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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Goodbye, 2021

🔴 The year which ended was so filled with bad times that it is hard to mourn its passing

Written by Tavleen Singh |
Updated: January 4, 2022 11:34:57 am
Medical staff of M S Ramaiah hospital wearing PPE and gloves hold placards with a message on New Year's eve amid concern over rising Omicron cases, in Bengaluru. (PTI)

The year just ended was so filled with bad times that it is hard to mourn its passing. Especially not in India and especially not now that the pandemic seems back as a new variant reviving horrible memories of how unprepared we were for the Delta variant last summer. Are we in danger of this happening again with Omicron? There are disquieting similarities. Just like last time, the Prime Minister and many of his senior ministers are busy with elections and addressing vast rallies of unmasked people. While at the same time ordering you and me to be careful about not breaking Covid protocols. Are we to believe that the virus can distinguish between ordinary people and political leaders? The Election Commission says that all political parties want these elections to go ahead, but does not explain why rallies cannot be made compulsorily virtual.

With political leaders otherwise occupied, it is left in the hands of officials to stop the spread of Omicron. These are the same officials who failed us last time, so it seems very much as if the year 2022 is going to begin badly. These gentlemen promised us that every Indian would be fully vaccinated before the end of 2021. This did not happen. If vaccines are easily available, why has it not happened? Why have we delayed boosters so long? Why are new vaccines taking so long to be allowed into India? If Omicron puts half as much stress on the health services as Delta did, we need to be prepared for another year in which disease and death loom over everything else. We must hope that the young doctors who are currently on strike are persuaded to go back to work because this time, as they have warned more than once, the big problem is going to be a grim shortage of doctors.

It was not just Covid that made 2021 such a horrible year. In its last days we began to see the consequences of the demonisation of secularism. This process began in Narendra Modi’s first term as India’s Prime Minister, and it began with the ‘intellectuals’ who believe in a Hindu Rashtra distorting the word and calling it ‘sickularism’. This became the fulcrum of a propaganda blitzkrieg that also demonised elitism and those who they believed had lived needlessly privileged lives in ‘Lootyens’ Delhi. When Modi won his second term, he added fuel to the fire by speaking out against what he called the ‘Khan Market gang’.

This was never a large gang in the first place, so it was easy to replace it with a new ‘gang’. Thinkers of RSS mindset who wore their Hindutva credentials as a badge of honour and who made it clear that they hated Islam and Muslims, so the events we saw happen in Haridwar, Agra and Ambala were inevitable. In Haridwar a gang of saffron-robed ‘holy men’ announced their version of a ‘final solution’ to our Muslim problem. Genocide, they said, was the answer. Apparently, nobody has informed these lunatics that there are more than 200 million Indian Muslims, and if a genocide really began, the world would not sit back quietly and watch.

Meanwhile, on Christmas Day, their brothers-in-arms burned effigies of Santa Claus in Agra, and in Ambala, they vandalised a church and beheaded a statue of Jesus. Throughout these ugly events the Prime Minister has remained silent. Why? In searching for a reason, I remembered him saying to me once that he did not condemn the horrific lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq because something awful happens in India every day and he did not believe it possible to always comment. So, it is left to BJP spokesmen to speak for the Government of India on prime time shows and usually they end up doing a terrible job.

If in 2021 there had been a miraculous economic turnaround it would in some measure have compensated for the atmosphere of hatred and violence that has been created. Alas, this did not happen and for young Indians, unemployment remains a huge problem. Figures from the first three months of last year from the National Statistical Office put the unemployment rate at 9.3%. In coming years, unemployability could become a bigger problem since millions of Indian children have forgotten how to read and write because schools have been closed for two years. A survey by LIRNEasia last November found that only 20 per cent of children formally enrolled in schools had continued their studies during the pandemic and that most of these children lived in cities and towns.

Was there anything that happened in 2021 that we can celebrate as an achievement? Farmers ended their long agitation against the farm laws when the Prime Minister backed down. This is good. There is a fine temple being built in Ayodhya and the Vishwanath Temple corridor was inaugurated in Benares. In Delhi, the Central Vista project proceeds at a spanking pace as does work on the new Parliament building. New India will not be short of new buildings. For those who believe that India should be a Hindu Rashtra there is sufficient evidence that work on this project continued through 2021 at a furious pace. As someone who is not enamoured by any of these projects, I shall stick with saying that 2021 was a horrible year.

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