Over the past decade, ultranationalists have been on the rise the world round. In France and the United States (US), especially, this problem has become significant. But while the consequent religious and racial conflicts increased in frequency and intensity, the year saw some changes that nobody could have imagined. Who could have predicted that the prime minister of Israel would visit Saudi Arabia? Who could have imagined that at the behest of an outgoing United States president, Mossad’s agents would seek to weaken the nuclear capability of Iran by killing the man behind it and in his own city? If the new equation between Israel and the Saudi Arabia is a sign that 2021 could be different, then the prospect of a prickly Iran and a confrontational Turkey are equally an indication that the difference may not always be for the better.
The US created a considerable amount of upheaval in international affairs. Donald Trump trumped all protocols of the world’s most powerful democracy. He lost the election, but was not ready to accept defeat. Thankfully, US institutions are still strong, so the top leaders of the courts, army, even his own party have ensured that a transfer of power will happen. Had Trump been able to have his way, he would have somehow managed a long stint in power, like Russia’s Vladimir Putin. In the beginning of 2021, when Joe Biden enters the White House, there will be several problems in his in-tray. Under the leadership of Trump, America placed itself in the category of those countries, which never seem to think beyond themselves. After the outbreak of coronavirus, the US not only put an end to the regular payments it made to the World Health Organization but also made all kinds of possible blunders in dealing with the epidemic. Earlier, the US used to play the role of the world leader in times of trouble. Not under Trump, though. That is why 2020 reminded us a lot of leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela.
The absence of such great human beings on one hand and the rise of narrow-minded ultranationalists on the other hand are defining the new normal. Let us take the example of Europe. Until some time ago European countries used to help each other, but this time around England (now anyway out of the European Union) did not care for France, France did not care for Germany, Germany did not care for Italy and Italy did not care for any of its neighbours.
Most of these countries closed their borders and kept their resources to themselves. The same trend was observed in countries on other continents also. This not only damaged the dream of the Global Village, but because of the epidemic, several countries launched tracking and contracttracing apps, which have the potential to compromise the privacy of individuals. Worse, the data available on such apps could be used for the wrong purposes in totalitarian regimes. And if this data somehow falls into the hands of multinational companies working only for profit, then anything can happen.
As the year ends, all kinds of theories (and also conspiracy theories) about the coronavirus and its vaccines are floating around. According to one theory, while the last pandemic may have occurred a 100 years ago, now, every decade may see its own pandemic. We are still dealing with the 2020 one, though; The year may be coming to an end, but the scars it has left behind will linger.
What of India? The year 2020 began with the discordant notes of the Shaheen Bagh protest. In the second month of the year, there were shameful communal riots in Delhi, and by the time its memory ended, farmers were agitated over new laws. Even today, thousands of farmers are protesting at the entrance of Delhi. The winter that has broken its own records this time has not been able to break their determination. The trust deficit between the government and these farmers is increasing by the day, although a slim sliver of hope has emerged in the restart of talks planned for Tuesday.
The farmers’ protest may be geographically limited, but the ripples it has caused are international. This movement started in Punjab and we should not forget that it was in the same land the separatists once tried to play the card of local and parochial sentiments. The thorns that were sown at that time in the name of the language, water and culture troubled Indian democracy for a long time. This is the reason that the government is avoiding the use of any kind of force, but if this conflict is prolonged, then some unforeseen disaster cannot be ruled out.
History tells us that new human values emerge every time there is a crisis. Will 2021 come with a healing touch after the suffering of 2020? I hope so.
Happy New Year to one and all. Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan.