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Modi remain popular in India
Modi remain popular in India

Time Magazine’s online readers named Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi 2016’s Person of the Year. The politician received 18 percent of the total vote, edging out: President Barack Obama, President-elect Donald Trump and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who each earned seven percent.

The readers poll is held separately from Time’s official Person of the Year. Each year, the magazine’s editors select one individual or group who, for better or worse, had the most global impact across the past 12 months.

Modi, the 14th Indian prime minister and leader of India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has held office since May 2014. Time notes the politician drew both applause and criticism for recently eliminating 500 and 1,000-rupee notes from circulation. Despite his controversies, a September Pew poll gave Modi an 81 percent approval rating from Indian citizens.

Modi previously won Time’s online readers’ poll in 2014, earning over 16 percent of the vote. German Chancellor Angela Merkel won Time’s 2015 Person of the Year.

But 2016 was not 2014, when Modi was having a honeymoon with India.

This year he faced some unseen problems.

STATE OF ECONOMY

More than two years later India remains a country of great potential. India has enjoyed strong economic growth, but that reflects the fall in oil prices as much as domestic factors. Modi’s government has made some important reforms, but so far has left unchallenged many destructive economic policies and political abuses which continue to hobble an entrepreneurial people.

Most recently, New Delhi’s mismanaged currency “reform” has left many Indians without the cash necessary to conduct business. With bank withdrawals still limited, economists fear that the negative impact on growth will persist into the coming year. No wonder Indians joke, noted Sebastian Mallaby of the Council for Foreign Relations, that “India’s prospects look brighter the farther away you are.” Modi should launch a deregulatory blitz before concern for future elections drains away his remaining will to act.

But Modi did something daring this year.

SURGICAL STRIKES

India’s surgical strike against Pakistan was a big move by Modi
India’s surgical strike against Pakistan was a big move by Modi

The government allowed Indian Army to carry out first of its kind ‘surgical strikes’on terror camps operating from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir on September 29. The surgical strikes not only sent Pakistan a strong message, it exposed the Indian opposition like never before when some of them started questioning the veracity of surgical strikes carried out of the Army.

Surgical strikes and diplomatic offensive against Pakistan raised Modi’s stocks. But he had saved the best for the last. His best, however, came as a shock not just for the opposition but the country as well.

On November 8 at 8.00pm, Modi announced the decision to demonetise all old Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes thatamounted to around 86% of the total currency in circulation in the country.

Demonetisation forced the entire country to stand in serpentine queues at banks and ATMs. Though the opposition left no stone unturned to attack Modi for the shock decision, the overwhelming mood in the country remained in favour of the move that Modi sold to people as the biggest attack against black money and corruption.

A government taking on the opposition systematically is probably unprecedented in India. In the years preceding Modi, the government was under constant attack from the opposition. Not anymore. The government has an edge as of now as whatever it does appears to have been scripted much in advance. It is time for the opposition parties to get their politics right.

FOREIGN POLICY

Effectively Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s third year in office, 2016, was to be a time of foreign policy consolidation. He reduced his overseas travel by a third, even staying home during the first three months.

Modi’s primary foreign policy goal, restoring overseas confidence in the India economic story, was a mission accomplished. As he declared, “For me more than what the world thinks of the government, what the image of the country is, is important.”

Relations with China is a big challenge for Modi
Relations with China is a big challenge for Modi

The world wasn’t going to let Modi off that easy. It had been all quiet on the northern front his first two years. In 2016, India’s relations with Pakistan and China went sour – or returned to normal depending on perspective. The year began with Pathankot and ended with the worst Line of Control violence in eight years.

China was a less inscrutable story. Modi had genuinely hoped his Sabarmati summit with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, would smoothen their otherwise bumpy relations.

In 2016, Beijing showed its true colours: India would get a pass only if Islamabad gave a green light. New Delhi is still guessing as to why Beijing, traditionally wary of taking stances on Indo-Pakistani disputes, now openly toes the Islamabad line. Sino-Indian relations went into reverse. China, after signalling otherwise, slammed the door on India’s Nuclear Suppliers Group membership. New Delhi sought to unnerve Beijing about the security of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and is now waiving its Dalai Lama card. The two countries have to “give each other sufficient space,” warned Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar.

The Sino-Indian border remained quiet. But Beijing doesn’t need to do much as the other Indian border is in flames. A Kashmir riots and worsening China-India equation combo automatically encouraged Rawalpindi to prod India harder. “Pakistan is a subset of our China relations,” say senior Indian diplomats.

The early foreign policy honeymoon Modi experienced with India’s two main rivals is over. With them, it is business as usual. And the prime minister’s “surgical” language – responding militarily but, more important, making it public –was signalling for the coming year.

Modi also played the first moves in some game-changing initiatives this year.

First, attitudes towards India among the Persian Gulf monarchies – the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in particular – are being turned around. One result: Billions of dollars pledged for Indian infrastructure. Another is the slow separation of Pakistan from its long-standing Arab backers.

Second, he firmed up a new relationship with Africa. Indian now trades more with Africa, over $100 billion, than the US or Japan. Modi’s topped this off with the seeds for long-term energy and security collaboration.

Third, India’s plans for transforming the Bay of Bengal with concrete and diplomacy started to see shape in 2016. The Sagarmala projects, the resurrection of BIMSTEC, the tie up with Japanese finance to connectivity projects: the pieces of this geopolitical puzzle were defined.

Finally, Modi has moved quickly to ensure that if the US President-elect Donald Trump has a black-and-white vision of the world, India is in the light part. Fortunately, Modi is seen by Trump’s circle as an ideological forerunner to their own victory. But New Delhi is among the few major governments which does not worry that its US relationship is about to take some heavy knocks.

The coming year will be one of global uncertainty, with a capital U. As foreign minister Sushma Swaraj said this year, “There is an overall loosening of relationships and even countries that are formal allies are now hedging.”

POLITICAL LANDSCAPE

In his third year as PM, many expected Modi to embark on some bold political moves to shore up his popularity. But few would have betted on demonetisation, a hitherto unknown term that has now entered the collective psyche of Indians. In one swoop, PM made the most audacious currency swap drill ever undertaken. While reactions from experts have been mixed, the public has so far steadfastly supported demonetization, targeted at reducing black money, counterfeit currencies, terror funding etc.

The PM started the year with the afterglow of his Pakistan tour which was subsequently scuttled by the Pathankot attack. While Modi’s Pak policy has been a non-starter, domestically he has got decent support with BJP doing well in the polls, GST on the anvil and demonetization eliciting positive feedback so far.

But how was the year for Rahul Gandhi, the Congress leader who tried to make his presence felt this year?

Rahul Gandhi is trying hard to make a comeback
Rahul Gandhi is trying hard to make a comeback

Rahul Gandhi completely lost the plot in 2016, rehashing allegations made by others, comparing demonetization to an atomic bomb among others. The more he raised his voice, the lesser he made sense. With a Congress in free fall, throughout the year , Rahul failed to outline how his party can be the better alternative. He travelled copious miles across the length and breadth of the country and gave numerous speeches. Full marks for trying, but sadly zero for execution.

So to summarise the year for Modi: He still dominates Indian politics in a way unseen in decades. His move to abolish 86% of hard currency overnight on 8 November showed that he’s willing to risk imposing hardship on millions of people to implement his vision of a modern India: Free of corruption, fewer internal trade barriers and a tougher line against archrival Pakistan.

But he has a big challenge in 2017 : Reviving the economy after his surprise cash ban dented India’s growth prospects, while also fighting a bellwether election in India’s largest state and rolling out a national goods-and-services tax.

MODI-SPEAK IN 2016

DEMONETISATION BOMB

The most important speech of the year was without a doubt the one Prime Minister Modi gave on November 8 to announced that Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes would cease to be legal tender after midnight. The ban invalidated 86 per cent of the currency in circulation, and the government has described it as a strong move against black money and terrorism funding.

