The year 2020 was anyway going to be crucial for New Zealanders for being the election year when voters will get the chance to either continue with or displace the current Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – the toast of the global media.
However, there are more reasons for the importance of 2020.
The beginning of the year 2020 was not a regular turnover of another calendar year; instead, it was the mark of the end of two decades of the twenty-first century and the beginning of a new decade.
Analysts often see decades, like centuries, representing some trends and movements that can potentially change the world or at least change the direction where the world is headed in the near future.
For example, the decade of 1980s is often considered by many as decadent and tumultuous as opposed to the decade of 1990s, which is often remembered as a decade of relative peace and prosperity, with the end of the decades-long Cold War and the rise of new era of communication, business, entertainment, and globalisation.
It can be safely argued that every decade has an undercurrent of some subtle forces active within, and shaping the collective societal thinking and actions, driving technology and business, innovations and influencing the political and strategic decision making of both state and non-state actors that forms broader trends for that decade.
In that regard the first two decades of this twenty-first century, which according to some estimates has passed at a remarkable speed with the evolution of modern communication technologies that has not only shortened distances and enhanced our mutual inter-connectedness but have also permanently altered our collective consciousness about “time and space.”
It is to say now a majority of mankind visualises, perceives, and anticipates things in extreme ends of “time” – either too soon in the immediate future or too remote in a distant or even remote future – to a level making all of us collectively overly anxious and uncertain about the future.
For the proponents of artificial intelligence and its disruptive impact on human society, especially in the overtaking of the levels of the human intellect, the future is gloomy, and the end is imminent. Sooner rather than later!
Similarly, for those who are concerned about climate change, the deterioration of the climate and the environment is an unmanageable irreversible process that is set to bring doom, if not intervened with urgent, radical and often drastic changes in the modern lifestyle. Those who tend to disagree with the speed of change often find themselves clubbed in the category of “deniers,” and hence against any meaningful societal actions to prepare mankind for the future.
Indeed, our collective cognition about “time and space” has surely been altered in this first two decades of the twenty-first century.
A quick review of the preceding decade of the 2010s for New Zealand would suggest our repetitive trysts with disasters – both natural and manmade. The decade that began with successive Canterbury earthquakes and followed by the unfortunate Pike River mine explosion in 2010-11, ended with the gravest human inflicted casualty at Christchurch mosque terror attack and the White island volcanic eruption in 2019.
Hopefully, the next decade will be gentler – at least in that respect.
However, an overview of the first few days of 2020, locally and globally, nearer home, and places far and away, does give some glimpse of what Kiwi-Indians and the New Zealanders in general can expect in the New Year and the new decade.
Australian Bushfire: Ramping up concerns about climate change
The last Sunday of the official New Year holiday period had exposed New Zealanders across the country to a vivid orange sky that experts wholeheartedly agreed was a direct consequence of the ongoing Australian bushfires.
The massive bushfires sweeping Australia have shocked locals in their size and ferociousness and have now attracted immense global interest.
New Zealanders are always fully sensitive and aware of the impacts and the fallout of our fellow trans-Tasman neighbour. However, not many would have expected that Australian bushfires could have directly impacted our own climate system across a few thousands of kilometres of Tasman Sea.
In addition to our mutually felt sense of grief, care, and willingness to support our Trans-Tasman neighbours, many New Zealanders would have been compelled to sit back and think about the reality of climate change.
Australians, along with standing in solidarity with their fire-fighting efforts, are also debating about the possible role of climate change and the perceived role of “Green politics” in aggravation of the bushfires.
That debate, largely visible on social media platforms, with the support of unsubstantiated claims and reports and even fake news, is much reflective of debate around climate change and green-politics in many other societies around the world, including in New Zealand.
However, conventional wisdom is pointing towards the fact that green-politics is not preventing the much-needed hazard-reduction-burns and therefore responsible for the massive infernos in any manner. On the other hand, climate change is also not directly responsible for the start of bushfires. At best, and importantly, climate change has contributed in exacerbating the fire season in Australia according to the best available scientific consensus.
