A remembrance of things past

As India celebrates 70 years of freedom, Governance Now looks back and picks 70 words – or phrases, buzzwords, slogans, events – that best define this ancient nation and young democracy

GN Bureau | August 14, 2017


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As India celebrates 70 years of freedom, Governance Now looks back and picks 70 words – or phrases, buzzwords, slogans, events – that best define this ancient nation and young democracy. Here, you will find much to be proud of, much tinged with pangs of nostalgia. Then there are entries that provide a cautionary tale on the lines of “those who ignore the history are condemned to repeat it”. Not to mention some that support the fond belief that history’s second act is usually not so tragic.

 

 

Tryst with destiny (1947)
Eight hundred and fifteen words, including the two Jai Hind’s at the close – Jawaharlal Nehru’s stirring speech, delivered on August 14, 1947, as midnight dimmed the light on the British Raj and an ancient, diverse people awoke into nationhood. In plain words arranged in oratorial cadences, the speech set a majestic drumroll that inspired the early generations to build a nation, to aspire towards ideals, to strive and to dream. It figures on most lists of great speeches of the 20th century. Jazzman Ted Nash riffed on its rhythms to create a movement called Spoken at Midnight, which won the Grammy for best instrumental composition in 2016. 

He Ram! (1948)
It was a death that defined the life. Gandhi had wanted all to know that he would be a false Mahatma if he died of “disease or even a pimple” – “But if an explosion took place or somebody shot at me and I received his bullets on my bare chest, without a sigh and with Rama’s name on my lips, only then you should say I was a true Mahatma.” Always economical, not wasting even the back of the envelope, the smart Bania (Amit Shah’s phrase) was going to make the most of his death. He as if conspired with his assassins (Ashis Nandy’s phrase) to raise a permanent red flag of warning to the ideology of hate. The Gandhi saga would have been different, less epic, but for this last act, which invited obvious comparisons to Jesus Christ and Socrates. 

We, the People... (1949)
The preamble to the Constitution of India, dated November 26, 1949, distills the grand idealism of the founding fathers and their vision for the republic in the making. The initial ‘We, the People...’ and the highlighted words – Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity – harked to the both the United States constitution and the French revolution. (The words “secular, socialist” were added later, through the 42nd amendment, and are being questioned today.) The text that followed the preamble – the Constitution per se – provided a legal instrument to bring those lofty ideas to fruition. 

Central planning (1950)
Nehru was enamoured by the Soviet model, with its centralised planning, five-year plans and the vision of the state occupying “commanding heights of the economy”. So his government adopted a resolution in March 1950 to set up the Planning Commission. The objective was to pursue “declared objectives of the Government to promote a rapid rise in the standard of living of the people by efficient exploitation of the resources of the country, increasing production and offering opportunities to all for employment in the service of the community”. The first five-year plan was launched in 1951, focusing on agriculture. The second edition was to move towards industrialisation. By then, Nehru had roped in PC Mahalanobis, a renowned statistician, for guidance. Mahalanobis also helped set up the National Sample Survey and the Central Statistical Office. Over the years, the plan panel attracted criticism as elected chief ministers were forced to stand before (usually) an appointed bureaucrat or politician past his prime to secure funds for the states. Modi, one of the few chief ministers who rose to the top post, had a first-hand experience of this. Since the commission was set up on the basis of a mere government resolution and not a law, it could be wound up without any hitch. 

First general elections (1951-52)
It was without doubt the biggest event in the history of democracy. Historian Ramachandra Guha calls it “a massive act of faith with few parallels in the history of humankind”. Nearly a fifth of humanity marching to a new future! The west had doubts about democracy taking roots in poor countries, though its own record in granting voting rights to women and other social groups was poor, and here was India, with 85 percent illiteracy, adopting universal voting rights in one go. In March 1950, West Bengal chief secretary Sukumar Sen was brought in as chief election commissioner; a month later, the Representation of the People Act was passed, and within months, the logistics were in place to enable 18.6 crore eligible voters to vote. Himachal Pradesh polled early in October 1951, to avoid harsh winter, and the rest of the country voted in March-April 1952. There were 53 parties in the fray, including 14 national ones, but Nehru’s Congress was the clear winner. 

Bhoodan movement (1951)
It was early 1951. Vinoba Bhave, the spiritual heir of Mahatma Gandhi, was travelling on foot in Nalgonda, in present day Telangana. One day at a village meeting, a poor landless ‘untouchable’ got up and said with folded hands that landless peasants in the village would need about 80 acres for sustenance. Vinoba Bhave turned around and asked if someone would be willing to give them land. Unexpectedly, a landowner said he was ready to give 100 acres. Thus was born the bhoodan movement. State governments later passed Bhoodan Acts which stipulated that the beneficiary had no right to sell the land. In 2015, it came to light that a little less than half of the recipients in Bihar did not get possession of the land. The donated land had been sold off or reclaimed. 

Hindi Chini bhai-bhai (1954)
The Panchsheel treaty between India and China was inked in 1954, when the former was a shiny new country and the latter, impoverished but gradually finding its feet. There was much camaraderie amidst the spirit of ‘Hindi Chini bhai-bhai’. China supremo Mao Zedong wanted India as a friend, more so as the US didn’t see either country as a major power. Chinese premier Zhou Enlai wanted to counter US policies in Asia. India too stood to gain, as the US was cosying up to Pakistan, so it made sense to have good neighbourly ties on the eastern front. Prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, a peacenik, did not know then that the Panchsheel treaty, which promised non-aggression and mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity, would lie in tatters barely eight years later, when China went to war, dealing India a humiliating defeat in 1962. The issues, then, as now, related to Tibet and to reaching agreement on borders defined by the British. 

Linguistic reorganisation (1956)
What would be a good way of organising a conglomerate of princely states and British-created provinces, broadly defined territories and regions for easy administration while remaining sensitive to regional identities? That was a question facing the new India in the early 1950s. At first Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel and Pattabhi Sitaramayya were against creating states on the basis of language, but the fast-unto-death by Potti Sriramulu led to the creation of Andhra Pradesh. Soon, demands arose from other regions and a full-fledged reorganisation on linguistic lines followed. The States Reorganisation Act was passed in 1956. To this day, regional identities continue to be asserted with demands for new states. 
 
