India’s democracy is loud and vibrant, and 2016 was no different. The same political players tried to outmanoeuvre each other with clever retorts and strategies. While some thrived and soared high, others nose-dived, often risking public apathy and scary oblivion. With elections in four states and one union territory, demonetization, passage of GST and run-up to the elections in early 2017, it has been a busy year in Indian politics. Here is a report card of politicians who managed to strike the right note with their electorates and those who were left in the wayside.
Politicians whose stock soared high
In his third year as PM, many expected Modi to embark on some bold political moves to shore up his popularity. But few would have betted on demonetisation, a hitherto unknown term that has now entered the collective psyche of Indians. In one swoop, PM made the most audacious currency swap drill ever undertaken. While reactions from experts have been mixed, the public has so far steadfastly supported demonetization, targeted at reducing black money, counterfeit currencies, terror funding etc.
The PM started the year with the afterglow of his Pakistan tour which was subsequently scuttled by the Pathankot attack. While Modi’s Pak policy has been a non-starter, domestically he has got decent support with BJP doing well in the polls, GST on the anvil and demonetization eliciting positive feedback so far. Rating: 9/10
He tweeted, ranted, did vipassana and again tweeted- rinse and repeat, throughout the year. Kejriwal may have fallen into the vicious trap of hyperventilation and playing the victim card over everything, retweeting inane tweets to fuel conspiracy theories, but he did what was the need of the hour. He remained PM Modi’s no 1 bête-noire, a possible focal point of concentration in case of a hung parliament in 2019. Kejriwal’s AAP has gone slightly off the rails in poll-bound Punjab, but it may again surprise pundits with a Delhi-esque performance. 2017, with elections in Punjab, Goa and Gujarat, will be a big year for Kejriwal’s future political ambitions. Rating- 8/10
First they came with Saradha, then with Narada, then with Election Commission and then Didi won! 2016’s most decisive mandate was delivered by the Bengal voters who defied a hurriedly done Congress-Left alliance to grant TMC a massive mandate obliterating BJP to a mere footnote. But that was only the start of Didi’s political sojourn in 2016. She has attacked demonetization, like a bull in the china shop, trying to elevate her position from being a regional satrap to a serious national player. It’s early days, but the tactics seem to be working. Many parties who so far had kept Didi at bay are warming up to her. However, the persistent reports of riots from Bengal will surely keep Mamata worried as the year winds down. The land of Rabindra-Najrul falling into a cesspool of communal violence is the last thing India needs now. Rating: 7.5/10
There are politicians, and then there is Sushma Swaraj. Even the most hardcore BJP baiter has good words to say about the ‘always happy to help’ External Affairs Minister. From rescuing Judith De-Souza to evacuating Indians stuck in the Gulf, Swaraj did all, with her easy charm and wit as suitable ally. She even helped a Pakistani girl when the relationship between the two countries had hit a new low. She won Twitter with her tweets even when critically ill from AIIMS and warmed our hearts. In the Modi govt’s uniform monochrome of clipped servitude, Swaraj has brought a dash of colour of spontaneity, and that makes her even more special. Rating: 7/10
Vijayan not only defeated the Congress (the easier part), he also got the better of VS Achuthanandan to become CM of Kerala. With Bengal looking out of bounds, Kerala remains the last communist bastion. Kerala off late has received massive bad press for continued skirmishes between BJP and Left workers. The acid test for Vijayan is to crack down on such attacks firmly without looking at party affiliations. Rating: 6.5/10
Special mention: J Jayalalithaa bucked trend of many decades to get re-elected as CM of Tamil Nadu. With DMK in the wane, it was the ideal time for her to really consolidate her party’s position in the state. Sadly, after prolonged illness, Tamil Nadu CM passed away in December, leaving her party AIADMK and the state to possible political uncertainty in the future.
Politicians who failed to impress:
Is that a bird, is that a plane, no it is the Sahara papers! Rahul Gandhi completely lost the plot in 2016, rehashing allegations made by others, comparing demonetization to an atomic bomb among others. The more he raised his voice, the lesser he made sense. With a Congress in free fall, throughout the year, Rahul failed to outline how his party can be the better alternative. He travelled copious miles across the length and breadth of the country and gave numerous speeches. Full marks for trying, but sadly zero for execution. Rating: 1.5/10
Fiery Smriti Irani was cut down to size (pun intended) when she was shunted from the high-profile HRD Ministry to the Textiles Ministry. While she was a favourite with the die-hard BJP fans for picking up fights with detractors, for the BJP top leadership, it became an unwanted distraction. Her ham-handed management of the Rohit Vemula and Kanhaiya Kumar saga took the sheen away from the Modi govt’s achievements among sections of the youth. Finally it cost Smriti her ministry. Ratings: 2/10
Samajwadi Party leadership:
When the year started, the Samajwadi Party was sitting pretty with the polls showing good numbers for the Akhilesh govt. But it has been all downhill since then, as an ugly power struggle played out in full public glare. The ageing patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav has much to ponder about with another round of fights ensuing with the distribution of tickets. Can SP get its house in order before the elections? Is the party headed for a split? 2017 hopes to provide us with all these answers. Ratings: 2.5/10
Anandiben Patel ‘retired’ citing her age, merely a year before polls are due in Gujarat. Gujarat is one state where BJP’s power has steadily depleted in the last two years with Modi leaving the state to his trusted lieutenant. The graft allegations and the botched up handling of the Patel agitation led to Anandiben’s unceremonious ouster. The agitation made a hero out of Hardik Patel. Can he hurt BJP electorally will only be known next year. Rating: 3/10
Hardliner Mufti took over the role of CM of J&K after her father’s demise. An alliance with BJP was always going to be tricky, but the Burhan Wani saga tested it fully. Mehbooba was caught in the midst, accused of not being tough towards separatists by one side and not showing empathy to those injured by others. She has survived and the alliance remains intact, but 2017 promises to be more challenging for her. Rating: 4/10
Special mention: It was always going to be an uphill task for Assam’s Tarun Gogoi. Yet the octogenarian fought hard against massive anti-incumbency, saffron surge and general fatigue with the Congress. Finally, he lost the elections meekly after 15 years at the helm. His political career may be in terminal sunset, but Gogoi will be remembered as one of the rare politicians from North East to earn a national recognition due to his longevity and good work.
This was DNA’s pick of 10 politicians who were in the limelight for the right or wrong reasons. Others like Arun Jaitley, Subramanian Swamy, Sonia Gandhi, Owaisi also made their mark, but didn’t change the political discourse dramatically. Now, all over to 2017 and the mother of all elections in Uttar Pradesh.