GOA CONCLAVE

Just days after he announced the currency ban, Prime Minister said at an event in Mopa, Goa, that the steps taken by his government weren’t “a display of arrogance,” and that he too felt the “pain” of the people. At one point during the speech, as the PM said how he wasn’t “born to sit on a chair of high office” and recalled how he had left his family and home to serve the nation, he was overcome by emotion. The crowd responded with loud applause. He also said he wouldn’t be cowed down by those creating hurdles in his path, or stop even if someone were to set him on fire.

US CONGRESS

In June this year, Prime Minister Modi became the first Indian PM in a decade to address a joint session of the US Congress. In his 45 minute speech, he cited a range of common objectives and collaborations -from securing the Indian Ocean to science and technology cooperation -to emphasize that New Delhi is ready to fulfill President Obama’s vision of India and the US forming the defining partnership of the 21st century. Modi invoked former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s expression of “natural allies,” which New Delhi had shrunk back from using since Vajpayee first used it.

FROM THE RED FORT

In his Independence Day speech this year, Prime Minister Modi mentioned the people of Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, saying they’d thanked him a lot in the past few days. Just two days earlier, he’d said: “the time has come when Pakistan shall have to answer to the world for the atrocities committed by it against people in Baluchistan and PoK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir)”. These remarks came after Pakistan on July 20 observed a ‘black day’ to ‘condemn’the violence in the Kashmir valley following the death of Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani.

WARNING TO PAKISTAN

On September 24, Prime Minister Modi gave his first public address after the terrorist attack on an army camp Uri, Jammu and Kashmir, in which 19 jawans were martyred. The PM promised that India would leave “no stone unturned” to isolate Pakistan in the world. He also issued a challenge to Pakistan: “Let both the countries fight to end poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and see who wins,” he said.

FROM THE PM’S MIND

Some highlights of Modi’s speech on Mann ki Baat on December 25, his last radio address of the year LUCKY GRAHAK YOJNA

  • India has improved 19 ranks in World Bank Logistics Performance Index 2016. We are moving at a fast pace
  • Lucky Grahak Yojna, Digi-Dhan Vyapara Yojna to award 15,000 people today
  • New schemes to award Rs 1000 to 15,000 people everyday for next 100 days along with bigger draws weekly, and a bumper draw on April 14 Modi

DIGI DHAN VYAPARA YOJNA

  • Digi Dhan Vyapar Yojana is mainly for businessmen, they must encourage cashless transactions
  • Businessmen who make use of digital payments will also receive Income Tax benefits

CASHLESS TRANSACTIONS

  • You will be surprised to know that 30 crore ppl in India have RuPay cards, of those 20 crore belong to poor families
  • Cashless transactions have increased by 200-300% in recent times
  • Awareness towards online payments and using technology for economic transactions is increasing
  • We should be at the forefront of using digital means to make payments and transactions
  • This digital movement is a golden opportunity for youth and start-ups. They can open new avenues through it

FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION

  • Many are writing that the fight against corruption has to continue
  • Like last month, many suggestions, inputs and comments were based on the decision on our fight against corruption and black money
  • People wrote to me about problems they faced during recent times, some praised demonetisation and how it fights corruption
  • I congratulate people for not only enduring pain but also for giving appropriate answers to those who were trying to misled them
  • Black money hoarders are being nabbed across the country. Secret is that information by common people enables us to do it

CONCESSIONS TO POLITICAL PARTIES

  • No concessions for political parties, all are equal in front of law

CHANGES IN LAW

  • Frequent change in law is result of attempt to include people’s feedback into policy making
  • When the Govt is behind them, they are also trying to obstruct Govt’s endeavour and coming up with innovative ways
  • It is our priority to do whatever it takes for the betterment of our nation
  • I assure you that this is not the end, this is just the beginning in our fight against corruption

INDIA’S GOBAL RANKING

  • India has improved 19 ranks in World Bank Logistics Performance Index 2016. We are moving at a fast pace

ON SPORTS VICTORIES

  • Our sportsmen and sportswomen have made us proud
  • Performance of Indian cricket team has been phenomenal this year, congratulate the team for beating England 4-0
  • After 15 years our Junior Hockey has won the world cup, I congratulate all the young players

NEW YEAR WISHES

May 2017 be a fulfilling year for everyone. I wish all citizens a very Happy New Year