Choosing the India Today Newsmaker of the Year—a personality or phenomenon that has had the most significant impact on us and altered the news-scape in a calendar year—is never easy. But in the year of Covid-19, we never had any doubt. A virus one-thousandth the width of human hair has caused—and continues to cause—more disruption than any other single catastrophe since the Second World War, 75 years ago. The appearance of the novel coronavirus in China in late 2019 precipitated a global health emergency that has so far infected 80.4 million people worldwide, claimed 1.8 million lives and erased trillions of dollars worth of global wealth. As of December 29, India’s 10.2 million Covid-19 cases were the second-highest national tally in the world, although our 148,000 deaths represented one of the lowest case-fatality rates.
India Today Magazine January 11, 2021 cover, The Great Disruptor.
Nineteen of our 52 issues this year were devoted to the pandemic and its fallout. Covid-19 has changed our lives in ways we are yet to grasp fully. Its effect has been more profound than that of any of the other newsmakers—politicians, sports stars, entrepreneurs and global terrorists—that have appeared on our covers over the past two decades. Perhaps, the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001 comes closest to an event that fundamentally changed the world. In fact, that’s when we started the practice of selecting a Newsmaker of the Year. The pandemic introduced phrases and words such as “social distancing”, “mask protocol”, “Zoom meetings” and “lockdown” into our lexicon. India had one of the world’s most stringent lockdowns, which disrupted lives, livelihoods and businesses, and exposed a vulnerable new urban class—the migrants who keep our cities running. It also threw India into its first economic recession in 59 years, with GDP falling from 3.2 per cent in the last quarter of FY20 to -23.9 per cent in the first quarter of the current financial year, making us one of the world’s worst-performing large economies.
Yet, as the author and journalist Fareed Zakaria informs us in his bestselling book, Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World, human beings have an extraordinary capacity to absorb pain and loss—and move on.
So, even as supply chains were disrupted, companies looked for more efficient warehousing, procurement and distribution. Shop floors adopted digital innovations made possible by the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence. Work from home became the new normal, and video calls the new mode of interaction. Flexible hours and work options, virtual coffee meet-ups typified the new ways of working life. Covid-19 strained our health facilities but, on the positive side, the valiant efforts of doctors and healthcare workers along with breakthrough vaccine research underlined the resilience of the human spirit.
Using case studies, we examine how 2020’s Newsmaker, Covid-19, ‘The Great Disruptor’, reshaped our economy, education system, healthcare facilities and changed the way we work, consume entertainment, or our children attend classes. They include the MSME entrepreneur from Mumbai who worries about his bakery equipment business slowing down, the MBA student from Noida whose classes are being hampered by poor internet connectivity back home in Arunachal Pradesh and the single mother in Delhi who is juggling work from home with parental duties.
We also have a packed list for Other Newsmakers. From Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose popularity, we discovered, soared amidst this year’s multiple crises, including a Himalayan standoff with the Chinese military, to the hundreds of thousands of angry farmers who have camped on the borders of the national capital. From a US vice-president elect with roots in India to three chief ministers, two of whom have held their ground against the BJP’s political chicanery and a third who has teamed up with it. The Indian Premier League’s pandemic-defying smooth run, Dalit women wrestling with the handicaps of gender, caste and class, CAA protesters, the finance minister dealing with an economy in recession, the tragic end of a Bollywood star and a fallen banking icon were among our other contenders. They were all part of the news cycle but, unlike our newsmaker, did not make this the most forgettable and unforgettable year in recent history.
On that note, I wish our readers a happy and, most importantly, healthy New Year. Hopefully, 2021 will be the year of not just a New Normal but a Better Normal.
(India Today Editor-in-Chief's note for the cover story, The Great Disruptor, for January 11, 2021)