Untouchability Offences Act (1955)
Over many centuries, the caste system and untouchability had taken firm roots in India. Certain communities were not allowed to draw water from wells, and it was considered a violation if their shadow fell upon someone from the so-called upper castes. The founding fathers, particularly BR Ambedkar, wanted to create a modern India, founded on reason and human dignity. While the Constitution declared everyone equal, untouchability was so rampant that it was felt necessary that it should be made punishable. To this end, the Untouchability Offences Act, 1955, was enacted. While much has changed, caste sadly remains a dominant social and political factor to this day.
 
IITs/IIMs (1951)
Nehru’s dream of a modern India, driven by science and technology, required engineers to turn it into reality. And even as engineering colleges, mostly run by state governments, came up, the central government decided to create first-rate institutions that would select the brightest and turn them into highly competitive world-class professionals. The first Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) came up in Kharagpur in 1951, and soon IITs in Kanpur, Delhi, Madras, and Bombay followed. In a parallel move, the first Indian Institute of Management (IIM) was set up in Ahmedabad, followed the same year by one in Calcutta. Admission was through tough competitive exams; and coursework at these institutions encouraged competition and innovation. Soon IITs and IIMs became synonymous with superior merit. In recent years, the number of IITs and IIMs has gone up with the establishment of more centres, and there is talk of brand dilution. But these institutes have held their own. The early passouts mostly stayed in India, but from the 1960s on, a steady stream of grads began to leave for the US and the UK chiefly, but also to other countries in Europe. The IIT-IIM combo – that is, a BTech from an IIT and a management diploma from an IIM – became a virtual green card. Another trend was that many IIT grads, especially those with management degrees, kept off core engineering jobs, branching off into finance, hedge funds, or investment management. Intentions rarely match outcomes, in business, as in education.
 
Mother India / Pather Panchali (1955, 1957)
Two movies, made two years apart, Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali in 1955 and Mehboob Khan’s Mother India in 1957, presented to the world two different views of India and two different sensibilities. Ray’s was a classic, understated presentation, rooted in reality; Mehboob’s was Bollywood at its melodramatic, over-the-top best. The films were set in different times (Pather Panchali in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and Mother India in the next two decades), but they were the prisms that refracted India for the world in the late 1950s. In later years, Nargis Dutt, who played the titular role in Mother India, was to criticise Ray for presenting only India’s poverty to the world.
 
AFSPA (1958)
Irom Sharmila, the iron lady of Manipur, fasted for 16 years to demand that the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act be repealed. Enacted in 1958, it was passed to bring normalcy in ‘disturbed’ areas. Human rights activists have strongly criticised the law as it gives sweeping powers to the army. It has been 60 years since the Act was passed and it is still in force in Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern states excluding Tripura which lifted it in 2015. RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak has shown that the maximum violations under AFSPA took place in Jammu and Kashmir in 2016. Assam was in second spot and Manipur was third.
 

Flying Sikh (1960)
It’s the image Indians will remember Milkha Singh by – lean and well-cut, powering ahead on the cindertrack, his topknot bare, his hair streaming in strands, his look half hermit, half springing panther. It will also be the defining image of the 1960 Rome Olympics for Indians, though Milkha missed the bronze in the 400 metres dash by 0.1 second. At just a shade above 5’7”, Milkha was unlikely sprint metal. But his spirit was resilient steel, smelted in the tragedy of seeing his parents and siblings killed during the Partition riots. Discovering his running prowess in the army, he went on win national medals and Commonwealth and Asian Games golds. His Rome Olympics timing stood as a national record for more than three decades. No one knows who gave him the sobriquet, but Indians will always remember him as the Flying Sikh.

Aye mere watan ke logon (1963)
Written by Kavi Pradeep, Aye mere watan ke logon was performed live in front of president Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru at the National Stadium in January 1963. The Sino-Indian war had ended only two months back and this powerful song sung in commemoration of the martyrs became an unofficial national anthem. As per the wishes of the lyricist, all the money generated as royalty of the song was pledged towards war widows.

Temples of modern India (1963)
When the Bhakra Nangal dam, one of India’s first big-ticket projects, was being inaugurated, Jawaharlal Nehru spoke of dams and giant public-sector units like the Bhilai steel plant as the temples of modern India. The coinage drew on Nehru’s scientific as well as socialist outlook for creating a modern India, driven by science and technology that would be actively promoted by the state. In those times, the private sector – with the exception of the Tatas, who had already set up a steel plant in Jamshedpur – was not up to raising the huge amounts needed for setting up giant industrial plants that would fuel India’s growth. It is not uncommon even today to meet engineers – now in their 70s and 80s – who will tell you that as young people they studied engineering heeding Nehru’s call.

Jai Jawan Jai Kisan (1965)
In 1965, India had to fight against aggressor Pakistan. The situation was quite tense. It was also the time the country was fighting a war of a different kind – that of food scarcity. At a public rally in Delhi, then prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, a diminutive leader, delivered a thundering slogan Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan. The idea was to motivate our soldiers and to encourage the farmers. It immediately struck an emotive chord. The slogan worked like a charm, with India giving a befitting reply to Pakistan and also upping food crop production. When the Pokharan nuclear test took place in 1998 under Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s watch, he did a bit of word play and freshened up the slogan by adding two more words – Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan, Jai Vigyan.

Gungi Gudiya (1966)
The original desi socialist, Ram Manohar Lohia, did not live to see his words proved so utterly wrong. In 1966, Lohia had said that Indira Gandhi was no more than a “gungi gudiya” or dumb doll who hardly mattered. He died the next year, during which Indira led the Congress to a huge victory, transformed herself into an iron lady whom even opposition leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee described as “Durga astride a tiger” during the 1971 war for the liberation of Bangladesh. The iron streak later manifested in the Emergency, and showed in her hard-nosed handling of national affairs and party matters alike. She drew around her a ring of sycophants, most infamous among them being DK Baruah, who declared, “Indira is India, India is Indira.”

Naxalbari (1967)
Revolution was forged in this small village in West Bengal, near the Nepal border, in 1967. Ideologues like Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal and activists like Jangal Santhal provided the spark to the tinder of revolution that had already been gathering in the region. Peasants seized land from landlords and harvested crops; police were attacked with arrows; peasant committees started governing villages; tea-garden workers from the Darjeeling hills expressed support. The revolt was put down in a few months, but the spirit of Maoist struggle captured the imagination of many peasant groups and educated youths. Some youths gave up promising careers to spread revolutionary ideas among the working classes. In Kerala, the next year, Naxalites attacked police stations in Thalasserry and Pulpally; they also killed some local landlords to redistribute harvests. To this day, the legacy of Naxalbari survives in the large swathes in eastern and central Indian tribal areas that have come to be known as the red belt, where the writ of Maoist groups runs.

