We are seeing protest marches against China in Hong Kong. The president of the United States is on the verge of being impeached. In Spain, where the venue of climate meeting was changed, there are angry protests. In the roads of Paris we saw climate agitators. In the Netherlands, thousands of farmers were on the streets. In Moscow, people agitated against the arrest of protestors. In Australia, we saw protests against the government trying to hand over land to outsiders for mining and also against the Prime Minister sneaking out for a holiday in Hawaii when the coasts were burning with bush fire.
Closer home, we are witnessing nationwide protests over the Citizens’ Amendments Act (CAA). Earlier, the scrapping of Article 370 created uproar in Kashmir valley. But while it was somehow suppressed, the agitation over the CAA and the threat of a nationwide NRC have spread all over the country, including educational campuses.
The year 2019 is the last of the ‘teen’ years of the millennials. The millennials are now mature enough to take their own decision and that is worrisome for the government. When there was a slump in the auto sales, the Finance Minister attributed it to the changing habits of the millennials of using hired cars (uber and Ola) rather than going into outright purchasing of cars. Even if we accept the comment of the Finance Minister as something made on a lighter note, it is clear that the government is unable to read the minds of the younger generation. It may have started on the protest against hike of hostel fees at the Jawaharlal Nehru University; but now it has spread far and wide in different campuses and has included the citizenship issue.
The anger has other roots as well. The hopes over globalisation are on the wane and a slowdown has set in worldwide. The spirit of cooperation is gone and a ‘selfish’ nationalist interest is the order of the day. The Indian Prime Minister understands the need for a boost in trade, but his plans for a ‘Look East’ goes for a toss when the understanding with China did not materialise in the recent Bangkok meet. The ‘angry’ atmosphere is not at all conducive to trade negotiations. The big trade partners - the US and China – have their own problems; and there is no signs of improvement in multilateral trade. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) now seems a shadow of its former self.
The slowdown in India has other causes as well. An angry industrialist like Rahul Bajaj openly tells the ministers that the people are not investing simply out of ‘fear’. Fall in investments is a reality and Rahul Bajaj’s statement comes as an eye opener. Unemployment is highest in four decades. Consumption has fallen. People are just not buying. Prices of essential food items are on the rise.
There are views that these moves on citizenship are an attempt to divert the people’s attention from the more serious problems like the economic slowdown. Instead of finding solutions to an economy in trouble, we seem to be getting bogged down with tangential issues which could have been tackled later in quieter times. Instead, attempts to push these issues seem to have backfired and have only added fuel to fire.
Development needs peace. We only hope the New Year will bring peace. Let the ‘fire’ of 2019 be extinguished and we all welcome a new dawn of economic recovery.