Five charts that capture 2021 for India

Published on Dec 31, 2021 10:51 PM IST

2022 begins today

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ByRoshan Kishore and Abhishek Jha

2022 begins today. What did the last year bring for India? Here are five charts which capture the most important events in the year that was.

Pandemic: The deadly second wave

India imposed one of the most stringent lockdowns in the world when the pandemic broke out in 2020. The lockdown did delay the spread of the Covid-19 virus in the country. Daily new cases did not cross 5,000 until May 17, two weeks after lockdowns were being eased. The first wave of the pandemic, seen in terms of seven-day average of daily new cases peaked on September 16, 2020, when the average was 93,617. By February 11, daily new cases had come down to just 10,988. This created a sense of complacency, which would prove to be extremely costly months later. The second wave of Covid-19 – if one defines it as a consistent daily increase in 7-day rolling averages for two weeks – started around February 28. The numbers increased rapidly. By April 7, seven-day average of daily new cases had crossed the 93,617 figure, the peak seen during the first wave of the pandemic. The peak came on May 9, when the seven-day average of daily new cases was 391,819. The rapid surge in infections tested and led to a near-collapse of India’s medical infrastructure, seen in reports of not just a shortage of hospital beds but also things like medical oxygen. To be sure, both the number of infections and deaths – at 1.38% India’s case fatality rate is among the lowest – are likely to underestimates. Various reports of rapid spike in death registrations during the peak of the pandemic underline the argument about undercounting of deaths during the pandemic.

Chart: Seven-day average of daily new cases

Policy: 841 million vaccinated people and counting

If there is one policy achievement the Indian State should take credit for in 2021, it is the country’s Covid-19 vaccination programme. The achievement was not without initial hurdles, even hiccups. The world’s first fully-tested Covid-19 public vaccine was administered on December 8 in the United Kingdom. India started vaccinations on January 16. India opened its vaccination programme for the general population on March 1. It would take another 61 days before the programme was opened for all adults on May 1. The progress was slow initially, and there were experiments with a decentralised versus centralised approach to vaccination initially. It was only from August that the pace of the programme reached its current level. While it seems unlikely that the country will achieve full vaccination of all adults by the end of 2021 – 841 million or 89.5% adults have received at least one dose by December 28 -- the progress so far is far from insignificant, especially in keeping with the global vaccine inequality between rich and poor nations. It is on the basis of this success that India has announced the administering of booster doses and vaccines for children in 2022.

Chart: Cumulative share of partially and fully vaccinated adults

Pain: Largest ever economic contraction in India’s history

India’s GDP suffered a contraction of 7.3% in 2020-21. This is the largest ever economic contraction in Independent India and the first instance of a contraction because of the non-farm economy; agriculture was the only sector which actually recorded positive growth. The contraction was largely a result of the 68-day long hard lockdown which threw economic activity off the rails in the first half of the fiscal year. Quarter-wise GDP numbers show this clearly. GDP suffered a contraction of 24.4% and 7.4% in the quarters ending June and September 2020. The economy was inching back to normalcy with a growth of 0.46% and 1.64% in the quarters ending December 2020 and March 2021, before the second wave disrupted the momentum once again. India’s GDP is expected to cross pre-pandemic levels in 2021-22 with a growth of 9.5% (RBI’s projections), but indicators such as Consumer Confidence Surveys clearly show that a large share of the country’s population is still scarred by the pandemic’s economic disruption.

Chart: Annual GDP growth rate India

Politics: The BJP’s loss in Bengal

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) created history when it came back with an even bigger majority in the 2019 general elections. The state which played a crucial role in the BJP achieving this feat was West Bengal. The arithmetic speaks for itself. The BJP’s seat tally went up from 282 to 303 between 2014 and 2019, an increase of 21. West Bengal accounted for 16 of these additional seats in 2019. The West Bengal success for the BJP was also a debacle for the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC). As the assembly elections came closer, the TMC seemed to be besieged, with large-scale defections to the BJP of which Suvendu Adhikari was the most prized catch. A BJP victory in West Bengal was not just about capturing a large state with 42 Lok Sabha seats. It was also about conquering the last eastern frontier which has eluded India’s dominant political hegemon so far. This was not to be. When the results were announced, the TMC seemed to have more than compensated for its 2019 debacle. It won a bigger majority than it had in 2016, gaining 4.6 percentage points in vote share from its 2019 performance. 2021 West Bengal results will have a significant bearing on both the BJP’s and its opposition’s politics in the run-up to 2024.

Chart: Seat share and vote share of BJP and TMC in 2019 and 2021

Perseverance: India’s best ever Olympics

The pandemic delayed the Tokyo Olympics, which were originally scheduled for 2020. It also meant that our athletes were blocked access to their regular training facilities. When the Olympics did happen in 2021, they proved to be India’s best ever, not just in terms of the overall medals tally, but also the number of sports where Indians were able to prove themselves to be the best in the world. Tokyo 2021 also saw India break its jinx in track and field, with Neeaj Chopra winning no less than a gold medal in javelin throw. While there is absolutely nothing which takes away from individual heroics of the athletes which won medals at the Olympics, or the ones which could not but made us all take notice; the Indian women’s hockey team or Aditi Ashok in golf, for example, the overall performance is yet another vindication of the fact that Indian sport is slowly but steadily expanding its footprint at the global stage.

Chart: Medals won by India in summer Olympics

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