The year 2019 saw high political dramas flanked by ideological conflicts, large protests and some landmark moments in Indian history.
Here are all the important events from the year:
Modi Rides Bigger Victory
Prime Minister Narendra Modi led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to an astounding victory in Lok Sabha elections which were held from April 11 to May 19. The BJP won 303 of 542 seats – surpassing its 2014 numbers. it gained a larger ground than previous general elections with an absolute majority in several states, including in the national capital. The Opposition, mostly fragmented, performed poorly and conceded ground to the BJP. Congress-led United Progressive Alliance also failed to put up strong opposition. The party itself was restricted to 52 seats and its former supremo lost one of the key seats, Amethi, to BJP’s Smriti Irani.
The Lok Sabha elections witnessed several turns and twists, and, of course, a plethora of bizarre, sexist and hate speeches by leaders, across party lines, to lure voters. The polls also saw Priyanka Gandhi’s plunge into politics and terror-accused Pragya Singh Thakur’s victory against Congress stalwart Digvijaya Singh.
For months to come, the BJP’s majority in Lok Sabha would help it take some of the decisions that mark watershed moments in Indian history.
Karnataka Political Crisis
The after-effects of the BJP’s unprecedented victory in the Lok Sabha polls were felt severely in Karnataka where it won 25 of 28 seats. The results emboldened the BJP’s state unit. And with the resignation of two Congress MLAs on July 1, the alarm bells were set off.
By July 17, at least 17 MLAs, including those from Congress-JD(S) and two independents, had withdrawn support to the government. The BJP, who had initially distanced itself from the string of resignations, played its part and set the "Operation Kamal" rolling. The resort politics saw a return when all the defectors moved to a hotel in Mumbai. The entire political theatrics also shone light on D.K.Shivakumar, who did all that a troubleshooter could do, to keep the flock together, and failed.
The resignations reduced the coalition’s strength in the Assembly to 101 and opposition BJP to 107.
The entire political drama ended on July 23 when H D Kumaraswamy resigned as the Chief Minister after he lost a trust vote. B.S. Yediyurappa was sworn-in as Chief Minister, once again on July 26.
The defeat marked the end of a brittle coalition that was formed after the assembly polls on May 23, 2018, which returned a hung verdict after three main parties in the state contested against each other in the polls.
If there was anything that was histrionic in the Indian political menu this year, it has to be the Maharashtra drama – a Scorsese-kind-of-a-show, if only the star cast were different, save Nationalist Congress Party supremo, Sharad Pawar.
In the Maharashtra Assembly elections, held on October 21, BJP-Shiv Sena alliance managed to grasp the majority. But the trends were worrying: BJP was confident of securing a majority on its own, but it bagged only 105 seats, compared to 122 in 2014. The ‘big brother’ of the alliance was left dependent on Shiv Sena. The change in the power equation left Shiv Sena in a position where it could call the shots. And so it did. Soon after the results were declared on October 24, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray raised the demand of rotational chief minister and equal sharing of power – something which BJP did not give in to. Thus began a deadlock that would stretch for over a month.
The month-long political battle saw the rift between two right-wing parties deepening, the gradual and reluctant bonhomie between secular Congress-NCP and pro-Hindutva Shiv Sena.
Maharashtra Governor invited all three parties, one by one, to show willingness to form the government. The BJP was the first to be invited and the first to refuse to stake claim to form the government. Amid a political vacuum created by the President’s Rule that was imposed in absence of an elected government, Congress, NCP and Sena finally agreed upon forming a government and made the intentions public on November 22 evening. But the entire battleground was turned upside down the next morning. The country woke up to the news that BJP’s Davendra Fadnavis had taken oath as the Chief Minister and his deputy was Sharad Pawar’s nephew, Ajit Pawar, who claimed to have over two dozen MLAs on his side. The hush-hush and sudden government formation dashed the hopes of Sena, Congress and NCP – or Maha Vikas Aghadi. The three parties moved the Supreme Court and challenged the manner in which the government was formed.
The Supreme Court directed a floor test on November 27. But a day prior to the trust vote, Ajit Pawar quit. It was followed by Fadnavis’s resignation, paving way for Maha Vikas Aghadi to form the government. November 29 saw the end of the prolonged Maharashtra drama when Uddhav Thackeray was sworn-in as Chief Minister. Ajit Pawar returned to his fold and the older Pawar earned himself the name of Chanakya, for many believed he was the Scorsese of Maha thriller.
