#1 Transfer of Power, Partition and wounds that never fill
Freedom came at an unaffordable cost. Partition followed the transfer of power and chaos took over the newly formed states of India and Pakistan. What followed was brutal killing, rapes, looting, and genocides amid the biggest mass cross-border refugee exchange the world has ever seen. For India, a government led by Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru and Home Minister Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel integrated in princely states by Plebiscite 1947 (Junagadh), Instrument of Accession (J&K) and Police Action (Hyderabad).
The division laid out by the leaving colonial powers made two countries – India (mainland) and Pakistan (East and West) in an event which displaced 10-12 million people. Indian and Pakistan forces clashed for the first time in 1947 over the princely state of J&K and division of the states between two countries.
#2 1962 India- China War, foundations of a hostile trajectory, military modernization
A disputed Himalayan border along the McMahon line, India’s asylum to Buddhist Spiritual Head Dalai Lama and other strains in the Indo-China relation gave way. In October 1962, China with 80,000 troops, took advantage of unprepared Indian military and attacked India from Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. The war left an indelible mark on India which can still be felt today. India suffered major casualties- 1383 killed, 1696 missing, and 3968 captured.
The build-up and China’s offensive coincided with the 13-day Cuban Missile Crisis between the United States and the Soviet Union which resulted in India unable to garner assistance from either of the world powers. India’s inability to anticipate and lack of preparedness brought harsh criticism to PM Nehru. Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon resigned and what followed was intensive military expansion and modernization. India and China have signed two Sino-Indian Bilateral Peace and Tranquility Accords in 1993 and 1996. But China still resists any changes by India in the war stages of 1962 of Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh.
#3 1969 ISRO – Beginning of India’s travelogue into outer space
Dr. Homi J. Bhabha and Dr. Vikram Sarabhai persuaded the Indian Government to set up the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) in 1962. In 1969 INCOSPAR was restructured and renamed as Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). ISRO institutionalized space research activities in India.
India launched its first satellite Aryabhata in 1975. Since then, India has achieved numerous successful space missions like Rohini, first satellite placed in orbit by an Indian-made launch vehicle SLV-3 (1980), Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), numerous communications and Earth observation satellites, navigation systems GAGAN and IRNSS, Chandrayaan-1 (2008), indigenous cryogenic engine (2014), Mars Orbiter Mission (2013), 20 satellites in a single vehicle (2016), a world record 104 satellites in a single rocket PSLV-C37 (2017), and Chandrayaan-2 (2019). ISRO’s future plans include Unified Launch Vehicle, Small Satellite Launch Vehicle, human spaceflight, a space station, controlled soft lunar landing, interplanetary probes, and a solar spacecraft mission.
#4 1971 Indo-Pak War, Formation of Bangladesh, addition of immigrants to India’s democratic fabric
The Indo-Pak War of 1971 which led to creation of Bangladesh today is the biggest war wherein an army surrendered. An immigration problem arose when millions of Bangladeshis started migrating to India. India being unable to accommodate anymore immigrants, wanted to solve this problem once and for all. Although the Military efforts came to fruition, the problem of Citizenship of those migrants persists even to this day.
The majority of Bangladeshi people living in what was called East Pakistan were opposed to the idea of Pakistan, leading to the rising immigration. What started as a rebellion turned into an all-out war claiming about 3 Million lives. India’s military aid to the Bangla rebellion after Pakistan Air Force attack on western India changed the geopolitical landscape of both the countries forever.
#5 1975 ‘The Emergency’: Indira Gandhi locks down democracy
‘The Emergency’ has become a phrase in urban Indian folklore – a 19-month period where the world’s largest democracy saw a historic turn of events. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared emergency in the country citing prevailing ‘internal disturbance’. It was based on a rationale of ‘imminent external and internal threats to the state’. There was a censorship imposed on newspapers.
A lock down ensued, the members of opposition parties counting more than 1000 arrested or detained and also declared many parties illegal. A program of compulsory birth control was also introduced. In 1977 when emergency ended, the congress parties felt a setback by losing the Lok Sabha election and the new government formed by Janata Party led by Morarji Desai.
#6 1982-84 Khalistan Movement, Indira Gandhi’s assassination and Chaos
The Khalistan movement rose as an expatriate venture in 1971. It all started with an advertisement published in The New York Times by an expat Jagjit Singh Chohan. He went on to form and head the Khalistan National Council in 1979. But the violent turn came after the rise of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in Punjab’s politics. Akali Dal who were once against Bhindranwale joined forces with him and launched the Dharam Yudh Morcha. This resulted in fuelling political violence including the assassination attempt of Punjab’s CM Darabara Singh and hijacking of two Air India flights.
The militants caused a major havoc with over thousand incidents of violence and hundreds of deaths. These militants were taking shelters in the gurudwaras, but the government didn’t take any action because of the fear of hurting sikh sentiments. This development led to the Operation Blue Star, which was operated by the Indian army to remove Bhindranwale and his followers from the Harmandir Sahib Complex. The demise of Bhindranwale caused a militant outbreak. Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her bodyguards as a retaliation to the operation Blue Star. The 1984 anti-Sikh riots were the aftermath of this assassination. The Khalistan movement is still alive; many separatist leaders have carried out operations after the late 80s and are still active outside the country.