Green revolution (1950-60s)
Indians who remember the 1950s and early 1960s would speak of ‘PL 480’ – wheat imported under a US aid programme – and how rotis of wheat would be made only when guests arrived. Maize, millets and rice were the major food crops, and even they were poorly produced.The Green Revolution was a period of enhanced productivity in agriculture with improved agronomic technology – pesticides, fertilisers, modified seeds, and irrigation methods, especially in Punjab, Haryana and UP. India became self-sufficient in food production as a result. However, the revolution also brought with it rampant misuse of fertilisers and pesticides. Many critics also say that the revolution did not focus much on the well-being of the people.

Bank nationalisation (1969)
In 1969, finance minister Morarji Desai was opposed to the idea of the state taking over private banks. He thought it would eat up crucial resources of the state. So prime minister Indira Gandhi dropped him, and brought out an ordinance nationalising 14 banks in one go. Her justification was that banks must contribute to social welfare, and under state ownership, they would lend to the needy masses of farmers and artisans. Priority sector lending became a mantra, and later, in the 1980s, loan melas followed. There was widespread criticism of the sudden move, but as Ramachandra Guha writes, Indira claimed there was a “great feeling in the country” and 95 percent of the people supported it – only the big newspapers with commercial interests opposed it. (There was no WhatsApp then. And there are no big newspapers with vested interests today.)

Rajdhani Express (1969)
On March 3, 1969, the Indian Railways made history by flagging off the country’s first superfast AC train – the Howrah Rajdhani, the first Rajdhani Express train. A bi-weekly, its launch received massive fanfare for revolutionising the Indian Railways. The Rajdhani Express is still one of the most sought after premium trains due to its punctuality and quality services. It attracts millions of passengers every year who have to book tickets months in advance to ensure a berth in the train. Now, Rajdhani Express trains are being revamped and retrofitted with high-tech LHB coaches to make travel safer and more comfortable – with an aim to bring it at par with international standards. 
 
Garibi hatao (1967)
The most evergreen, sustainable and still successful political slogan was, surprisingly, not thought out afresh but given in improvised response to another slogan. Indira Gandhi had called early elections and was fighting for survival. The opposition (including Jana Sangh, Swatantra Party, socialists and regional parties) gave the call of ‘Indira Hatao’. She responded: “They say Indira Hatao, we say Garibi Hatao.” It clicked. Since poverty is not going to go away soon, the slogan has a currency. Rajiv Gandhi also resorted to it, and so has Narendra Modi now. 
 
Operation Flood (1970)
Operation Flood, the world’s biggest dairy programme, was launched in 1970 by the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB). It was an offshoot of AMUL, set up in 1946, when farmers, exploited by middlemen and trade cartels, sought Sardar Patel’s guidance. He advised them to form cooperative societies to collect milk and sell directly to the consumer. They came together to form a cooperative in Anand (Kaira District Co-operative Milk Producers Union Ltd) with help from the likes of Morarji Desai and Tribhuvandas Patel, and soon the model was replicated across the state, with staggering success. The Amul Dairy, as it came to be known later, grew further in strength with the visionary leadership of Dr Verghese Kurien. Prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri wanted to scale it up to the national level, for which the NDDB was set up with Kurien as its head. The cooperative model, however, is culture-specific, and what has worked wonders in Gujarat succeeded in some states but not in many other parts of the country. Uttar Pradesh, for example, the largest milk-producing state, does not have a successful cooperative model, whereas in Gujarat, it remains highly influential in politics too.

Shimla accord (1972)
The Shimla agreement of 1972 is yet another peace treaty that went phut. The accord was signed in Shimla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh, between Pakistani president Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi, who had emerged as an iron lady, after Pakistan was cleaved in a decisive war, leading to the birth of Bangladesh. It was agreed that the ceasefire line of December 17, 1971, would be turned into the Line of Control. Both sides decided to abjure war. A rear-view mirror gives an opportunity to look behind and experts now say that India could have resolved the Kashmir issue as it held over 90,000 prisoners of war and over 5,000 square kilometres of West Pakistani territory. It was a lost opportunity, with our borders continuing to remain red hot.

Smiling Buddha (1974)
There’s something about scientists turning to religious allusions when it comes to nuclear explosions. There’s an apocryphal story that Oppenheimer is said to have either quoted the Gita, or remembered a verse from it, after the New Mexico nuclear test (some say the Hiroshima bombing). And this might have to do with scientists getting scriptural during nuclear blasts. But India’s first nuclear test at Pokharan in Rajasthan was codenamed Smiling Buddha because it was conducted on May 18, 1974, which happened to be Buddha Jayanti. After the 1971 war with Pakistan, and prime minister Indira Gandhi at the height of popularity, this was one way for her to show India in an assertive light internationally. India’s nuclear story continued from there – Pokharan-2 in 1998, the civil nuclear deal with the US (signed into law by president George W Bush in 2008), and India’s current attempts to enter the nuclear club without signing the NPT. Perhaps we’ll say, when that happens, “The Buddha has smiled again.”
 
Kesavananda Bharati (1973)
India continues to be a strong democracy, thanks to the ochre robe-wearing Kesavananda Bharati, the head of a math in Kerala, who challenged a string of constitutional amendments that nullified, among others, the Golak Nath and bank nationalisation judgments. The judiciary and the Indira Gandhi government were pitted against each other. Chief justice Sikri and 12 judges of the supreme court delivered a historic judgment on April 24, 1973, which held that the parliament could amend any part of the constitution as long as it didn’t amend “the basic structure or essential features of the Constitution”. This stress on the basic structure of the constitution helped save Indian democracy. Interestingly, in the 1960s, justice Mudholkar had referred to the basic-structure theory in reference to a 1963 decision of the supreme court of Pakistan, which had noted that the Pakistani president could not alter fundamental constitutional features.

PIN code (1972)
Problem of segregating mails addressed to different places ended in the year 1972. India introduced postal index number or PIN code. The entire country was divided into nine PIN regions. Out of these, first eight are geographical regions and the digit 9 is reserved for the Army Postal Service. While postal mails have become a yesteryear phenomenon, PIN codes are still relevant and are even used in GPS and other mobile apps.
 