Article 370 Axed, Kashmir Goes Incommunicado
No one knew until the morning of August 5 what was the BJP government at the Centre up to in Kashmir. That morning, Kashmir was cut off from the entire world: phones, Internet services, postal services were shut; all political leaders, except for the BJP, were detained; and a strict curfew was imposed across the erstwhile state. The region was cut off from within. In Delhi, Home Minister Amit Shah announced the government had abrogated provisions of Article 370 that gave special status to J&K, and bifurcated it into two Union Territories. The BJP said the Kashmir, the bone of contention between India and Pakistan and the reason of three wars, had fully been integrated with the country.
The nullification of Article 370 was one of the main agendas on BJP’s manifesto since 2014. While most of the Opposition supported the government for its ‘bold’ move, the only objection raised was against the manner in which it was executed. Kashmiris and the entire mainstream leadership there was unaware till the last minute about the Centre’s move. Though they had raised apprehension when the troop build-up was taking place days before August 5, the central government maintained silence while the then Governor, Satya Pal Malik, dismissed all such speculations.
Post-August 5, Kashmir was kept under lockdown for almost three months. No political delegation or leader was allowed to visit Kashmir. Schools, businesses and offices remained shut for months. In the absence of Internet and mobile telephone services, Kashmiris living outside J&K were cut-off from their families. As of now, the Internet services remained banned and only post-paid mobile services and landline telephones are functional.
Pulwama, Balakot and Dogfight
In one of the deadliest attacks on Indian security forces in decades, 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed when an explosive-laden vehicle rammed one of the buses carrying paramilitary forces from Jammu to Srinagar on February 14, 2019.
The attack took India by shock as the Narendra Modi-led government -- just months before the country prepared to go to the polls -- vowed to avenge the killings.
Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed the responsibility for the attack a day later. The assailant, a 22-year-old local who was last seen by his family a year earlier in March, was also killed. Pakistan condemned the killings and denied its involvement, but India held it responsible for having failed in reining in terrorism emanating from its territory.
Faced with criticism over the national security, the Narendra Modi-led government acted against the arch-enemy 10 days later, on February 24, 2019, targetting terrorist camps in Balakot town in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. India claimed it neutralised a "large number" of terrorists in the attack; Pakistan denied any damage, saying the strikes had only felled a few trees in the area.
Pulwama and Balakot exacerbated the already strained relations between the two neighbours. Further, retaliating against India's strikes, Pakistani warplanes entered the Indian airspace on February 27 and dropped explosives in open areas to "avoid human loss". India, on the other hand, contested this version, claiming it had successfully foiled Pakistan's plan to target military installations in the area. However, in the dogfight, an Indian aircraft was shot down and its pilot Abhinandan Varthaman was captured by Pakistan. Two days later, the pilot was released, but the relations between the two nations continue to spiral downward ever since.
In a historic and unanimous verdict, the Supreme Court of India, on November 9, 2019, put to rest one of the oldest issues -- the Ayodhya Ramjanmabhumi-Babri Masjid case--that divided the country on religious lines.
The top court acknowledged that the Mosque had been destroyed but backed the construction of a Ram Temple on the disputed site, handing over the responsibility for it to a government trust. The top court also ruled that an alternative five-acre plot be given for a mosque in the holy town of Ayodhya. A five-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, said the faith of Hindus that Lord Ram was born at the site was undisputed, and he is symbolically the owner of the land.
The apex court said it is also clear that the destruction of the 16th century three-domed structure by Hindu kar sevaks, who want to build a Ram temple there, was a clear violation of the law that "must be remedied".
On December 12, 2019, a five-judge bench of the SC dismissed a clutch of petitions seeking review of its November 9 verdict, saying it had found no merit in those petitions.
Chidambaram Lands In Tihar Jail
Senior Congress leader and former Finance Minister, P Chidambaram, spent more than one-fourth of 2019 in jail. On August 20, Delhi High Court dismissed his interim bail plea, naming him the ‘kingpin' in the INX Media case. The court also sidelined his request to stay on the order for three days to enable him to move an appeal in the top court. But he moved the Supreme Court and failed to get an immediate hearing.
Then unfolded a drama. The CBI went to Chidambaram’s house to arrest him but found he was missing.
After a high-pitched drama, he appeared the next day at a press briefing while the CBI reached his residence, climbed the walls to get inside and later arrested him. He was sent to CBI custody which periodically extended till September 5.
On September 5, he was produced in a CBI court, which sent him to Tihar jail for 14-day judicial custody. His stay in jail stretched till November 15 when a Delhi Court allowed Enforcement Directorate interrogate and arrest him in INX Media case.
