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The year in four faces

December 29, 2018 09:27 IST

Urjit Patel, Binny Bansal, Nirav Modi and Rahul Gandhi personify the big trends that defined 2018. Well, almost... says Shailesh Dobhal.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

Two thousand eighteen has been an eventful year by all counts. It started with that never-before press conference by four of the five Supreme Court judges complaining about the workings at the country's highest court then led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra.

The world's biggest retailer picked the country's biggest ecommerce firm and many top dogs were called out in India's #metoo movement.

And the year is wrapping-up with a central bank governor resigning mid-term after decades, and the moribund Congress party getting a new lease of life with victory in three big states that went to the polls recently. And there was much more in between.

Here's a recollection of the year gone by through four faces that embody not just the events they were part of, but more broadly, they represent the underlying trend of the year:

IMAGE: Dr Urjit R Patel who resigned as RBI governor with 'immediate effect' on December 10, 2018. Photograph: Shailesh Andrade/Reuters

Urjit Patel: The untimely exit of the 24th governor of the Reserve Bank of India was as much the result of a souring central government-central bank relationship as the trend of undermining of institutions under the current regime.

You can look at the goings on at the Central Bureau of Investigation where the number one and the number two are at each other's throat or that unfortunate public airing of woes by Supreme Court judges with the same lens of institutional decay due to direct or indirect executive interference.

 

IMAGE: Nirav Modi, the diamantaire who went missing.

Nirav Modi: The once celebrated jeweller fled the country, family and all, leaving behind the government-led Punjab National Bank to pick up and clean up the $2 billion fraud behind him.Modi allegedly exploited a simple lacuna in Indian banks' systems to perpetuate a loan-rollover fraud for years.

Modi and his ilk (think Mallya, scores of realtors, some top bankers and firms in the dock for suspect practices and/or defaults) are mascots of a rotten borrower-lender nexus that has hollowed the framework of Indian public banking.

You have a spectacle of over half of the state-led banks unable to lend because they have exhausted all capital in wily or foolish lending to promoters with loose scruples and/or little skin in the game.

 

IMAGE: Binny Bansal. Photograph: Abhishek N Chinnappa/Reuters

Binny Bansal: The celebrated co-founder of the country's biggest ecommerce firm Flipkart was a poster-boy of the go-getter startup culture in the country.

His success showed that given the right education and/or skills (he was an IITian and an Amazonite to boot) and dollops of risk capital put in by eager moneybags, dreaming and building a billion-dollar business was possible in India for average, middle-class folks.

Flipkart's success spawned hundreds of startups in its wake, many very successful with equally inspiring stories.

Yet, in his fall from grace due to the alleged sexual assault case, Binny Bansal willy-nilly came to represent a welcome new culture where success, money or power is no hedge against workplace sexual misdemeanour involving women colleagues.

India's #metoo movement engulfed a host of high-fliers, from central minister and former editor M J Akbar, adman Suhel Seth to artist Jatin Das.

 

IMAGE: Rahul Gandhi. Photograph: @INCIndia/Twitter

Rahul Gandhi: If it was an open season on him before this year, a long-awaited electoral success in three big states -- Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh -- has moved the Gandhi scion to the centrestage of national Opposition against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

He is now the symbol of an Opposition that is not just alive, but has started to kick, making general elections due next year much more competitive and an open contest.

The Congress's success has also put the otherwise politically unexciting issue of rural distress to the forefront of political discourse once again.

The government -- and the BJP too -- has embraced the agenda set out by Gandhi, what with talks of a Budget -- or what passes as Budget in an election year -- focusing on providing income support and farm loan waivers to farmers across the country.

Shailesh Dobhal
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