India’s democracy witnessed a series of peaks and valleys in the year 2021. These events did not just impact the political landscape in this outgoing year, but will also have a bearing in the coming year.
From the farmers’ protest against the now-repealed farm laws to the Pegasus snooping row to Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress’ landslide victory in West Bengal, Indian politics was filled with events that signalled a paradigm shift in an year disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Here are the landmark political events India witnessed this year:
Farmers’ protest against farm laws
Farmers from several states, prominently across North India, stayed put on Delhi borders for over a year before the Narendra Modi government, in a major climbdown, announced the withdrawal of the three contentious farm laws. The protests turned into the focal point of national politics with the opposition parties coming out in support of the farmers.
The issue not only rocked the Parliament across the year but also became a key electoral issue with the Opposition cornering the government for being “insensitive” towards the farmers. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while announcing the withdrawal of farm laws in his November 19 speech, said that the laws were brought for the betterment of farmers but were repealed for the sake of the country.
This also led to the Shiromani Akali Dal breaking ties with the BJP, ending the 24-year-old alliance and some of its own party leaders criticising the government over the farm laws. The issue is expected to have a major bearing over the results of the upcoming assembly polls in five states, particularly Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.
Lakhimpur Kheri Violence
On October 3, eight people, including four farmers, died after being mowed down by an SUV allegedly belonging to Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra Teni’s son Ashish Mishra in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur district. Ashish, along with 12 others, were arrested after the Supreme Court pulled up the Yogi Adityanath government over the inaction against the accused.
The incident, which received nationwide condemnation and turned into one of the year’s biggest political issue, is being probed by a Special Investigation Team which has claimed that it was a “pre-planned conspiracy and not a negligent act”.
Following the SIT report, the issue rocked the Winter Session of the Parliament where the Opposition demanded immediate resignation of the Union minister. The opposition has not only accused the UP government of shielding the accused but also alleged that the Centre was protecting the minister and not sacking him despite the SIT submitting that the incident was a planned conspiracy.
Aryan Khan drugs case
The arrest of Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) in connection with the Mumbai drugs-on-cruise case immediately grabbed attention and soon escalated into a political issue, especially in Maharashtra.
Although it found no drugs on Aryan’s person, the NCB said he had confessed to consuming drugs, that his WhatsApp chats indicated he was in contact with drug peddlers and that his friend Arbaaz Merchant, who was with him, was carrying 6gm of charas.
The Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA government in Maharashtra alleged that the BJP-led central government was misusing the NCB, along with other central agencies, as part of a political vendetta. State minister Nawab Malik kicked off an offensive against NCB zonal director Sameer Wankhede, bringing extorting charges against him, apart from several other irregularities in the functioning of the central agency.
Aryan remained in the Arthur Road prison for 22 days before the Mumbai High Court granted him bail, saying that prima facie it has not found any positive evidence against the accused to show that they had conspired to commit an offence.
Assembly polls in West Bengal, four other states
The BJP’s desperate attempts to make inroads into Mamata Banerjee’s turf turned futile as the Trinamool Congress won 213 out of the 294 assembly seats. The saffron party, however, became the main opposition party in the state bagging 77 seats. The poll results came as a shot in the arm for Banerjee, who has been trying to expand her party’s footprints nationally.
In Tamil Nadu, the MK Stalin-led defeated the AIADMK-BJP alliance to end their decade-long rule. The poll was Tamil Nadu’s first assembly election after the demise of the two most prominent chief ministers in the state’s modern history, J Jayalalithaa—general secretary of the AIADMK, and M Karunanidhi —president of the DMK, who died in 2016 and 2018 respectively.
In Kerala, the incumbent LDF retained power with 99 seats, endi g the longstanding tradition of the state ruled by alternate governments. In Assam and Puducherry, the BJP-led NDA managed to retain power.
Infighting in Congress-ruled states
Already struggling with a leadership vacuum amid unending poll debacles, the Congress faced infighting within the party cadres in all the three states under its rule – Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. While the party high-command managed to placate the state leadership over the power tussle in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, the infighting in Punjab stood out prominently through the year.
