The year 2019 saw several events that could be termed ‘turning points’ in India's modern history. From revoking Jammu & Kashmir’s special status through abrogation of Article 370 to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which brought the country’s youth to the streets in chilly nights of December, there are several good and bad memories this year is going to leave Indians with.
Business Standard lists six defining events of 2019 that became the biggest political issues in India:
Abrogation of Article 370
Maps of newly formed Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh | Photo: @PIBIndia
On August 5, 2019, Home Minister Amit Shah announced the scrapping of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, a move that stripped the state of Jammu & Kashmir of its special status. Shah also announced that J&K would cease to be a state and get split into two Union Territories — J&K with a legislature, like Delhi, and Ladakh without one, like Chandigarh. This Bill proposing revocation of the erstwhile state’s special status was cleared by both Houses of Parliament after heated debates.
Prior to the abrogation of Article 370, the central government had to take the Jammu & Kashmir government’s permission to enforce laws in the state. Now, that will not be required.
The government move drew strong reactions, not only from various political outfits in India but also from international community. The residents of the affected region also opposed the move, and political leaders of Jammu & Kashmir were put under house arrest or detained elsewhere to prevent strife. Following early protests, Article 144 was imposed in various parts of the Valley and there was a clamp-down on internet and telephone services to check spread of misinformation. To this day, internet services remain affected in several parts of Jammu & Kashmir.
Reservation for economically weaker sections
Towards the end of its first term in office, the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government had brought the 124th Constitution Amendment Bill, 2019, providing for people from economically weaker sections (EWS) to avail of 10 per cent reservation in government jobs and educational institutes. This cleared the decks for those in the general category with an annual income of up to Rs 8 lakh and not availing of any reservation other than vertical quota (ex-servicemen, persons with disability, etc), to seek a reservation in government jobs and education.
Especially because of its timing — coming as it was in January 2019, right before the Lok Sabha elections — many saw this move as being politically motivated to sway voters in favour of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Even as views on EWS remain divided, candidates now have the option to avail of EWS quota in government jobs and admission to educational institutions.
Lok Sabha elections 2019
The Lok Sabha election of 2019 was a historic event in more ways than one. It was the first time in three decades that a party — the BJP in this case — secured a clear majority on its own. As a coalition unit, the NDA increased its strength in the Lok Sabha.
Even as the Indian National Congress managed to win more seats than it did in 2014, its president Rahul Gandhi lost his family pocket borough of Amethi to the BJP’s Smriti Irani. Gandhi, however, won the other seat from where he had contested — Wayanad in Kerala — by a record margin. In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP bettered all expectations to bag 62 of the state’s 80 seats. Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party, which had won no seats in 2014, benefitted from its alliance with the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP) and won 10 seats. This was even as SP was not able to make any improvement to its Lok Sabha tally of 5 seats. Battlefield UP turned out to be a disaster for the Congress, with only its former president, Sonia Gandhi, managing to win a seat.
Another major surprise came from West Bengal, where the BJP won 18 of the state’s 42 seats. This was its best show ever in Bengal. While Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress saw its tally telling getting pared from 34 seats to 22, the Left parties could not even open their account. Narendra Modi returned as the prime minister with a bigger and stronger majority than in his first stint.
Pulwama attack and the aftermath
Soldiers examine the site of an explosion in Pulwama district in February. Photo: Reuters
In an event that would shake the nation and trigger an action by the Indian government across the border in Pakistani territory, 40 soldiers were killed in the Pulwama district of Jammu & Kashmir on February 14, when a military convoy of the Indian Army was attacked by terrorists allegedly backed by Pakistan.
On February 26, India launched pre-dawn airstrikes in Pakistan’s Balakot, destroying a terror camp and eliminating several terror operatives. In retaliation, Pakistan sent across the border its F-16 fighter jets, one of which was shot down.
In this operation, however, an Indian fighter pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, was captured by Pakistani forces and released after several rounds of negotiations in a victory of Indian diplomacy.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested former finance minister P Chidambaram in connection with the INX Media money-laundering case. Several of his bail pleas were rejected by the different courts and it was not before 106 days that he could leave Delhi’s Tihar jail. While both CBI and Enforcement Directorate alleged financial misconduct involving Chidambaram during his time as the country’s finance minister, the Congress party labelled the action plain vendetta on the part of the ruling BJP.
Citizenship Amendment Act
The passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill by both Houses of Parliament, followed by the President’s assent, led to widespread protests across the country. The Bill, now an Act, proposes to grant Indian citizenship to Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh and Christian minorities who took refuge in India after facing persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The requirement of having lived in the country for at least 11 years before getting to apply for India’s citizenship has also been relaxed — any immigrant from the communities mentioned above could apply if they came to India on December 31, 2014, or earlier.
The move has faced opposition from several quarters, mostly the youth, over its allegedly discriminatory nature. Many have questioned the intent behind the choice of only three Muslim-majority neighbouring countries, as well as leaving out of the Muslim community from the list of those that could seek Indian citizenship.
There also are concerns that the government might enforce the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRC) across the country, as in the case of Assam earlier, simultaneously with the implementation of the CAA. The government, however, has denied these claims.
The protests against the Act turned violent mid-December following police action on students, mainly of the Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi. The students of several universities, as well as other groups, came to the streets in support of Jamia students. A series of protests ensued in various cities of the country — some of them turned violent, leading to loss of lives and property. At least 25 people are reported to have been killed in CAA-related protests so far, and hundreds have been injured.