The Emergency (1975)
Indians who had only read about totalitarian regimes in literature from the USSR or its East European satellites or stories about Latin American military dictatorships got a taste of how they work during the 21 months from June 25, 1975, to March 21, 1977, when prime minister Indira Gandhi, under political fire, declared an Emergency, citing internal disturbances. Elections were suspended, people’s rights were curbed or downright violated, political opponents, intellectuals and journalists were jailed, censorship was at its tightest, people were tortured and often disappeared. Some newspapers kept up the opposition: the Indian Express, for instance, left edit spaces blank to show they had been censored. Among the large-scale excesses was nasbandi, or sterilisation, as a means of population control: while indeed there were those who voluntarily underwent the process, helpless men were herded into sterilisation camps, operated upon, and, to add insult to injury, handed the incentive of some rupees for having undergone sterilation. According to some reports, more than six million men were sterilised. Not surprisingly, if the Emergency provoked a strong resistance movement, the propaganda unleashed by the regime equally evoked a sense in the public, not unlike the Stockholm Syndrome, that since buses and trains were running on time, the curbs were in some way good. It’s only when the excesses of the Emergency were exposed, much later, that realisation dawned that the democracy had passed through its darkest days. George Fernandes was among those leaders who were jailed and even brutally torutured. Many leaders today – including prime minister Narendra Modi – were underground and lived in disguise during the Emergency. They speak with pride of resisting it.
 
Total revolution (1974)
‘Lok Nayak’ Jayaprakash Narayan was both a sharp critic and ardent admirer of the Mahatma. After independence, for Gandhians, he and Acharya Kripalani provided hope that politics could be more than a game of thrones. When Indira Gandhi was turning increasingly autocratic and the other heir apparent to Gandhi, Vinoba, was not able to speak up for democratic values, JP rose to the occasion and put together a platform to resist the coming totalitarianism. His vision of a Gandhian polity, articulated as Total Revolution, provided a bulwark to safeguard the democracy during its most trying times. Unfortunately, with his failing health, he could do little as the Janata experiment fell through, and his vision remained only that – a vision.
 
The 42nd Amendment (1976)
The churning that was the freedom struggle led to the consensus on several values, like equality, which came to be enshrined in the constitution. The realpolitik of the next quarter of a century threw up another set of values, which came to be enshrined in the 42nd, and the most controversial, amendment of the constitution. It is also known as the Constitution of Indira. The 20-page document subverted the democratic spirit of the constitution. Totalitarian and authoritarian, it gave unfettered powers to parliament, placing it beyond judicial scrutiny, reduced the powers of the judiciary, justified the emergency provisions, and laid down fundamental duties (as opposed to fundamental rights) of the citizen. For effect, it amended the preamble too: “sovereign democratic republic” now became “sovereign, socialist secular democratic republic”, and “unity of the nation” was now expanded to “unity and integrity of the nation”. Just as the Emergency gave way to democracy and the Morarji Desai-led Janata Party to power, the 42nd amendment gave way to the 44th, through which law minister Shanti Bhushan diligently undid most of the controversial provisions.
 
Aryabhata (1975)
Named after the fifth century Indian astronomer and mathematician, the Aryabhata was India’s first satellite – designed completely by ISRO and launched from Russia’s Kapustin Yar on April 19, 1975, for a mission of nearly 17 years. The historic event was celebrated by RBI printing the satellite’s image on the back of '2 banknotes between 1976 and 1997. In 2014, India launched its first venture into the interplanetary space under the Mars Orbiter Mission called Mangalyaan. Its objective was to explore Mars’s surface features, morphology, mineralogy and the Martian atmosphere. Mangalyaan made India the first Asian country to reach the Mars orbit and, the first nation in the world to do so successfully in its very first attempt.
 
Shillong accord (1975)
At the time of India’s independence, the disparate Naga groups wanted a homeland. They initially considered an autonomous region, which quickly became a demand for secession. The Naga groups became a part of the Naga National Council, which hoped to break away from the union. After over two decades of turmoil, the Naga rebels inked an agreement with the government, accepting the supremacy of the constitution, surrendering their arms and giving up their demand for secession of Nagaland from India. The accord was signed in Shillong, Meghalaya in 1975; hence it came to be known as the Shillong Accord. The accord, in which intelligence bureau official SM Dutt played a key role, was later rejected by the Naga groups. In 2015, the Narendra Modi government signed another peace accord with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah). Yet, not all Naga insurgent groups are satisfied.
 
Increasing minimum age of marriage (1976)
Soon after the Emergency was imposed a series of constitutional amendments was passed. The minimum age of marriage was increased through the Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill in 1976 to 18 years for women and 21 years for men. Earlier it was 15 for women, 18 for men. There is a line of thought that the idea behind the bill was to control population growth. It was believed that increasing the minimum age of marriage would result in lowering the fertility rate, as the average years of marriage would be shortened.
 
The Janata experiment (1977)
When JP and Acharya JB Kripalani led the newly elected MPs of the Janata Party to Raj Ghat for a pledge to continue on the Gandhi-directed path, it must have been an electrifying moment for a nation that had just come out of the nightmare of the Emergency. The crude reality was to soon wake the nation up. The Janata Party was more a quick response to the situation that a visionary coming together of forces. It was a motley crew (some called it a bunch of jokers). The first experiment in coalition politics had Gandhians, socialists, Sanghis and itinerant mavericks. The internal differences and ego clashes undid the party, the experiment was over, and the Congress returned to power. Future experiments would remain tinged with suspicion. But an honest response to the Janata phenomenon should go beyond mocking the party, and consider its unparalleled service to the nation in taking democracy out of the ICU and making it able to walk on its feet. 
 
Reliance (1977)
Dhirubhai Ambani returned to India in 1957 after a business stint in the port city of Aden in Yemen and started a yarn trading business from a small office in Masjid Bunder, Mumbai. His firm, Reliance Textile Industries, was to set up its own mill in Ahmedabad later, but in 1977, it offered its shares through a public issue. The stock market then was a nearly underground activity, akin to gambling and not kosher for the middle class. But the public issue attracted common investors (the issue was oversubscribed seven times – quite a record) and launched the equity cult in the country. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history. In the four decades since, the firm has leapfrogged to heights beyond Dhirubhai’s dreams, with presence in an array of sectors. In 2004, it became the first and only private Indian firm to be named in the Fortune Global 500 list. (By the way, Rs 1,000 invested in Reliance shares in 1977 is today worth Rs 16,54,503 – over 1,600 times appreciation.)
 