#7 1987 Jammu & Kashmir State Elections – The rise of mistrust and insurgency
The 1987 elections were a watershed moment in the political scenario of Jammu & Kashmir. The coalition government led by Farooq Abdullah lacked legitimacy in the eyes of the population in the valley which perceived the elections to have been rigged. The aftermath is believed to have resulted in rise of insurgency in J&K and also the exodus of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits.
Consequently, a deep mistrust penetrated in Kashmir around the legitimacy of democracy which has seen significantly low turnouts till date. Since then, a ‘cycle of violence and protests’ has engulfed the ‘Heaven on Earth’. This stagnated progress in the state which has stayed without a functioning government’s and under Governor’s rule for long durations. Kashmir sees relentless terror acts and clashes between separatists and security forces till date.
#8 Demolition of Babri Masjid and the politicisation of Ram
Influenced by Hindutva ideology and mobilised by the loose hand of government officials and forces alike created the biggest tear in the secular nature of the Indian state. On December 6, 1992, thousands of karsevaks barged towards Babri masjid and demolished the entire complex in a single night with no interference from any security forces. In an inquiry, 68 people were held responsible, including some leaders of the BJP and the VHP.
The act resulted in communal rioting between Hindu and Muslim communities across the heartlands resulting in at least 2,000 deaths. There were cases of ‘retaliatory violence’ in Pakistan and Bangladesh as well. Prime Minister PV Narsimha Rao was criticized for his handling of the situation. Religious intolerance was further solidified by the incident which has resulted in several major riots, controversial incidents claimed to be pogroms. The Mumbai bombings and riots in 1993 can be directly linked to the incident. The forceful demolition still dictates the political scenario with a disputed land ownership case. ‘Ram Mandir’ has become an effective election agenda in India.
#9 1991 Economic Crisis and 1992 Opening up of the Economy
In 1985 India faced a financial imbalance as imports swelled and so did the fiscal deficit. By the end of 1990, the crisis impacted by the Gulf War put the state’s foreign exchange reserves to the brink. This led to a sharp devaluation of the rupee. The extreme financial crisis led to the opening up of the Indian economy, also called Liberalisation, Privatization and Globalisation. The liberalisation was a clause in the World Bank and IMF’s a $500 million bail out for structural reforms which aimed for the economy to be more market- and service-oriented, thereby expanding the role of private and foreign investment.
The changes included reduction in import tariffs, deregulation of markets, reduction of taxes, and greater foreign investment. While liberalization resulted in high economic growth in the 1990s and 2000s, there is critique around increased inequality and economic degradation. Income inequality has grown since 1992. More criticism of the economic reforms comes from failure to generate employment, nutritional values in food intake in terms of calories, and also export growth. In fact, India today has a worsening current account deficit compared prior to 1992.
#10 1998 (and 1974) Nuclear Tests, Change of Global Image and Entry into Arms Race
Pokhran-I (code name: Smiling Buddha) was India’s first ever successful nuclear bomb test completed on 18 May 1974. Detonated on the Pokhran Test Range in Rajasthan. India conducted a series of nuclear bomb tests at the Indian Army’s Pokhran Test Range. The test was initiated on 11 May 1998 assigned the codename Operation Shakti wherein one fusion bomb and four fission bombs were detonated.
Soon after the tests, then Prime Minister of the BJP-led government Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced that India had become a full-fledged nuclear power. This drew the wrath of the world including sanctions from US and China. UK, France and Russia however refrained. Soon after, Pakistan conducted its own tests and intensified the tripartite headlong arms race in South Asia. India remained firm on its stance, and recovered from the pressure, emerging as a major power player in world politics ridden by the threat of nuclear war.
#11 2002 Gujarat Riots and rise in Terror Attacks
The burning of a train that is claimed to have carried pilgrims returning from a ceremony at the disputed site in Ayodhya sparked unprecedented communal aggression in the state of Gujarat which resulted in a three-day period of rioting, arson, looting and mass-murder which caused 1,044 deaths 790 were Muslim and 254 Hindu as per official estimates. The government led by CM Modi was accused. In 2012, current PM Modi was cleared of complicity in the violence by Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India.
Although classified as ‘communalist riot’, several commentators describe it as a pogrom. The incident followed a spate in attacks against the Muslim minority in the state as well as the rest of India. Gujarat riots saw a spike in terrorism in India in the 2000s with incidents like Akdhardham (2004) and Delhi Bombings (2008).
#12 2014 General Elections – Downfall of Congress and Rise of BJP
While UPA-I brought plaudits to a Dr. Manmohan Singh-led Congress coalition, UPA-II tenure brought about the existential crisis for India’s oldest and most successful political party. The term saw mammoth scams like 2G, Coalgate and Commonwealth destroy Congress’ stronghold among voters. The Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement came as a final nail in the coffin of the party’s perceived invincibility in strength.
What resulted was a landslide victory for the incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Bhartiya Janata Party which based its victory on transparency, progress and an India-first philosophy. The BJP narrative resonated nation-wide giving birth to a new invincible force in Indian politics. BJP government was re-elected with a monumental majority in 2019 and the party is now not only India but the world’s biggest in numbers.