After a series of court hearings, the Supreme Court finally set aside Delhi HC's verdict denying bail to Chidambaram. Chidambaram walked out of Tihar jail, albeit on bail, after 106 days on December 4.
Telangana Rape-Murder Case
Seven years after the horrific gangrape of a Delhi medical student on a moving bus before she was thrown out on the road, another brutal gangrape, murder and burning of a female Veterinarian took place on November 27, 2019, in Telangana. The incident sent shockwaves across India as people took to the streets, demanding strict and quick action against the four accused in the case. At least two parliamentarians suggested they be brought out in public and "lynched".
The incident once again brought to light the issue of women security in India even as the outrage over the incident grew every passing hour. Just days later, in another shocker, all four accused in the rape and murder case were killed by the Telangana police in an encounter. The police claimed the four men had snatched their weapons and opened fire on them. The police retaliated in self-defence and killed all four of them, they said.
The nation once again erupted but this time in joy, garlanding the policemen who "executed justice" on their behalf. But the encounter also triggered a debate around the authenticity of police's act as also about the rights of the accused.
Cases from the past where the initial accused were either not found guilty or framed surfaced online, leading to some crucial questions: "What if they were not rapists?" and, "what if they are still out on the roads prowling around women?"
On December 13, the Supreme Court appointed a three-member inquiry commission to probe into the circumstances leading to the encounter of the four accused and submit its report to the top court in six months.
JNU Fee-Hike Protests
Students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) have been protesting for over two months against a massive 300% fee hike in hostel and security charges. The student movement peaked on November 11 when they marched towards the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), where Vice President Venkaiah Naidu was addressing the university convocation. The police used water cannons on students, who refused to go back from the barricades near AICTE.
The JNU administration defended the hike, saying it hadn’t been revised for 19 years. But the JNU Students' Union (JNUSU) has cited the university’s annual reports to show that more than 40% of the students come from lower-income groups and would not be able to afford the hike.
Soon, the protests that started with a demand to stop implementation of the hostel fee hike, snowballed into a larger movement calling for affordable public education in higher studies and research level. Thus, hundreds of people, including students and civil society members, marched to the Parliament on November 23. As part of their agitation, students and teachers of most schools and centres across the university decided to boycott the examinations, which began on December 12. But now uncertainty looms over next semester's registration of students as the University earlier said pupils missing exams would lose their studentship.
India's economy hit a rough patch in 2019 as its economic growth continued on a downward spiral for the sixth consecutive quarter, recording a slowing rate of the gross domestic product (GDP). India's GDP slipped to a six-year low of 4.5% in the July-September quarter even as PM Narendra Modi promised a USD 5-trillion economy to the country after his re-election. Manufacturing output also hit a slump while consumer demand and private investment significantly weakened. Moreover, the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) report revealed that the country’s unemployment rate in 2017-18 had been at a four-decade high.
To ease the crisis, the government said it was taking significant measures, including reducing the rate of corporation tax, to boost investor sentiment. However, from Home Minister Amit Shah to Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the government is hinging on the explanation that the country is facing temporary effects of a global slowdown, seen by many experts as the Centre living in denial. Sitharaman has also assured there will be no recession in the future. However, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said that India is in the midst of a significant economic slowdown and urged the government to take urgent steps to reverse the trend.
Nationwide CAA Protests
The protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) have rocked India and claimed more than 25 lives amid allegations of police brutality.
The law was enacted on January 12 after the Parliament cleared it amid protests, especially in the Northeastern state Assam.
The protests spread to other states as soon as the law came into effect and reached a tipping point on January 15 when Delhi Police entered the Jamia Millia Islamia following violence during an agitation in the nearby New Friends Colony area. The university accused the police of forcefully entering the campus, beating up students and staff, and damaging property. Police crackdown on Jamia students was condemned by many academics, activists, intellectuals and civil society members as solidarity poured in from other institutions such as JNU, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), several IITs and others.
The police action followed at many other places, including AMU, which was described by politicians and protesters as "excessive". In Uttar Pradesh alone, around 20 were killed amid violent protests. While the UP Police claimed they didn't open fire on protesters, one death due to bullet injury has been confirmed. Thousands have also been arrested in the state that has emerged as a hotbed of anti-CAA protests.
As the Opposition strengthened its attack on the ruling BJP with respect to CAA, NDA ally JD(U), too, opposed the law even after supporting it in Parliament. However, the government has maintained the Opposition is misleading protesters on the CAA issue.
The CAA seeks to grant citizenship to illegal immigrants coming to India and belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The exclusion of Muslims from the Act, along with apprehensions about a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC), has been a major driver behind the protests.