Appu, the prancing elephant (1982)
The 1982 Asian Games was a landmark event that changed the face of its host city, Delhi, and placed India on the international sporting map. Thanks to the games, the city came to have state-of-the-art stadiums such as the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, the Indraprastha Stadium (now called Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium) and the Talkatora Swimming Pool and Stadium. The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium is still one of the biggest in the country and is used for all important sporting and cultural events, including those of the 2010 Commonwealth Games. The Asian Games changed the skyline of Delhi and made it the city that you see today – with modern flyovers and wide roads. Installation of high-tech facilities and training systems propelled Indian sportspersons to newer heights. It proved a turning point for women athletes like MD Valsamma and PT Usha, who came to be recognised on the international stage. The mascot of the games – baby elephant Appu – became so popular that it inspired the name of India’s first amusement park, Appu Ghar. 1982 was also the year when India got its first colour TV broadcast. Sports enthusiasts spent small fortunes to buy colour TV sets to watch the sports extravaganza. 
 
World Cup victory (1983)
Back then, life was less rushed, traffic moved at easy pace in Delhi, and in one-day international cricket, Sunil Gavaskar used to remain unbeaten at the end of the allotted 60 overs, often without making even as many runs. West Indies were of course bound to complete a hat-trick of World Cups, and few expected India to go beyond the league matches. A journalist wrote something to the effect that if India were to win this tournament he’d eat his words. He had to, literally, after the Miracle at the Lord’s. Kapil Dev and Company gave a big boost to the nation’s self-confidence as well as to the game. 
 
Maruti 800/Ambassador (1983)
The lumbering, cumbersome Ambassador for long dominated Indian roads, symbolising, for the most part, officialdom, bureaucracy, sarkar. A large section of the middle class, right upto the late 1970s, could not afford cars: the scooter (Vespa, Lambretta, or Hamara Bajaj), the motorcycle (Jawa, Rajdoot, or Enfield), or the bicycle (BSA, Raleigh, Atlas, Hero, or Hercules, among others) were the vehicles of choice. It was in 1983 that the Maruti 800 arrived as a middle-class car. Vehicle loans made it easy for white-collar workers, all kinds of professionals and small and medium businessmen to be able to drive to work. Another visible change the Maruti brought to Indian roads: thousands of women took to the wheel.

Nellie Massacre (1983)
It was the late 1970s and the All Assam Students Union (AASU) was quite unhappy with the Muslims from Bangladesh who had settled in Assam, which it referred to as foreign nationals. The simmering discontent came out in the open when a by-election was to take place for the Mangaldoi Lok Sabha constituency. AASU demanded that the election be postponed till the names of the foreign nationals were weeded out from the electoral roll. People armed with machetes and other sharp instruments began to gather near Nellie and about a dozen villages near it, a couple of days before February 18, 1983. On that fateful day, a large crowd moved in and blood bath took place. The attack began in the morning and lasted till the afternoon. By  the time it was over, an estimated 1,800 people lay dead. An enquiry commission was set up under IAS officer TP Tewary in July 1983. In May 1984, it produced a voluminous report that was not made public by the government. The cases were dropped by the government due to the 1985 Assam accord. Not a single person was ultimately punished. It was as if Nellie had not happened at all.
 
When a big tree falls... (1984)
Indira Gandhi’s politics led to the creation of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, and strengthened the Khalistan movement. Things came to such a pass in Punjab that the Golden Temple, occupied by Bhindranwale and his band of militants, had to be stormed by the army in Operation Bluestar. On the morning of October 31, 1984, as Indira Gandhi was walking along a path from her official residence at 1 Safdarjung Road to her office at 1 Akbar Road, two of her guards, Beant Singh and Satwant Singh, opened fire on her. Beant fired from his revolver; Satwant sprayed bullets from his submachine gun. An era came to an end. Mayhem followed in Delhi and many parts of India: Sikhs were targetted and more than 3,000 of them were killed in Delhi alone. A few weeks after her death, Rajiv Gandhi, Indira’s son, said in public that people felt that India had been shaking, and “when a big tree falls, the earth shakes”. The statement was seen as the Congress’s justification for the violence that followed Indira’s assassination.
 
Bhopal gas tragedy (1984)
There was complete panic on the night of December 2, 1984 in the Madhya Pradesh capital Bhopal. People were asleep when suddenly they felt they were choking. Their lungs burnt and their eyes stung. They did not know it then that a killer gas had leaked from the Union Carbide pesticide plant. People ran from their homes. An army officer who took his wife, two sons, and the wife of a brother officer on his scooter to 3 EME centre in nearby Bairagarh recalls seeing scenes of chaos and tragedy. Many officers and jawans joined in relief work. The escaping gas didn’t disperse; instead it hovered over the ground. At least 30 tonnes of highly toxic gas called methyl isocyanate, which was used to manufacture pesticides, killed over 3,500 people and left over five lakh affected. The maximum deaths took place in the shanty towns near the plant. It was the worst industrial disaster in the world and the victims are still fighting for justice.
 
Anti-defection law (1985)
It used to be a regular mockery of democracy: legislators crossing the floor following the highest bid. Legend has it that one Gaya Lal, an MLA in Haryana, changed parties thrice in a fortnight. After one switch, a leader from the receiving party quipped that Gaya Ram was now Aya Ram, and the phrase stuck. In one of those rare moves, long-lasting and taken above party considerations, Rajiv Gandhi ended the charade with the anti-defection law. The floor-crossing business has become quite infrequent, since it requires a sufficient number of defectors. The move brought stability, though small states do face the number game once in a while. The flipside is that every legislator is reduced to a number, since they have to follow the party whip and can’t vote according to their own thinking.
 
Bofors scandal (1987)
The Bofors scandal entered the political lexicon in 1987 and it still finds resonance a good three decades later. India wanted to strengthen its artillery and on March 24, 1986, decided to buy 410 155mm howitzer field guns from Swedish arms company Bofors. So far so good. On April 16, 1987, Swedish Radio made the startling claim that Rs 640 million in kickback had been paid by Bofors to snag the deal. The news was picked up by the wire agencies and the newspapers, two of which, The Hindu and The Indian Express, carried out a thorough investigation which revealed that rules had been bent. The Bofors scandal led to the defeat of the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress in the 1989 general elections. The scandal broke when VP Singh was the defence minister. He later went on to lead a minority government after the Congress was trounced. In an irony not lost on people, the Bofors guns were put to use during the 1999 Kargil war, during which they did prove their efficiency.
 
