 2019 by Rajya Sabha was the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment Bill). This bill allows voluntary linking of the Aadhar number, which is a 12 digit code as part of know your customer (KYC) guidelines in order to get mobile connection and opening of a new bank account. Currently, it is with the President of India for approval. Also, on July 1, 2019 Lok Sabha passed Central Educational Institutions (Reservations in Teachers’ Cadre) Bill, which focuses on 200 point reservation system instead of 13-roster system. This change will create around 7000 job opportunities for teachers. Moreover, in order to boost the economy, Lok Sabha passed Special Economic Zones (Amendment) bill on June 26, 2019, with the aim to establish trust in order to get grant to set up a unit in these economic zones.
Other important bills passed during the last one year include The Schedule Caste & Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2018; Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018; Commercial Courts, Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of HC, Amendment Bill, 2018. Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018; IBC (2nd Amendment) Bill, 2018; The Personal Laws Amendment Bill 2018 and DNA Technology (use and application), Regulation Bill, 2018 were some other legislations enacted or amended by the Parliament.
Taking advantage of its majority position, the BJP led government ensured that Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019 was passed in both houses of parliament to stop the practice of triple talaq; Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (amendment) Bill 2019 was passed to remove ambiguities in the insolvency process, and Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2019 received the nod to introduce stricter penalty for traffic offences including juvenile driving.
Further, the most important bill to be passed in the first session of 17th Lok Sabha is the Jammu and Kashmir (Reorganisation) Bill, 2019. The bill seeks to create two new Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir UT and Ladakh UT, by bifurcating the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The new UTs will come into being on October 31, 2019. Moreover, Article 370 granting special status to Jammu and Kashmir was scrapped, as also Article 35A which decided the eligibility for resident status of J&K.
A Glance at Other Aspects
In May, 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released a report, that in effect declared India the worst in the world in terms of air quality. Out of the 15 most polluted cities in the world, 14 belonged to the nation with Kanpur topping the charts. Delhi, the national capital, stood at the 6th place. The figures weren’t relieving in 2017, either. By the end of 2016, the US Environmental Protection Agency had stated that the “smog” levels in the capital were at least 5 times more than the maximum acceptable threshold. Though AQI Index of cities such as Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Bengaluru reveals mostly satisfactory or good position, the air quality in northern India remains a concern due to construction dust, ozone, industrial pollution, and deadly haze from stubble burning in the agricultural farms.
“Do your best to achieve the goal, Do what makes you distinct than others, Snatch your rights by excelling in your pursuits, Do maximum for distinction in your field,” says ace badminton player Saina Nehwal, breaking the barriers and glass ceilings. She made India proud at national and international forums. Likewise, many women made India proud in the last one year. This includes Bhawana Kanth who, with great motivation and determination, became the first woman fighter pilot in Indian Air Force. Another one is Jayshree Vyas, who on May 3, 2019, was appointed as the first independent woman director of Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE). Achievements of Mary Kom are distinguished too, as she is the only female boxer to bring 6 gold medals home by winning at Women’s Boxing World Championships. Recently, athlete Hima Das of Assam made our nation proud by winning 5 medals consecutively at various athletics competitions which were held in Europe. Not only this, Rocket women behind the successful launch of Chandrayaan 2, Muthayya Vanitha and Ritu Karidhal, made this mission possible with their dedication and team guidance.
Last but not the least, in May 2019, Nirmala Sitharaman became the first woman Finance Minister of India. And in July 2019, Anshula Kant of SBI was appointed the MD and CFO of the World Bank group.
Hence, the past 365 days have witnessed a roller coaster ride, to say the least. However, with a country as large and diverse as ours, perhaps one can expect nothing less. There are a million little things that make our country the “Bharat” as we proudly call it. It is lucid, therefore, that imperfections creep in. What becomes imperative in such circumstances, is to not lose sight of what’s important and what’s right. Becoming aware citizens is half the journey done of being good citizens. Know what is happening and why.
Happy Independence Day!