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Business News/ Opinion / Columns/  The year that was

The year that was

Year 2021 of the Common Era was a rollercoaster that could leave anybody’s head spinning

Commuters, not wearing facemasks, head to work amid the Covid-19 Omicron variant threat, in Noida, India, on Thursday, December 30, 2021. (Photo by Sunil Ghosh / Hindustan Times) (HT_PRINT)Premium
Commuters, not wearing facemasks, head to work amid the Covid-19 Omicron variant threat, in Noida, India, on Thursday, December 30, 2021. (Photo by Sunil Ghosh / Hindustan Times) (HT_PRINT)

In 2021, we struggled to figure out if washing hands with soap was enough or was it necessary to use sanitisers, and whether masks had to be worn or not; and if they were to be worn, was it necessary to wear them inside our cars while we were driving or only when we were passengers; and was there a polite way to tell the Uber driver or the person next to us in the Metro that all human beings exhale through their nostrils, and not ears, so the masks should cover their nose, and not dangle stylishly below the chin; and we struggled to understand if one dose of vaccine was enough or not, and if one was not enough, when the second dose hadto be taken, and if two weren’t enough, were three needed, and so on and so forth… and we lost count of when January was over and December came and found it’s about to leave us. What a year it has been!

In January, India approved its homegrown covid vaccine and cried foul when a few months later foreign governments wouldn’t take Covaxin seriously, wounding national pride. But then a few months later when the WHO director-general saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi walk towards him eagerly and appeared to worry that he might get hugged, notwithstanding social distancing rules, he promptly approved Covaxin, and Indians heaved a sigh of relief and shouted, “Bharat Mata Ki Jai." At the virtual Davos summit, Prime Minister Modi declared victory over coronavirus.

Also in January, as soon as the Adani group discovered that former Indian cricket captain Sourav Ganguly had suffered a mild heart attack, its Fortune Edible Oil brand for which Ganguly was its brand ambassador took the socially-responsible decision of pulling down ads featuring Ganguly. WhatsApp changed its privacy policies, making them so complicated that millions of Whatsapp messages began circulating around India calling for a #boycott of Whatsapp. But within days, someone leaked Whatsapp chats between television entrepreneur Arnab Goswami and the former Broadcast Audience Research Council chief Partho Dasgupta, and everyone promptly reinstalled Whatsapp to read those chats.

Meanwhile on Republic Day, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, aware that despite appointing Rishi Sunak and Priti Patel to weighty posts in his cabinet he was not going to get the trade deal with India that he had promised British voters when he was cajoling them into voting for Britain to leave the European Union, decided to give the parade a miss. Too bad, for he missed seeing a massive tractor rally that was planned as an impromptu event in his honour by farmers whose cousins live in the Midlands and keep voting Labour.

Came February, and pop star Rihanna expressed sympathy for India’s farmers. Apparently incensed over this grave threat to India’s sovereignty and security, foreign minister S. Jaishanker issued a strong rebuttal criticizing her. Delhi police arrested the 22-year-old environmentalist Disha Ravi on sedition charges because she knew Google Docs well enough to edit the documents without losing the files of a ‘toolkit’ that was as dull as the marketing plan of a multinational brand. She got bail a week later, having promised to teach the police how to keep track of the various versions of documents they were reading. Later in February, the renovated cricket stadium at Motera near Ahmedabad, which everyone assumed had been named after Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and boasts of a track highly responsive to spinners, was named after Narendra Modi.

In April, Gujarat became the third state to pass what’s effectively a ban on marriage between consenting adults if they happen to have been born into different religions, to prevent the spread of ‘love jihad,’ a mysterious disease apparently rampant in India, even though nobody had statistics to show how many marriages had taken place by force, and whether the trend was rising or falling, or what ‘love jihad’ meant under the law, as it was a term that no statutory authority had ever defined or described as a problem.

With so many obsessed over the spread of love jihad, coronavirus sensed its opportunity and spread furiously across a country caught with its mask down.

Prime Minister Modi declared a lockdown that wasn’t like 2020’s and reminded Indians to be ‘atmanirbhar,’ or self-reliant, as the pandemic still had to be tackled.

Hospitals were short of beds, oxygen, masks, personal protective equipment, and medicines, as they learnt what being self-reliant meant.

Few were dying of covid, people were reassured; lives were being claimed by heart failures caused by complications and breathing difficulties. Meanwhile pro-government authors in Gujarat were aghast and angry with poet Parul Khakhar, who wrote a poem because she was aghast and angry with the authorities as dead bodies floated down the Ganga.

In May, all hell broke loose when twitter permanently suspended the account of the multi-talented thespian Kangana Ranaut because she was merely exercising her freedom of expression on a foreign privately-owned platform. The government was clearly aware of the risk of incendiary remarks, even if they were not expressed.

After all, it had promptly arrested comedian Munawar Faruqui earlier in the year on apprehensions that he might say something that might offend someone. The government knows that once something is said, all you can do is withdraw it, as Veer Tejaswi Surya did in December, after his remarks about the need to convert minorities to Hinduism went viral and threatened to interfere with polls in Goa.