Shah Bano case (1986)
The second marriage of advocate Mohammed Ahmed Khan prompted his wife Shah Bano to drag him to court to claim maintenance. Little did the then 62-year-old kohl-eyed woman realise that she would be setting off a huge political battle over Muslim personal law. The supreme court in 1985 ruled in Shah Bano’s favour and said that she was entitled to maintenance like other Indian women. The judgment led to protests from Muslims who looked at it as an attack on their right to personal religious laws. The Rajiv Gandhi government was under pressure, with the Congress leaders believing that they would stand to lose their minority vote bank if a legislative step was not taken. Parliament passed The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986 which nullified the judgment. The Act allowed maintenance to a divorced woman only during the period of iddat, or till 90 days after the divorce. Shah Bano died in 1992. Her case is considered a milestone for women’s rights – and the secularism debate.

Operation TOPAC (1987)
A rigged election in 1987 saw armies of Kashmiri youth cross the Line of Control and get trained and equipped as armed militants in Pakistan. This was apparently under a plan called Operation TOPAC outlined by the Pakistan army under Gen Zia-ul-Haq’s presidency. They returned to start what has since continued as the most violent phase in the valley’s history. This saw a mass exodus of 3.5 lakh Kashmiri Hindus and massive influx of army and para-military forces in the valley on counterterrorism operation that continues till date. The deaths of civilians and militants in large numbers have kept the turmoil on even as Kashmir has seen free and fair elections since 1996.  
 
Mandal-Kamandal (1989-90)
The highly eventful decade was coming to a close with the most unlikely partnership in power: among all the governments so far, the one headed by VP Singh remains the odd-one out. Supported from outside by the left and the right to keep the Congress out, VP Singh had a tough task ahead – more so, when you add internal factors like Devi Lal. ‘Rajasab’ sought survival in social engineering, via a long-forgotten commission report recommending education and job quotas for ‘other backward classes’. BJP saw it as a threat to its nascent efforts to mobilise all Hindus, especially with the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and the Rath Yatra its president, LK Advani, was to carry out. VP could not survive the ensuing battle, but the two forces – caste consolidation and communal mobilisation – have since defined Indian politics like none else. Virtually every major political leader today (except Arvind Kejriwal) has reached where he has reached today, thanks to the two genies that came out of the bottle in the late 1980s.
 
Private airlines (1991)
In 1991, like many other sectors, the aviation sector was opened to private players and many players entered the market. Some of them, as it happens by the laws of creative destruction, failed. Competition reduced air fares, and as the middle class took to the air in a big way, revamp of Indian airports took off too. Given India’s population, travel – whether by Metro or by flight – is always done in a press of people. But the arrival of the private sector has brought in much greater efficiency and comfort than Indians were ever used to. 
 
Economic liberalisation (1991)
Every economic reform in India, some argue, is forced by a crisis. In 1991, it was an unprecedented and scary balance-of-payments situation. Ironically, it was a Congress government that unleashed liberalisation – opening markets, removing bureaucratic conditions, doing away with licence-quota raj in most sectors, and so on – everything that the right-wing party, BJP, had been clamouring for. Over a few months, PV Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh quietly took a wrecking ball and razed several pillars of the economy to the ground – all without self-proclamation of the boldness, larger-than-lifesize cutouts, and adulatory messages on WhatsApp. A quarter of century later, reforms have propelled the economy into a dizzying growth curve and are backed by wide political consensus. Liberalisation has put more money in the hands of middle as well as lower middle class. Generations of Indians can be best divided as those who grew up before 1991 and those who came after. Yet, the post-Picketty debate should force us to take a second look at the process which has given India more inequality than even the US ever had in its history.
 
Cable TV (1992)
Till the early 1990s, a TV set meant nothing more than Doordarshan. The whole country watched the same news bulletins and the same serials. The arrival of cable TV, with STAR and Zee, unboxed the TV, and offered more and more choices. Coinciding with the opening up of the economy, the new channels were to boost consumer spend and create new markets. This in turn fed into a booming economy. By the later 1990s, STAR and NDTV joined hands to offer news round the clock, and hugely impacting the way people reacted to current affairs (think of Lalu’s tantrums, Modi’s speeches, earthquakes and riots) and thus changing the very contours of Indian politics.

Purulia arms drop (1991)
In the early hours of  December 18, 1991, India suffered an embarrassing security breach when an aircraft with a Latvian crew as well as a Briton and a Dane, better known as Kim Davy, dropped hundreds of AK-47s and a million round of ammunition in Purulia district in West Bengal. The plane was intercepted a few days later when it again re-entered Indian airspace. It was ascertained that the huge cache of arms and ammunition were meant for the spiritual organisation Ananda Marg that was against the CPI(M). However, Davy later made a sensational claim that the arms drop had been carried out at the behest of the central government and RAW had been informed. The Purulia arms drop is an enduring mystery and there has been no clear-cut answer.

Harshad Mehta (1992)
When Harshad Mehta, a small-time trader’s son, became a broker at the Bombay Stock Exchange in 1986, Rajiv Gandhi was opening up the Indian economy, Reliance had enlisted a wide swathe of the middle class in stock market investment with yet another wildly successful public issue, and a long-term boom in stock prices was just getting under way. By the time PV Narasimha Rao formally unshackled the market forces and some stocks were doubling your investment in a matter of months or even weeks, Mehta emerged as the face – of the market boom and of a new India where greed was good. His flashy lifestyle (a large penthouse flat in Worli, a garage full of trophy cars like Toyota Lexus) got media mileage worthy of a film star. His downfall, with the exposure of a banking scam which also involved a slew of bull-brokers, was swift. The adventure saga turned comedic (allegation of Rs 1 crore bribe to the prime minister), and finally tragic (death in criminal custody). A cautionary tale, there. 

L’affaire Ayodhya (1992)
The Babri mosque in Ayodhya, which Hindus have disputed as the birthplace of Lord Ram, was brought down on December 6, 1992, by more than a lakh karsevaks who had gathered there, pledging to build a Ram temple over there. Riots broke out in many cities, and the Bombay blasts, of March 12, 1993, are seen as a retaliatory act of terrorism, orchestrated from Pakistan and executed by the Bombay mafia. The origins of the Babri demolition go back to the late 1980s, during which the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) had been campaigning for a Ram temple at the disputed site, and the BJP, under then president LK Advani, started riding the bandwagon. The BJP’s slow resurgence, using the politics of polarisation, took some years to come to fruition, and Advani’s Ram Rath Yatra, with the pledge to build a Ram temple at the disputed site, was among the early moves towards that goal. After the short-lived Vajpayee government of 1996, it wasn’t until 1998 that the BJP (in coalition) managed to come to power at the centre. The Babri demolition is seen as the beginning of hardline Hindutva as a BJP stance that has always brought it votes.
 
