In a year of many tumultuous events, these ten developments stood out—in my personal view—as the most consequential stories for India and South Asia. It was a year of many elections, of protests, and of change. Herewith the list, with a few links for further reading:
- Indian women stand up for change: It was a year of extraordinary attention to women’s rights in India, spurred first by mass outrage at the December 2012 gang-rape of Nirbhaya in Delhi. Parliament passed a new, more comprehensive law on rape with dispatch; fast-track courts fulfilled their name, bringing justice quickly; a new sexual harassment law was implemented; and more than ever before, women stood up for their rights.
- Nawaz Sharif’s return: Nawaz Sharif, twice prime minister of Pakistan in the 1990s, successfully defeated the Pakistan People’s Party in the May national elections. This first peaceful transition of power from one elected civilian government to another marked an historic benchmark for a country that has oscillated between civilian and military governments throughout its history.
- Narendra Modi’s definitive rise: Though his political rise had been chronicled in the press for several years, it was 2013 that witnessed the scale of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s mass appeal across numerous states in India. His formal anointment in September as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 elections put an end to speculation of intra-party rivalries, and fueled endless polls and speculation about a NaMo versus RaGa showdown in India.
- Largest accident in garment industry history: The April 24 collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh led to the garment industry’s worst tragedy in history, with more than 1,100 dead and a heartbreaking, more than a week- long rescue operation to search for survivors. [This haunting photograph went viral, symbolizing the heartbreak of this senseless catastrophe.] The collapse led to action from European and U.S. brands and retailers, as well as action from the government of Bangladesh and the Bangladesh garment industry associations, to focus on workplace safety and labor rights to strengthen this industry which employs more than 4 million, primarily women.
- Region wary of troop drawdown in Afghanistan in 2014: In 2014 the troop drawdown in Afghanistan will likely rank as the region’s top story, but throughout 2013 it remained the big unknown turning point of the future. CFR released a special report in November which recommended close attention to the regional dynamics as essential to Afghan stability. It also recommended relying less on Pakistan, and encouraging greater regional economic integration.
- Slowing economic growth in India: In 2013 an even sharper slowdown in India’s economic growth led some analysts to ask tougher questions about India’s economic future amidst numerous political economy challenges. A June 2013 report from Standard & Poor’s asked whether India might become the first of the BRICs to lose its investment grade rating.
- Indian citizens vote for governance (rise of the Aam Aadmi Party): The surprise result of the Delhi state-level election in India was the second-place showing of a barely year-old party, the Aam Aadmi (Ordinary Person) Party, which had campaigned explicitly on an anti-corruption platform. Even more surprising has been the unfolding process through which the AAP has sought to form the Delhi government, as no party gained a simple majority. As AAP seeks to extend its reach nationally, many will be looking to see what effect it might have on the national level.
- Nepal holds elections after five years, votes against Maoists: On November 19, Nepalis at last were able to vote for a new Constituent Assembly. The previous Assembly’s mandate had expired in May 2012, so Nepalis were without elected representatives for a year and a half. Voters had a firm message for the Maoists (they were not returned to power), and the Nepali Congress won 105 of 240 seats. The Assembly will have to get to work completing a new Constitution—the single most important and divisive task leftover from the previous Assembly.
- Sri Lanka’s struggle with legacy of conflict: In 2013, a second UN Human Rights Council resolution passed urging Sri Lanka to fulfill the recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission report following the 2009 end of the country’s civil war. While much has been done on reconstruction and return of the displaced, and this year the Northern Provincial Council at last elected its own local government, substantial international concern about human rights and accountability questions overshadowed the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting hosted in Sri Lanka this year.
- Maldives votes in half-brother of former autocrat: Following more than a year and a half of extreme political polarization in Maldives, and a very complicated election process with a first round vote, a delayed run-off, an annulment of the September first round and November re-do, and then a final run-off, Maldivians elected the more conservative Abdulla Yameen, half-brother of former president Gayoom, over the internationally known former president Mohamed Nasheed. Mr. Nasheed conceded graciously.