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Thursday, January 01, 2009

Was 2008 worst year in Indian history post-independence?


The year 2008 was bad for the country. There is no doubt about that. Apart from Mumbai, there were terror strikes in Ahmedabad and Jaipur, serial blasts in Bangalore, Delhi and other major militant strikes in Assam & Manipur (which many forget).

And if this was not enough, there was every possible kind of conflict one can imagine--casteist, ethnic, cultural (linguistic) and communal, that the nation witnessed in the bygone year:

* Caste conflicts like the Gujjar-Meena rift paralysed parts of Northern India for long.
* Amarnath Yatra, a great tradition was communalised.
* The Bajrang Dal-VHP cadre targeted Christians in Orissa, Churches attacked in Karanataka
* Raj Thackeray's MNS let loose its cadre on non-Marathis, a form of politics that threatens to divide the country and hurts the nation from within. For a time, even speaking Hindi had become a crime and even Amitabh Bachchan was ridiculed. The issue of immigrants even brought publicity to a film, Deshdrohi. On a lighter note, the promos of which were amusing.
* Malegaon case investigation brought to fore the involvement of Hindutva extremists in bomb blasts. Sadhvi Pragya became the face of this form of terror, and TV channels loved it. Some Shiv Sena leaders even sort of justified the 'reaction'.

1. This was apart from the natural calamities like the change in the course of Kosi river in Bihar that affected the lives of millions. Two million were displaced and the figure of deaths can only be a guess.

2. Though the year had started well for India. The great unifier, the common religion, cricket had brought cheers when India outperformed Australia. The launch of Nano was announced. There was enthusiasm over nuclear deal among middle class and US presidency [Barack Obama]interesting Indians like never before. Lot of good news was coming.

But as the year progressed terrorism reared its head and by year end the November 26 terror strikes brought a sense of gloom and anger. Union Home Minister and the Maharashtra CM had to bear the brunt. The meltdown and the loss of jobs added to the prevailing atmosphere.

3. As bad as 1948, 1984 and 1992?

Historian Ramchandra Guha wonders in his essay in Outlook whether it was as bad a year as 1948 when post-partition riots had occurred taking lives of thousands and Mahatma Gandhi was shot dead or 1984 when anti-Sikh riots claimed the lives of 4,000 in Delhi alone and 3,000 had died in Bhopal in the worst industrial disaster of the world apart from Indira Gandhi's assassination.

Or 1992 when Babri Masjid was demolished and riots had spread across the length and breadth of Hindustan. In 1984, I was a kid and have memories of those turbulent times but we only had DD then. The situation wasn't too different in 1992 though BBC were aired by then. Now we have a 24/7 Electronic media that can shock and scare us as hell and also make us forget a tragedy the very next day.

4. Comparison is the job of historian but for an ordinary person like me, the year 2008 was definitely a terrible dream. As I go to sleep, I wish the new year will see lesser conflicts, our netas will be less irresponsible and our bureaucracy (intelligence agencies) will work more efficiently.

As sun rises on January 1, let's hope that 2009 will bring peace and security to all of us. Apart from the above-mentioned conflicts, we have battles which are fought daily--poverty, abysmal health care system, rampant corruption and the widening gulf between the poor and the middle-class.

Due to commercialisation of education, the era has come when it is becoming increasingly difficult for a child born in a poor family to get higher education and dream of a great career. I wish that there is national discussion on these issues also. Cynicism is useless. So let's be hopeful and wishing you a Happy New Year.