Panchayati Raj (1992)
Just ahead of the 1989 general election, PM Rajiv Gandhi contemplated launching the Congress poll campaign from Nagaur in Rajasthan. Wonder why? Well, it was in Nagaur that his grandfather and then PM Jawaharlal Nehru had launched Panchayati Raj on October 2, 1959. Mahatma Gandhi believed that villages should be self-sufficient. His concept of village republics led to the enactment of the Panchayat Samiti and Zila Parishad Act of September 2, 1959. It was launched in Nagaur a month later. The idea took shape to attain decentralised and participatory local self-government through Panchayati Raj institutions. But, Panchayati Raj became effective under PV Narasimha Rao under whose watch the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, better known as the Panchayati Raj Act, was passed. However, about 2.5 lakh panchayats in the country today still await full financial empowerment to make the third tier of governance effective.

Terrorism (1993)
India has borne the brunt of a string of terror attacks, each more brazen than the other. Among the numerous attacks carried out by terrorists in different parts of the country over the years, three stand out for their sheer audacity and the fear that it drove into the hearts of not just Indians but people all over the world, leaving them benumbed. Two of the three audacious attacks took place in Mumbai while the third took place in New Delhi. On March 12, 1993, a dozen coordinated bomb blasts took place across Mumbai, leaving 257 dead and over 700 injured. Dawood Ibrahim, a gangster who is now on the run, coordinated the attacks, which were then considered the first of its kind anywhere in the world. December 13, 2001, saw terrorists mounting an attack the temple of Indian democracy, the parliament. The terrorists were killed and no parliamentarian was harmed. The attack brought India and Pakistan to the brink of another war as both countries massed troops at the border. 26/11 was a nightmare for India as 10 armed Pakistani men sneaked into Mumbai from sea on November 26, 2008 and unleashed havoc over three days, leaving 164 people dead. TV channels beamed images of the Taj hotel and other places where gunbattles raged. Ajmal Kasab, the lone gunman who was nabbed, was hanged after a trial.
 
Mobile/Internet (1995)
Public-access internet arrived in India the same year that the first mobile phone call was made in India – in 1995. In the early years, internet was expensive and few had access to it. People would mostly rush to cybercafes to use them. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that people began to say that they could not live without the internet. Mobile phones made landline phones a redundancy at the same time. More importantly, these two technologies combined to (a) democratise the availability of information and (b) make communication accessible to even the poorest. At the commercial level, the two technologies encouraged innovative businesses, leveraged India’s IT strengths, and encouraged a new generation of entrepreneurship. The next big tech-in-your-hands development – smartphone – is now taking over.

‘God of Small Things’ (1997)
There have been other Bookers and other successes, but Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things remains a one-of-its-kind monument of imagination. The Booker Prize, on one hand, boosted writing (and reading) in Indian English, and on the other hand, gave her social and political essays a far wider readership. In the years to come, she was to emerge as a sort of Indian edition of Noam Chomsky, one public intellectual above all, taking up a whole range of causes – one after the other.
 
Kargil (1999)
India and Pakistan are both nuclear armed, but 1999 showed that having nukes was not a deterrent to a limited war. The locals first reported Pakistani intrusion in Kargil in May 1999, which led to a sharp, intense war on the icy mountains. It was also the first war that was beamed on TV channels, giving a boost to nationalism. The intruders were given a bloody nose and sent packing by July 1999. The war turned soldiers into heroes, with their saga of valour adding to the rich history of the Indian army. Among the many, many stories of bravery, there is one of Capt Vikram Batra, who was referred to as Sher Shah by the Pakistanis. This fearless officer, who single-handedly killed three Pakistani intruders in close combat, and his men captured Point 5140 and radioed back the message: “Yeh dil maange more.” It was a cola ad line that found immediate resonance across the country. He was killed trying to help evacuate an injured soldier. He was just 24.
 
FM radio (1993)
Once upon a time, radio was one reliable medium of family entertainment and news. Technology, however, left it far behind – what with hundreds of 24x7 TV channels and later the internet. However, with FM, radio has had a second life. With more and more people shifting to cities, and spending long hours in commute, radio entertainment is much more than nostalgia or retro style statement: many fans would call it a necessity.

Delhi Metro (2002)
Life-changing is a term overused in brochures of sarkari schemes. Delhi Metro actually changed lives – as well as the economy. For a fast-urbanising country, a mass rapid transport system is a must. The Metro not only fulfilled that need, but also set new standards of efficiency and dependability which are frankly not expected from the public sector. It also provided a template for metro rail systems in the rest of the country.
 
Godhra (2002)
February 27, 2002. A train with Ram sevaks returning from Ayodhya. An attack. A fire. A carnage and a tragedy. And then, a retaliatory massacre across all of Gujarat, in which Muslims were targeted and killed, by fire, by the sword, by stone; their women raped, their homes destroyed. We are speaking of the Godhra attack on the Sabarmati Express, in which two coaches full of VHP volunteers returning from Ayodhya were set afire and 59 people died. The alleged provocation for the attack was that the Ram sevaks had taunted and teased Muslims during their journey to and from Ayodhya. The retaliatory violence continued for over a month and sporadic incidents continued for nearly a year. Places became synonymous with dastardly killings: Naroda Patiya, Best Bakery, Gulbarg Society. Subsequent investigations were tardy, and evidence was suppressed or subverted at many stages. Witnesses were coerced into testifying in a manner that let the accused walk free. In some landmark cases, the trial was moved out of Gujarat. For all this, chief minister Narendra Modi was blamed and condemned, but politically, he only gained.
 
RTI (2005)
After years of campaign by activists like Aruna Roy, Prabhas Joshi and others, India enacted the Right to Information (RTI) Act in 2005, when some states were already toying with a version of it. Citizens of India got a new right: the right to ask for any information from government officers. The bureaucrats were no longer faces of Sarkar mai-baap but answerable. The radical move has empowered citizens – to fight for their rights or against corruption – like no other measure. However, over the years, the officers have shown a tendency to be economical in providing information. Also, the killing of a dozen-odd RTI activists is a matter of worry.
 