To what extent this catastrophic Australian bush fire season will impact New Zealanders will depend on the narrative (largely on social media) they prefer to consume.
However, the Sunday orange sky experience, will definitely stirrup our collective consciousness about climate change in one way or the other in 2020.
Escalation of US-Iran conflict and the prospects of long term peace
Not many New Zealanders would have anticipated returning back to work after the official New Year holiday period with the news of a dramatic escalation of conflict between the United States and Iran in the Middle East.
The news of first President Trump ordering a drone attack that killed a high profile Iranian General Soleimani followed by Iran’s retaliatory attack with a barrage of missiles targeted on multiple military bases in Iraq, initially send chills down the spine all around the world, for the fears of an escalation of conflict in the wider West Asia region.
Indeed, New Zealand has direct tangible interest in the prospects of long-lasting peace in the oil-rich West Asia region that can potentially affect our Kiwi way of life in one way or the other.
Fortuitously, in this instance, both sides have quickly de-escalated the conflict and backed down from further escalation.
However, that does not mean the end of the hostilities between President Trump and Iran, which is continuing since the United States unilateral withdrawal from 2015 nuclear deal that Iran had signed with world powers.
The peace is at best ephemeral and short-lived, especially with “mercurial leadership” being at helms of affairs on both sides.
It would be interesting to observe how the new decade unfolding in 2020 will affect geopolitical hotbed and one of the most conflict-prone regions of the world.
The transformational changes in the ‘idea of India’
There is no escaping from the fact that India has been witnessing a transformational change in recent times that is rightly attracting much attention of the world and the global Indian diaspora, including that of the Kiwi-Indian community.
In fact, the changes that first appeared in early 1990s, and consolidated in the first two decades of the twenty-first century have catapulted India to an enviable position of becoming one of the fastest-growing major economies of the world – making it a toast of the world, with individual countries, great powers, global multilateral institutions, each racing to establish a mutually win-win partnership with India.
One such transformation was the tectonic shift in the nature of the Indian polity, where the longstanding “left-of-centre political elites” was decisively defeated and replaced by a new set of “centre-right political elites.”
The process had begun in 2014 and affirmed in 2019 when the new set of political elites (centre-right BJP or Bharatiya Janata Party) had decisively uprooted the last remaining relics of the long-ruling political elites of Lutyen’s Delhi and firmly established themselves at the saddle, to lead the country in the near future, at least for a conceivable future, unless there is any major disruption to halt the march of the rise of centre-right political forces.
The recently enacted Citizenship Amendment Act is yet another incremental change, among a long list of few radical, and several not so radical, but certainly transformational changes that India has been witnessing in the last few decades.
While the supporters of the current political elites are viewing this enactment as another incremental change that will reaffirm the emergent “New India,” the opponents, particularly those are attributed to have explicit sympathy with the old ruling political elites are seeing it as an opportunity of disruption, and possibly an opportunity to halt their own electoral fortunes.
The global Indian diaspora, including the Kiwi-Indian community, is watching these ongoing transformational changes in India – a place that many identify as their original or spiritual home – with much interest and anxiety.
The contest in the idea of India with the emergent “New India” is easily palpable on the broader landscape of the Kiwi-Indian community’s social media, with many choosing to support the narratives of their preferences.
In that regard, the year 2020 began with the news of “violence” in India’s leading academic institution – Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) – considered by many as the last remaining bastion of erstwhile “intellectual liberalism,” and therefore being a thorn in the eyes of many overzealous supporters of the emergent New India, precipitating a further war of narratives between the two sides.
To many anxious observers, India undoubtedly appears divided and even potentially headed for disintegration.
However, such a grim outlook of India will be a shallow understanding of India’s long, continuous, five-thousand-year-old existence, which reflects India’s inherent resilience to endure the vagaries of various types of political, cultural, and socio-economic convulsions.
Regardless of what is in store in future for India, it is pertinent to note that the manner in which 2020 had begun for India, the interest in India - of both - the international community, and the global India diaspora, will not be receding anytime soon.