The long prevailing political bickering between Captain Amarinder Singh and Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu eventually led to the former quitting as the chief minister and later replaced by Charanjit Singh Channi. Singh has now joined hands with the BJP, hoping to turn the tide in the upcoming Punjab assembly polls.
Karnataka political crisis
A crisis faced by the BJP-led government in Karnataka culminated with the resignation of BS Yediyurappa as the chief minister on July 26 this year. The resignation came after months of bickering within the party and the growing dissent within the state BJP unit against the CM.
Several factors including growing dissent within the BJP, allegations of corruption, mishandling of Covid-19 crisis and growing age added up to Yediyurappa’s resignation. The party contained the crisis with the swearing in of Basavaraj Bommai as the chief minister of the state which goes to polls in late 2023.
Pegasus snooping row
The alleged snooping of the mobile phones of political leaders, top judges, media personalities and other eminent people by using the Israel-made Pegasus spyware gave the opposite enough fodder to attack the government. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, ace poll strategist Prashant Kishor, two serving Union Ministers, ex-Election Commissioner, 40 journalists among others were found to be on an alleged leaked list of potential targets.
The Congress-led opposition raised the issue during the Monsoon Session of the Parliament and also cornered the Narendra Modi government in its rallies for the upcoming assembly polls in five states. The Supreme Court has already ordered a wide-ranging comprehensive probe by a technical team of experts into the snooping allegations using the Israeli spyware.
Red Fort violence on Republic Day
On January 26, tens of thousands of farmers – protesting against the three contentious farm laws – had clashed with the police in New Delhi during a tractor parade to highlight their demands. Many of them driving tractors reached the Red Fort and entered the monument, where a religious flag was also hoisted. Over 500 police personnel were injured.
Health infrastructure crisis during second wave of COVID-19
The second wave of COVID-19 wreaked havoc across the country claiming lakhs of lives while also highlighting the dilapidated condition of health infrastructure. With hospitals flooded with patients, several states struggled with the crisis of beds, oxygen cylinders and other equipment.
Delhi, Maharashtra, and several other state government made frantic calls, alleging that they did not receive enough oxygen supply to cater to the massive number of patients. With the Supreme Court stepping in, the Centre stepped up the oxygen production manifolds as it faced severe criticism from the Opposition.
Patients and their families across the country took to social media to make SOS calls and raise alarm over the shortage of healthcare resources like medicines, oxygen and hospital beds. Along with the central and state governments, several organisations came out to help those in need.
BJP changes chief ministers in four states
The central leadership changed chief ministers in four BJP-ruled states – Gujarat, Karnataka, Uttarakhand and Assam – in its bid to contain the infighting within state units and the anti-incumbency factor building up ahead of assembly elections. While Uttarakhand goes to polls early next year, Karnataka and Gujarat will vote later in 2022.
Bhupendra Patel, a former protege of former Chief Minister and current Uttar Pradesh Governor Anandiben Patel, was appointed as the Gujarat CM after Vijay Rupani’s surprise resignation. In Karnataka, the infighting and dissent within the state unit led to the replacement of BS Yediyurappa by Basavaraj Bommai, a renowned Lingayat face in the state.
Uttarakhand witnessed the appointment of three chief ministers within a span of four months, raising questions over the stability of the BJP government in the state. The resignation of Tirath Singh Rawat as chief minister and the appointment of Pushkar Singh Dhami as the new leader of Uttarakhand brought into stark focus the instability within the BJP’s Uttarakhand unit. Rawat was in office for only 114 days and had been selected by the party’s central leadership to replace Trivendra Singh Rawat who had become unpopular with his style of functioning, lack of contact with MLAs and some controversial decisions.
In Karnataka, Yediyurappa quit as the chief minister amid dissent within the state unit with his colleagues questioning his way of working. He was replaced by Basavaraj Bommai, another influential face from the Lingayat community.
In Assam, the party high command picked Himanta Biswa Sarma over incumbent Sarbananda Sonowal as the new chief minister following the party’s victory in the Assembly elections held in March-April this year.