From intolerance row to Pakistan visit – The highs and lows of Narendra Modi government in 2015
With the so-called honeymoon period over in 2014, the pressure was enormous on the Narendra Modi-led NDA government to perform and be seen to be delivering on its poll promises in 2015.
Delhi: With the so-called honeymoon period over in 2014, the pressure was enormous on the Narendra Modi-led NDA government to perform and be seen to be delivering on its poll promises in 2015. While the ruling government at the Centre had some good moments and were lauded for its efforts, there were some lows too which PM Modi would surely like forget in the new year.
The year started with trademark Modi style. Many say that he has the habit of taking people by surprise and grabbing headlines and he did just that in January when US President Barack Obama landed in India for the Republic Day celebrations.
One of the highlights was a special radio programme featuring Obama and PM Modi which focused on social issue and personal matters related to the two leaders.
Nonetheless, as the year progressed, do did the woes of the government.
The Dadri lynching incident, row over beef ban that began in Maharashtra, 'award wapsi' by writers and artistes against 'growing intolerance', the 'One Rank One Pension' besides the Patel quota stir in Gujarat made headlines in 2015.
The echoes of Vyapam admission and recruitment scandal in Madhya Pradesh and the Sushma Swaraj-Lait Modi issue reverberated in Parliament, not to mention the DDCA controversy in which the name of Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley figured.
All hell broke loose when it came to light that the former IPL chief had offered the husband of External Affairs Minister a position on the board of one of his family-run firms.
However, Swaraj put up a strong counter-offensive in Lok Sabha when she launched a no-holds-barred attack on Congress accusing it of having taken money to help Ottavio Quattrochchi and Warren Anderson flee India even as the government rejected the demand for her resignation.
The DDCA row resulted in Jaitley filing a defamation suit against Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and BJP suspending its MP Kirti Azad.
The contentious Land bill which had been passed the Lok Sabha test after the government carried out nine amendments to it, got stuck in the Rajya Sabha, with the government finally being forced to withdraw it and the Congress grabbing the opportunity to call itself the saviour of the farmers and the NDA as the 'suit boot ki sarkar'.
The Modi government's embarrassment over the intolerance debate reached a crescendo when Urdu poet Munawwar Rana and noted Kashmir writer and poet Margoob Banhali joined over 30 authors who had returned Sahitya Akademi award and top Bollywood actors Aamir and Shah Rukh Khan also echoed similar views.
The matter reached such level that President Pranab Mukherjee had to come out with an appeal for practicing tolerance and to accept differences while respecting dissent.
While, the NDA ministers and the BJP leaders maintained that there was an attempt to malign the government, many would say that the ruling dispensation may have lost the perception battle on this one.
Another needless controversy was Union Minister VK Singh's remark which kicked up a huge political row when he tried to shield the government from blame in the Faridabad Dalit burning incident by saying the 'government cannot be held responsible if somebody stones a dog'.
Though Singh later said that he had been misinterpreted, here too the damage was done.
However, there were the good moments too – The 'landmark' bill was signed to settle the 41-year-old border issue with Bangladesh and the year saw celebrations for the International Yoga day.
In August, after his 'Make in India' push, PM Modi announced a new campaign - 'Start-up India, Stand up India' - as he focused his Independence Day address on promotion of entrepreneurship, farmers welfare and tackling corruption and communalism.
The OROP issue was tackled in September when the PM made it clear that the armed forces jawans who had to give up their jobs prematurely would be covered by OROP benefits announced by the government, a statement welcomed by the agitating ex-servicemen who decided to call off their hunger strike.
The OROP was brought into force in November with government issuing a notification which will benefit over 25 lakh veterans and war widows.
PM Modi also broke his silence on the raging row over Dadri lynching incident, saying that Hindus and Muslims should decide whether to fight each other or together overcome poverty. At the same time, during an election rally in Bihar, he asked people to ignore 'irresponsible' statements of politicians, as hint at the so-called motor-mouths in the BJP.
He also made a statement in Parliament in November saying 'India first' was the only religion and Constitution the only 'holy book' for his government which is committed to working for all sections and religions.
As part of efforts to improve governance, PM Modi launched PRAGATI (Pro-Active Governance And Timely Implementation), a multi-purpose, multi-modal platform aimed at addressing the common man's grievances and Pradhan Mantri MUDRA (Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency) Yojana to foster entrepreneurship at the grassroots level.
Also, the social security schemes which were launched in May - Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana (PMJJBY), Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana (PMSBY) and Atal Pension Yojana (APY), are seen to be PM Modi's pet favourites.
At the same time, setting up of Niti Aayog, launch of Skill India were among key initiatives of the Modi government in the past year as it sought to speed up governance amid a legislative gridlock and political setbacks.
The government took steps to expand skills and jobs, boost investment, strengthen higher education, enhance the share of solar and renewable energy and step up agricultural growth even as its critics alleged that it had not been able to show progress on the ground.
Some of the other nicer moments were the announcement by PM Modi of doing away with the requirement of interviews for lesser non-gazetted central government jobs from January 1 and the return of deaf-mute Geeta from Pakistan to India who received an emotional welcome but failed to recognise a family which she had initially identified from photographs.
Underworld don Chhota Rajan's arrest in Indonesia on a Red Corner Notice issued by Interpol after eluding law enforcement agencies for over two decades and his deportation to India, can also be said to be a feather in the cap of Modi government.
Losing the Assembly polls in Delhi and later in Bihar impacted the winning momentum of the BJP and made the Opposition more assertive. The constant tussle with the Congress did not allow progress on some key legislation such as the bill on the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
But as far as bilateral relations is concerned, perhaps the biggest move forward by the Modi government was the breakthrough in talks with Pakistan with the National Security Advisors of the two countries meeting in Bangkok and discussing terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir, and other bilateral issues.
It was capped by Swaraj's visit to Pakistan and then came the mother of all surprises when PM Modi on December 25 stopped over in Lahore where he greeted his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on his birthday and had talks during which they decided to open ways for peace for the 'larger good' of the people of the two countries.
On a personal level, the defeat in Assembly elections in Delhi and Bihar must have hit PM Modi hard where he was the face of his party. Defeat in high-stakes Bihar poll also triggered first real challenge to party chief Amit Shah as veteran LK Advani was joined by three other seniors in bringing Shah's leadership style into question.
(With Agency inputs)