Aadhaar (2009)
It could have been called Asmita or Abhigyan, but it was supposed to be the basis of good governance and hence named Aadhaar. The 12-digit identification number was meant to provide one identity above all in a country where masses do not have any documentation. Also, it was to plug leakages in welfare schemes by weeding out ghost beneficiaries. The UPA government set up the UIDAI under the planning commission, and roped in Infosys founder Nandan Nilekani to head it. It faced much criticism from BJP as well as civil society – the latter concerned about privacy and any cut in welfare spending. Yet, Modi as prime minister not only appreciated its achievements, he also ensured the legal backing for it. It is now expanding its scope way beyond the original conception: becoming mandatory for a range of services including the death certificate. 
 
LGBT rights (2009)
In the past decade, freedom to choose gender and sexual preference has become more acceptable than ever before. Mobilisation through social media and human rights organisations has led to an increase in the awareness of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) rights. Coming out of the closet isn’t as scary as it used to be due to the social stigma attached to it. Unfortunately, even after witnessing many colourful ‘pride’ parades and activism, members of the LGBT community do not enjoy complete liberty to express themselves. In 2009, the Delhi high court had decriminalised consensual homosexual acts, but the position was reversed by the supreme court in 2013. The archaic Section 377 of the IPC of 1862 criminalises “unnatural sex”, and haunts those struggling to come into the mainstream. Transgenders (fighting to be seen as more than ‘hijras’) witnessed the landmark SC verdict in 2014 that got them under the ambit of ‘third gender’ but they fell short of being accepted in the gender identity they’ve chosen. India still has a long way to open the doors to the LGBT community. 
 
Right to Education (2009)
Amidst a series of new rights-based initiatives, the UPA gave children the right to education. The vision was to put every child in school. So, children below 14 years of age who were not attending schools were visible at least on the admission register if not in the classroom. But what the law did not really focus on was the learning outcomes of students. Focus of the states shifted to improving infrastructure and even that was not fully taken care of. Lack of proper classrooms, teachers, toilets, drinking water facility, midday meal kitchens and staff are hindering the effective implementation of this right.
 
India Against Corruption (2011)
When scams became more frequent than traffic jams in Delhi, people’s anger was obvious but it needed a platform, a rallying point. It came from an unusual person: a retired soldier turned rural-development activist. Many saw Gandhi in Anna Hazare. He was backed by a new breed of political activists: urban, well educated, professional and ideologically neutral – or naïve. Their demand for a long-pending anti-corruption ombudsman law charged up the whole nation. Residents of many neighbourhoods in Delhi zealously organised impromptu candlelight marches, creating an imagery the nation had not witnessed for decades. Public zeal, however, lasts no longer than its memory does. The two outcomes of the Indian Against Corruption movement are the AAP, which won Delhi assembly elections with biggest margin in Indian history outside Sikkim, and the Lokpal Act, which not only remains to be implemented but, more worryingly, has nobody planning a candlelight march in support of. 
 
Direct Benefit Transfer (2013)
Conceived by the UPA, the initiative was announced just weeks before the Gujarat assembly elections in 2012. Chidambaram called it a game-changer; the BJP dubbed it as a political gimmick. Thankfully, DBT is one of the many initiatives a pragmatic Modi has continued. Under DBT, subsidies of 316 government welfare schemes of 51 ministries are directly transferred into beneficiaries’ bank accounts. By plugging leakages in distribution of subsidy amounts, DBT is a money-saver for the government. However, implementing it for PDS remains a matter of serious debate, as it would entail replacing food grains and other benefits with plain cash. A pilot project in Chandigarh and Puducherry has given less than enthusiastic results.

Narendra Modi (2014)
After the post-Godhra riots of 2002, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi continued to use a hardline Hindutva rhetoric that won him a strong following in a polarised Gujarat. After winning the December 2002 elections, he slowly changed tack, saying he would focus only development for all. Modelling himself as a business-friendly, development-oriented chief minister, he continued to lead the BJP in Gujarat to victory in the 2007 and 2012 elections. During the period, he conveyed the impression of a strongman who brooked no opposition, from without or within the party. A polarised public used to much wishy-washiness from leaders began to relate to him. Even the educated middle-class and the NRI brigade, which were initially shocked by his statements, began to buy the development angle he projected. By the 2014 elections, he was ready as the BJP’s most bankable prime ministerial candidate. And he delivered a victory (282 seats for the BJP, and 336 for the NDA alliance) such as the party had never won before. Although Modi continues to project himself as someone committed to development, under his watch, fringe elements are asserting themselves and attacks on the minorities have been on the rise.

Demonetisation (2016)
When you have won a historic mandate and your popularity is going from peak to peak, you have a rare opportunity to take a hard decision, the kind lesser leaders cannot afford to toy with. Something history will remember you for. For Modi, it was demonetisation: banning 86 percent of the total currency by value and making all black money vanish overnight. A “surgical strike” on black money: it was surgical indeed, in clinically dividing those who would be affected by it and those who won’t be. Billion-plus commoners faced great hardships, but it must be sign of Modi’s high approval rating that there was not even one incident of skirmish, and most people seemingly backed the decision. It is a different matter that there is no economic rationale for it; it has knocked GDP growth rate down; RBI is not disclosing any figures; and there is an embarrassing possibility of even more notes having been returned than issued – not to mention the fact that the new Rs 2,000 note has made it easier to hoard cash. But, in the long run, there are some benefits on the way: more and more transactions are now accounted for.
 
(In)tolerance (2015-17)
The inclusion of the word ‘secular’ in the preamble to the Constitution of India in 1977 has hardly ever meant anything really. But never has the word or its sense been ever thrown to the wind as in recent years. Since the Modi government came to power in 2014, right-wing Hindutva groups, gaurakshaks and others of their ilk have suddenly burst on to the scene and are aggressively demonstrating their presence. People transporting cattle have been dragged out of vehicles and lynched, a Muslim was lynched on suspicion that there was beef in his house, a young man in a skullcap was denounced on a train as a beef-eater and stabbed to death. More and more attacks on the minorities continue to be reported. There is a huge strain on the secular fabric of the country. Even prime minister Narendra Modi’s pleas have failed to bring such incidents to a halt. There is a growing sense of unease among minorities who see the rise of Hindutva with trepidation. The intelligentsia have marked their protest through award wapsi and other protests. But little has changed on the ground.
 

(The article appears in the August 16-31, 2017 issue of Governance Now)
 

 

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