2021: The Year That Changed The World; And What 2022 Heralds

2021: The Year That Changed The World; And What 2022 Heralds

by Minhaz Merchant - Wednesday, December 8, 2021 01:49 PM IST
2021: The Year That Changed The World; And What 2022 HeraldsHighlights of 2021.
  • As 2022 beckons, the agenda is clear. The government must double down on economic reforms.

    Simultaneously, the vaccination momentum must not be allowed to slow, especially in light of the lurking danger posed by the Omicron variant.

As India prepares for a possible third wave set off by Covid-19 variants like Omicron and the still-present Delta strain, the geopolitics of the region has undergone a significant transformation during 2021.

The year began with the inauguration of Joe Biden as the forty-sixth president of the United States. Within months, Biden signalled three pivots of US geopolitical strategy: one, building a coalition of democracies to confront China by revitalising the QUAD and launching AUKUS, both aimed at policing the Indo-Pacific; two, airlifting US-led NATO troops out of Afghanistan by an accelerated deadline of 31 August; and three, re-engaging with multilateral institutions that his predecessor president Donald Trump had wilfully disdained, including WHO, NATO and the Paris Accord on climate change.

For India, Biden’s change of geostrategic priorities has thrown up challenges and opportunities. The visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin on 6 December brought those challenges into sharp focus. US intelligence is convinced that Russia is preparing for an invasion of Ukraine. Nearly 75,000 Russian troops have reportedly amassed on the Russia-Ukraine border. According to US intelligence, another 75,000 troops will shortly be sent to the border, making a formidable force of 150,000 backed by heavy artillery and air cover.

Washington has threatened unprecedented sanctions, including freezing Russian assets in the US and blocking Russian financial transactions through the Belgium-based SWIFT money transfer system.

India’s deepening defence relationship with Moscow calls for nimble diplomacy by the Narendra Modi government. The US cannot afford to alienate India with sanctions under CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act). For Washington, India is an irreplaceable ally in the Indo-Pacific to counter China’s hegemonic ambitions.

The US and India have many other irons in the fire: a long-pending trade deal; the $3 billion purchase of 30 Predator drones at a humongous price of $100 million per Predator; safeguarding the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) with the navies of the QUAD (India, Japan, Australia and the US); fighting climate change together; and stabilising regional security in south Asia following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

Putin’s visit this week showed the new confidence India has acquired in managing bilateral ties with both Russia and the US as well as multilateral relationships in a world divided into democratic and authoritarian camps led, respectively, by the US and China.

The virtual conference of democracies to be hosted by Biden on 9-10 December has meanwhile enraged China. Beijing’s toxic totalitarianism has worsened under President Xi Jinping. It is increasingly a threat to world peace.

India has stood up to China’s aggression along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The littoral states of the South China Sea — including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia — are watching carefully. They have noted with quiet satisfaction China’s failure to intimidate India or gain significant territorial traction in the 20-month-long stand-off.

Fighting The Pandemic

2021 had begun with hope. In January, the Covid-19 pandemic seemed to have run its course. Cases had dropped from over 100,000 a day to less than 10,000. Fatalities plummeted. The worst was surely over.

It wasn’t. A deadly second wave swept through India in February. By May, daily cases exploded to over 400,000; deaths rose to over 4,500 a day. The government’s vaccination rollout lay in disarray.

It took a key decision, announced live on national television by Prime Minister Modi on 7 June 2021 to turn the tide.

Fourteen days later, on 21 June, the Centre took charge of the vaccination programme nationally. By the first week of December 2021, over 50 per cent of all adult Indians had been fully vaccinated with two doses. More than 85 per cent of adults had received at least one dose. A total of nearly 130 crore vaccine doses had been administered. Another 58 crore doses are needed to take the total to 188 crore doses in order to fully vaccinate India’s 94 crore adults.

At the current pace of around 70 lakh doses being administered daily, India is on target to fully vaccinate an overwhelming majority of its 94-crore adult population by February 2022. Cases have meanwhile fallen to below 10,000 a day.

Though the Omicron variant is a growing concern, a new booster vaccine protocol and paediatric vaccinations from next year could serve as effective shields. Omicron is far more transmissible than the Delta variant which triggered India’s second wave in February. But its lethality is less severe. Symptoms are generally mild and most patients don’t require hospitalisation.

2022: Looking Ahead

As 2021 draws to a close, India has to hold its nerve. It succumbed to blackmail by opposition-backed farmers’ unions due to fear of reverses in the 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly election. That fear led it to repeal three progressive farm laws.

The Modi government has opened the door to further blackmail by vested interests. Jammu and Kashmir’s feudal dynasts are now seeking reinstatement of Article 370. Islamic groups have demanded withdrawal of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

The Modi government must balance the BJP’s electoral interest with the national interest. If the balance is skewed, both will be diminished.

As 2022 beckons, the agenda is clear. The government must double down on economic reforms. The privatisation of Life Insurance Corporation (LIC), scheduled to be completed before March 2022, will create a listed company with an estimated market capitalisation of Rs 15 lakh crore — greater than TCS and just a sliver below Reliance Industries, India’s two most valuable companies.

Simultaneously, the vaccination momentum must not be allowed to slow, especially in light of the lurking danger posed by the Omicron variant.

President Biden has promised to make a state visit to India in 2022. It will give the Modi government an opportunity to display its new-found geopolitical confidence in building bilateral and multilateral relationships. India’s steadfast commitment to the national interest, articulated unapologetically, must be heard loud and clear in the chanceries of Washington, Moscow and Beijing.

Minhaz Merchant is an author and publisher. 

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