Politics in 2018: Elections, Ram Mandir 2.0, Urban Naxals

India has spent most of 2018 reeling in the aftermath of key policy changes, economic and political scandals, and brewing internal conflict, while playing a more visible role on the global stage.

The year began with the Bhima Koregaon violence in Pune on January 1, which culminated in widely publicised and contemptible arrests of Dalit rights activists in August. Upheaval in the nation’s nerve centre peaked with the Rafale controversy mid-2018 amidst dramatic Assembly elections across key states. The year ended with alarming reports of turmoil from the RBI, the CBI and the Supreme Court, three institutions that form the cornerstone of democracy.

The year also witnessed a disquieting surge in nationalism as evinced by the Ram Mandir movement 2.0. Demands for the contentious temple loom large on BJP’s political banner, the national discourse and the Supreme Court’s roster, while the movement itself teeters dangerously on the edge of historical reenactment.

Also shaking things up are the nationwide farmers’ agitation and Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) debacle, putting the country’s communities on the map and pitting them against the central government. These are but some of the issues that have testified to BJP’s misplaced political priorities more than ever, courtesy some excellent media coverage. As 2018 draws to a close, here are six raging political stories Qrius covered extensively.

Rafale controversy

Ever since Congress president Rahul Gandhi mentioned the smoking gun during the no motion against the BJP, the Rafale deal and its many iterations have been a national talking point for the better half of the year. Involving the gross discrepancies between the UPA-sanctioned original deal for Rafale fighter jets and the overpriced final deal signed in 2015, three former union ministers ultimately moved Supreme Court, alleging criminal misconduct by high-ranking government officials.

Qrius walked our readers through the various changes made to the deal with the French government since 2006, publishing regular updates as the controversy unfolded before the entire nation. Reliance Defence CEO Anil Ambani’s entrance in the offset contract sparked the most raucous criticism from the opposition, who questioned the process and why the BJP-NDA government chose a short-cut to shroud the deal in secrecy. The top court’s verdict earlier this month, however, came, as an early Christmas gift for the , when they ratified the deal but an error in the court’s document later brought its clean-chit under suspicion.

Assembly elections

Of the nine states that went to polls to elect their state representation this year, four key saffron states lost to the opposition either led by or comprising Congress. In the north-eastern region, however, BJP won big and clinched most of the states including Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura.

The case against tampering of ballot machines were also taken up seriously, as several cases of missing or spurious EVMs particularly in BJP constituencies made headlines.

Setting the note for BJP’s evanescing stronghold was Karnataka in June, where the Assembly polls results failed to yield them a single party majority. After a week of dramatic wrangling and a quick post-poll alliance, the JDS-Congress coalition staked a claim to form the government. Resistance from the state BJP to secede had even led opposition to transport their ministers to high-security hotels for fear of horse-trading before the floor vote.

In the second round of Assembly polls, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh Chhattisgarh delivered key victories to Congress after months of intense campaigning and roadshows. All three states are reeling from a massive agrarian crisis, which played a role in how the results played out for the BJP. While the ruling party’s electoral promises revolved mostly around anti-beef and pro-Ram temple issues, Congress has already waived loans in three of the states.

The slew of recent victories may play a crucial role in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections next year. Read our coverage of key events during the high-stake polls here.

Ram Mandir movement 2.0

Alongside rising cow vigilantism and names of cities, the agenda for Ram temple in Ayodhya remains at the fore of BJP’s polarising Hindutva politics at the cost of communal disharmony. All its affiliate groups, including the VHP and RSS which had played leading roles in the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992, have exhibited signs of a repeat performance with their year-round rallies, threats claims to the disputed land.

It all began three decades ago when right-wing groups polarised Hindu voters into believing that the site of the mosque was, in fact, Ram Janmbhoomi, leading to unprecedented mob violence between both factions with a lasting impact on Indian politics. Read our take on the defining issue here.

Agitation for the temple revived this year, especially after the Supreme Court postponed the hearing on the controversial case to January 2019. The violent political and social repercussions of pro-temple rhetoric in Yogi Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh even scared Muslims of the state to flee, shortly before two massive rallies calling for an ordinance to begin temple construction. With the verdict still in limbo, the impact of enabling such a movement can scarcely be positive.


A potentially debilitating controversy for the country’s law enforcement and intelligence sector shook the central investigation agency when two of its highest ranking officials traded charges of corruption, leading to both of their ousters.

CBI chief Alok Verma, who was responsible for leading the Rafale investigation, was sent into exile after his second-in-command Rakesh Asthana levelled charges of corruption against him.

Shortly before this, Asthana had been taken off a high-profile money laundering case on charges of accepting bribes from some of the key witnesses. He had also investigated the Agusta-Westland Chopper scam. A chargesheet was also filed against him soon after some of the middlemen involved in the transactions came forward. Qrius has explained the row and the allegations against Asthana here.

What followed was an extensive reshuffle of CBI’s highest echelons to manage the fallout, with the centre placing both officers on administrative leave and appointing M Nageshwar Rao as the acting chief. Meanwhile, Verma has moved the Supreme Court against his wrongful termination, where too the dramatic developments have left the court peeved. The proceedings of the court was put together in a ready reckoner which can be found here.

The wide ramifications of this dispute, however, begs serious investigation and accountability from the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and the government, especially for having benched the chief.

National Register of Citizens

The publication of the draft NRC for Assam spelled for all those whose names failed to make it to the register. Stripping 40 lakh people of their citizenship overnight, the then rushed to explain the need for such a list, citing national security threats posed by the rising numbers of illegal immigrants who make their way into the country through the porous Bangladesh-Assam border. However, no explanation was provided for how the list was curated even after discrepancies were found. Qrius has charted some of these oversights and errors in our very first article on the subject.

The Centre, in the meantime, urged those left off the first draft to reapply and provide proof of citizenship, but opposition and critics have alleged that this move targets Bengalis and Muslims who have lived in the state since 1951, when the first such census was undertaken. The Supreme Court was also approached, which directed the government to initiate looking into grievances and start the re-verification process immediately. Important updates regarding NRC can be found here.

The entire controversy received global media coverage, at a time when the question immigration is a sore point for emerging right-wing nationalist powers across the world.

Urban Naxalism

The government’s increasing attacks on media and academia, especially those working for the communities, attained outlandish proportions this year, as over ten noted activists were detained for Elgaar Parishad, an annual meeting of Dalit rights groups. The congregation in Bhima-Koregaon near Pune was attacked by right-wing troublemakers, who were arrested at first but later released on bail. In a bizarre twist, five activists including Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, and professor Shoma Sen were later accused of having Maoist affiliations and arrested in June, with police claiming to have found incendiary evidence of their links to Naxalites operating in forested regions.

Later in August, five other activists including lawyers Sudha Bharadwaj and Arun Ferreira, activists Gautam Navlakha and Vernon Gonsalves, and poet Varavara Rao were also arrested and later slapped with charges of committing conspiracy to assassinate the Prime Minister in collaboration with Maoists.

Eminent academician Romila Thapar moved top court demanding their immediate release, while Arundhati Roy called this akin to Emergency. Tagging them as Urban Naxals threatening the unity of the nation, Pune police also charged these grassroots activists with sedition, after the Supreme Court extended their house arrest. This has triggered a nationwide debate on the role of dissent in Narendra Modi’s India.

A resolution for 2019

The country is headed for a fresh round of elections in the new year with the hope that the political leadership, irrespective of who comes/returns to power, recognises what people really need: jobs, basic rights, healthcare, education and development of the masses, not statues, temples, JIO university, gau  or growing economic disparity.

More importantly, for the to hold, politically motivated revisions to India’s history must be forsaken with immediate effect. With the polls looming ahead, it does well to remind ourselves that as long as Indian democracy – the largest of its kind – prevails, the power rests with the people.

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius

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