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From RBI & CBI to #MeToo & Rafale, here are the top 10 newsmakers of 2018

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ThePrint looks at those who were in the news this year, for right or wrong reasons.  

As an eventful year comes to an end, we do a quick rewind, and look back at some of the key personalities, institutions and issues that grabbed the headlines, some of which could have a bearing on how India votes in the Lok Sabha elections next year. Here are 10 of the top newsmakers compiled by ThePrint.

  1. SC courts controversy

There was hardly any issue — from personal liberty and religion to gender equality and governance — that the Supreme Court did not touch, and in the process courted some controversy too.

The year started with four of its seniormost judges — J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph — publicly criticising then CJI Dipak Misra. The move was unprecedented in the history of the judiciary.

Some key rulings made headlines too — among them the decision to strike down Section 377 that criminalised gay sex, or a 158-year-old law that made adultery a punishable offence. The lifting of ban on the entry of women into Sabarimala temple saw shrill protests, while the ban on triple talaq opened the faultlines within the Muslim community.

The court also weighed in on Aadhaar, upholding its constitutional validity while ruling that making it mandatory for availing government services was unconstitutional.

There was also transition at the top, with Ranjan Gogoi taking over as the new CJI from Dipak Misra.

  1. CBI vs CBI

In its 53-year history, the agency has not suffered the kind of ignominy it did in October, with its top two officials involved in a bitter and very public feud.

CBI director Alok Verma took bribe in a case involving meat exporter Moin Qureshi, alleged his deputy Rakesh Asthana. Verma, accusing Asthana of corruption in a case involving Sterling Biotech, ordered a FIR against him. Asthana then moved court seeking protection from arrest.

The government stepped in, divested Verma and Asthana of all powers and sent them on leave, putting interim director M. Nageshwar Rao in charge. Both were barred from entering their offices, which was sealed by the Delhi Police.

Verma knocked on the SC’s doors, saying his removal was “illegal”. Hearing is still on.

  1. Urban Naxals

It wasn’t defined in the Oxford dictionary, but the phrase caught social media by storm this August, thanks largely to the raid conducted by Pune Police in which five well-known activists were arrested for their alleged links to Naxals. Police claimed the five had provoked anti-national sentiments during the January Bhima-Koregaon protests and were part of a conspiracy to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Later, they pressed sedition charges.

Massive support poured in. Noted academics, intellectuals and activists took to Twitter using the hashtag #MeTooUrbanNaxal, following a post by right-leaning filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri seeking “bright young minds” to make a list of those defending “Urban Naxals”.

  1. Rahul’s hug and wink

First came the attack. Then the now-famous hug.

When Congress president Rahul Gandhi tore into PM Modi in Parliament, and then walked over to hug him, it didn’t just take his supporters and rivals by surprise. The theatrics of the hug, accompanied by a wink caught on camera, completed the transformation of Gandhi. The old flustered Gandhi has been replaced by a confident politician who knows how to match his opponent’s repartee.

For once, the BJP has been forced to sit up and take notice.

  1. #MeToo movement

It took the West by storm last year. In India, the MeToo movement, that exposed men in power who have been accused of sexual harassing women, took some time to catch on.

Actor Tanushree Dutta accusing Nana Patekar of sexual misdemeanour was followed by another actor, Alok Nath, being outed by writer-producer Vinta Nanda. The complaints, till then a trickle, soon became a deluge and singed men in power across media, corporate, government and the academia.

The most high-profile among the accused was journalist-turned-politician M.J. Akbar, who had to resign as junior minister for external affairs after allegations of sexual impropriety were levelled by multiple women journalists. Others accused included brand consultant Suhel Seth and writer Chetan Bhagat.

The anonymity of social media gave women the courage to speak out. However, after the initial weeks, nothing concrete happened in terms of fixing accountability, and most of those accused are back at work.

Also read: The 12 controversies that Indian Twitterati loved in 2018

  1. The fugitives

First there was Vijay Mallya, then came Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi. This year saw more tycoons fleeing India after defaulting on bank loans or defrauding banks.

While liquor baron Mallya, who left India in 2016, continues to live in London under full public glare, billionaire diamantaire Nirav Modi fled in January followed by his uncle Choksi after cheating Punjab National Bank of approximately Rs 14,000 crore.

The government, in a bid to tighten the noose around the three, brought in the Fugitive Offender Act, 2018 to allow authorities to confiscate assets of an offender once he is declared a fugitive by the courts. The Enforcement Directorate moved to declare all three fugitive economic offenders.

And while Mallya’s extradition has been ordered by a UK court, all three billionaires continue to evade the law.

  1. RBI, Urjit, and the Centre

The Reserve Bank of India made headlines, not so much for its monetary policy, but for the sudden exit of its governor Urjit Patel.

In October, deputy governor Viral Acharya had lashed out at interference by the government in operational mandate of the central bank. Even before the furore over his speech could die down came the news that RBI chief Patel had suddenly put in papers citing personal reasons. His tenure was to end next year in September.

The government’s insistence that the RBI part with its surplus reserves could have been the immediate trigger. However, the signs of the growing friction had been there for some time.

Meanwhile, Shaktikanta Das, who oversaw demonetisation, is the new man in charge at the RBI.

  1. Yogi BJP’s fading ‘rockstar’?

In the year since he was appointed Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, the hardliner Hinduvta face of the BJP, became its most sought-after campaigner during election season. If there was one leader who could whip up passions on communal lines, it was him.

From his “Bajrang Bali will be enough for BJP” response to Kamal Nath’s urging to get Muslim votes, to his “janeu dhari” jibe at Rahul’s Gandhi, Yogi ran a shrill campaign for the recent Assembly elections in the Hindi heartland.

It didn’t pay off, as the BJP has learnt the hard way.

  1. The farmer fightback

In 2018, the Indian farmer was back in the reckoning, and fought his way back to be part of the popular narrative.

The long march of more than 30,000 farmers from Nashik to Mumbai, as well as similar ones in Rajasthan and Delhi, gave impetus to long-standing demands for compensation for damage, better MSP and proper implementation of loan waiver schemes.

Politicians cutting across parties courted farmers, talking about agrarian distress and loan waivers. While the NDA dispensation announced schemes and incentives, opposition parties claimed its sloppy policies had led to the farmers’ sad plight.

The Congress turned it into an election issue, and came back to power in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Without losing any time, it waived farmer loans in all three states.

  1. Rafale row

The Rafale fighter jet deal with France gave much-needed ammunition to the Congress in an election year. The party accused the NDA of corruption, and inflating the price of the aircraft three times over.

Even as the SC refused to order a probe and gave a clean chit to the government on its decision-making process, Rahul Gandhi continued questioning the government, asking why a Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report had not been shared with the public accounts committee, and also demanding a joint parliamentary committee probe.

The issue will likely surface again in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Also read: This is the next generation of Indian intellectuals


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