December has been an eventful month. The Congress party extended its ‘unconditional’ support to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Then the political parties came together to pass the Lokpal Bill—a version surprisingly acceptable to Anna Hazare, but not to his one-time protégé Arvind Kejriwal. At about the same time, of course, Lalu Prasad Yadav (the same man who that infamous ordinance was designed to protect) announced a likely coalition with the Congress and a couple of days later, Rahul Gandhi addressed business leaders and told them how corruption was the nation’s Enemy no. 1.

No two events are contradictory, if you ask the spokespersons of political parties, as they hop from one political expediency to another. Thus, 2013 is drawing to an end—an eventful year in which we saw an upheaval in our politics, while much else stayed the same. Here is a quick recap:

• Our projected growth rates continued to fall for 2013 (3.8% according to the International Monetary Fund). At the same time, the population below poverty line has fallen to 22%—however, this has only sharpened attacks on the unreasonable cut-off points that determine the poverty-line. Unfortunately, most debates take off from these absolute poverty-line figures and fail to look at vulnerability and the risk of sliding back on this imaginary line. Welfare schemes for the poor saw little increase in 2013—the union budget had nominal increase in the outlays and while the National Food Security Bill created much noise, its implementation has hardly taken off. In any case, no political party in India disagrees with welfare schemes—it is only in the mode of implementation that some appear to differ.

• Amidst all of the despondency and anger that has been a steady feature of UPA rule, the Congress party has stayed faithful to its strategy of projecting Rahul Gandhi as the hope of the nation. Sometimes with indigenous tribes in Odisha, parachuting into hot-spots in Uttar Pradesh, as the saviour of the Lokpal Bill, etc., sadly, the grand old party has come to believe that “Rahulji" is their only hope for the future. For a party that refuses to embrace a federal (let alone democratic) structure, even at this stage of our nation’s polity, it is hard to see how they will revive themselves. But we have been promised that the party will change in “ways that we cannot even imagine". Well…

• The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on the other hand, has been able to focus on the achievements of its chief ministers—partly a compulsion of having stayed out of power for the last decade in Delhi, but one that seems to have served their state leaders quite well when facing up to their own coterie of Delhi-based leaders. After wins in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the BJP will have a good year-end and will likely come back stronger next year. However, the BJP has started showing signs of imitating its principal rival, with its incessant eulogies for Narendra Modi. For the first time possibly, we hear in the media, the concept of a prime ministerial candidate—a media-fuelled presumptuous position that doesn’t exist anywhere in our Constitution.

• All this is politics as usual. But the emergence of the AAP (in Delhi at least) as a credible political alternative was not an ordinary event—and one that singlehandedly makes this year-end a promising one. A party that has sewn together a coalition that cuts across socio-economic classes, not based on an attempt to consolidate any kind of religious or caste identity, deserves our attention. The question now is not whether the AAP can replicate its success in other parts of the country—does this open up a new strand of possibility across the country? And are there political entrepreneurs like Kejriwal who may be inspired to seize the moment?

• Compulsions of domestic politics continued to cloud foreign policy. On the one hand, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee showed no love for her linguistic brethren in Bangladesh and stalled one effort after the other to sign the Teesta water sharing agreement. On the other, political parties across the board in Tamil Nadu professed their solidarity with their Tamil brethren in Sri Lanka so violently that New Delhi was forced into some really awkward foreign policy decisions.

• ‘Conflict of interest’ might have come out of various personal closets somewhat into the public gaze. Covering a wide range of public interests—businesses and politics; cricket and commerce; organisations and their internal policies; the judiciary and their collegiums—while this continues to be an inherent flaw in how we function as a society, here’s hoping we see an enforcement of the ‘rule of law’ that can reduce this phenomenon.

• As the year draws to a close, we are seeing pretty encouraging rear-guard action from our young cricket team in South Africa. Following the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar, the last amongst the Fab Four, this makes us all very happy indeed.

Suvojit Chattopadhyay is a consultant with over seven years’ experience in the implementation and evaluation of development interventions.

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