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The Year That Was:

From: Vartaa Editorial Team on Jan 26, 2017

Recap 2016

At Vartaa, we generally shy away from inserting our opinions between the conversations that you, the reader, needs to have with the direct source of the news that we provide. On occasions though, we feel necessary to intervene, either to recap events and offer greater insight or when the important of the event is so critical that it cannot be ignored.

As 2017 begins, we thought it fit to offer editorial looking back at the events of the past year and look at how Indian politics, business and sports are positioned for the year ahead. The thoughts expressed here are purely the opinion of the Vartaa editorial team. Test them against the grain of your knowledge. As for our conjecturing about the future, we will humbly say this - take it with a grain of salt. If there is one thing that 2016 taught political observers and forecasters across the world, it was that even the best of the data can often miss the subtle undercurrents of human emotion.

We wish you all a Happy 2017 and Happy Republic Day!

POLITICS

The BJP and consequently the NDA government remained the major show in town. The government has now reached the halfway mark of its tenure and during the year it faced increasing pressure of having under-achieved against its promises. Part of the problem was the rosy promised glow of 'acche din' painted during the 2014 elections. Part of it was poor legislative strategy that had seen the BJP fritter away its majority in the Lok Sabha during the last two years. However, the second half of the year saw plenty of action. The GST Bill is now a reality and the government made public its counterstrikes against Pakistani terror bases in response to the Uri attack, thus signaling a willingness to talk and walk the line on a muscular foreign policy against Pakistan. Where that leaves PM Modi's earlier attempts to engage with Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistani government remains to be seen. The last quarter of the year was consumed by demonetization. Even staunch BJP supporters now agree that the move was poorly implemented. The PM's justifications shifted, from calling it a strike against black money to the more progressive and aspirational goal of a cashless economy. Make no mistake, demonetization was systemic shock to India's economy. Its impact of GDP, employment and consumer spending will be borne out by field studies in the coming months. Its political impact though remains uncertain. Early indicators are that the citizenry, despite the massive inefficiencies in implementation, is willing to give PM Modi the benefit of the doubt on the basis of good intentions. The validation of the sentiment through the electoral process is still pending though. One thing remained clear though - while the government per se might have suffered criticism, PM Modi displayed enough agility to come out ahead of the damage. His popularity continues to be high, in part due to his skills as a politician and a communicator and in part due to an opposition that yet again failed to build a case against him. The Congress lives in ambivalence while the AAP punches far above its electoral weight.

Two critical events will box the political fortunes of the government in 2017. The UP elections in February and the Gujarat elections at the end of the year. If the BJP performs well, the PM would be seen as having ridden out the notebandi storm and having the country behind him. If not, then the 2019 general election might start looking a little more difficult for the BJP. The PM will most likely get a second term but depending on the allies to make up a shortfall of 60-70 seats in the Lok Sabha suddenly opens up political bargaining shop that the BJP would ideally want to avoid.

BUSINESS

It was bad year for institutions and governance in India's business environment. The RBI was at the center of the storm, fighting its own battles instead of cleaning up the banking system. Raghuram Rajan's departure was clouded in a political storm with many in the BJP openly assailing him and wanting his ouster. His successor Urjit Patel converted RBI into another sarkaari notification issuing agency during demonetization with rules being changed every week. The RBI is trusted as a mature, stable institution that places a steady hand on what can often be a shaky financial system in India. Demonetization served to build cracks in that trust. The bank that was supposed to have it covered slipped badly.

In corporate India, the lack of a culture of board oversight and governance was highlighted by the soap opera at Tata Sons resulting in Cyrus Mistry's exit. Dirty linen was washed in public, allegations traded and a coup staged in the most unseemly manner to get rid of a CEO. It is of little surprise then that despite being public companies with open balance sheets and disclosures, the issue of transparency and trust continues to hang like an albatross around the neck of India's large corporations.

SPORTS

The Indian cricket team had in best year in test cricket by far, reigniting faith in a format towards which Indian cricket seemed indifferent a while back. There was also a refreshing development in the adoption of the DRS and the attempt to embrace a technology that all other teams are now quite used to. But the biggest shake up came from the gavel slammed down upon the BCCI by the Supreme Court and the Lodha Committee. As we write this, the Board President and the Secretary have been removed from their posts. If the Lodha Committee recommendations are implemented in toto, the face of the BCCI could look a lot different a year from now, with many old mandarins who have clung onto state and national posts for decades being evicted. One only hopes that the Lodha Committee serves as a template for the reform of administration in all other sporting bodies that are mostly run as personal fiefdoms by politicians.

Beyond cricket, the Olympics showcased our limitations in other sports. The glow of the performance of London 2012 proved ephemeral and the lack of systemic structures to product champions was cruelly exposed. Unfortunately, as is the case, the athlete bore the brunt of the criticism while the administrator continues in his merry way. Little has changed despite the post-mortems. There were sparks of hope here and there though. PV Sindhu took the baton of excellence in badminton from Saina Nehwal and Indian hockey ended the year on a high by winning the Junior World Cup, once again raising hopes of glories on the astro-turf.