By late May, opposition parties wrote to the government seeking a repeal of farm laws and universal mass vaccination. Government supporters considered these hilarious until Modi did just that a few months later, and his supporters marvelled at his tactical masterstroke.

In June, Pinjra Tod activists Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita were freed from at least one cage, Tihar jail, after a court ordered their immediate release after a year in custody. Later that month, many opposition leaders came to conclude that the need of the hour was a common platform against the government with everyone sinking differences and uniting for a common goal, and so they met in Delhi, and took the momentous decision to meet again.

Meanwhile in Uttarakhand, the state got its third chief minister in four years, and the other 54 ruling party legislators rued their fate, as they realized that their chances of getting the post were diminishing by the day, since state electionswould be held in 2022. The Bharatiya Janata Party would replace its chief ministers in Karnataka and Gujarat, and not to be outdone, the Congress too replaced its chief minister in Punjab, proving that it can do exactly what the BJP does, and get blamed for both decisions. In Mumbai, India’s oldest political prisoner Stan Swamy, who was never tried in court for crimes he was accused of, died in custody, bitterly dividing Indian Twitterspace between those wanting the

Pope to canonize him, and those who were angry with him for dying before he could be found guilty of terrorism and spreading covid among Tribals.

In July, Modi rearranged the chairs on his deck and stopped the music while his ministers were playing musical chairs, leaving Harsh Vardhan, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar standing in embarrassment as others occupied the chairs, forcing them out of the game. Jyotiraditya Scindia was rewarded for his ghar wapsi’ as he had joined the party of his grandmother and aunts, and was given a portfolio. Later in July, the health ministry confirmed in Parliament that nobody died in India due to lack of oxygen in the second wave because those who died had died because they could no longer breathe. Some blamed Jawaharlal Nehru.

All eyes were on Tokyo for the delayed Olympic Games and several Indians won

several medals. After the women’s hockey team lost, upper-caste men in Haridwar abused Vandana Katariya’s family, lamenting that Dalits were now playing hockey which no doubt led to the spread of coronavirus. When the bemedalled athletes returned to India, they earned an even higher reward, a photograph with Prime Minister Modi. To set a historical wrong right, the government announced that the national sports award which was unnecessarily named after Rajiv Gandhi who had merely supervised the construction of stadiums during the Asian Games in 1982, would now be renamed after the hockey legend Dhyan Chand, even though there was already an award in his name. When people pointed that out, officials accused the critics of spreading rumours and coronavirus. As the month ended, forgetting they were part of the same country, police forces of Assam and Mizoram shot at each other and five Assamese police were killed.

In August, keen to appear even-handed after having removed Kangana Ranaut from its platform, Twitter suspended or blocked the accounts of several Congress leaders, following the journalistic axiom that you must annoy both parties to prove to yourself that you are doing something right and not spreading coronavirus. The finance ministry announced the sale of the century, offering assets of railways, power lines, and warehousing, with N95 masks offered free of charge, and the government managed to sell Air India to the Tata Group, from which it had taken over the airline nearly seven decades ago, leading to further charges hurled at Nehru.

Meanwhile, keen to get some rest before the all-important IPL tournament, Indian cricketers, leading 2-1, postponed their final Test against England by a year, blaming coronavirus.

Meanwhile, two containers with heroin from Afghanistan were seized at a Gujarat port, but nobody paid much attention, since no movie stars or fundamentalist groups were involved. In October, the narcotics bureau arrested Shah Rukh Khan’s son on a cruise vessel between Mumbai and Goa in a drug bust, and political party hacks turned up to take selfies with the celebrities who were arrested. They were released soon, after they had spent sufficient time in quarantine due to the spread of coronavirus.

In October, a car with a Union minister’s son ran over protesters in Lakhimpur Kheri, reminding Indians of how regret is expressed when a car runs over puppies or farmers. Later that month, with Newtonian logic, a mosque was vandalized in Tripura because Hindus were attacked in Bangladesh.

In November, Modi apologized to farmers and promised to withdraw the laws that had upset them so much. His supporters called it a strategic masterstroke andblamed covid. And the erudite historian Kangana Ranaut made the startling

discovery that India had become independent only in 2014 and promised to write a book next year, which could be called Rediscovery of India: My Experiments with Truth.

In December, confusing Dussehra with Christmas, some Hindus celebrated burning an effigy of Santa Claus, thinking it was Ravana’s, and toppled a statue of Jesus, thinking it was an illegal structure not authorized by municipal regulations. Over in South Africa, Indian cricketers took the field in a Test match but did not wear a black armband to mourn the passing of Desmond Tutu; it was not in their sponsorship contracts and it could hide a logo or two and maybe also spread coronavirus.

But in the end, all was well, as Harnaaz Sandhu became Miss Universe and Sudha Bharadwaj was free at last and Rahul Dravid was India’s coach and Mohammed Shami got his 200th wicket at the Centurion. And the government too showed it had learnt the lessons of covid’s second wave. As promised, mass election rallies will be banned in West Bengal in 2022.

These are to be relocated to Uttar Pradesh.

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Published: 31 Dec 2021, 11:27 PM IST
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