Three score and five years ago, free India’s constitution came into force on 26-January, marking the milestone that transformed India into a Republic.
As our vibrant, diverse and spice-loving nation goes into parade-mode, and the Surya Kirans take to the skies leaving plumes of tricoloured smoke, we look at a mixture of moments that have defined the socio-cultural landscape of the country.
The constitution of independent India came into effect on 26-January-1950. We finally shelved the Government of India Act of 1935, which till then, was the governing document. Made up of 80,000 words it is the longest such work of its kind, a little longer than most novels—Brave New World, aligning with 50% of most novels was 65,000 words; Ulysses, falling in the top 2%, has 263,000 words.
Of its 448 articles, none were as important or controversial as Article 370, the one that gave special status for Jammu and Kashmir, and is still a matter of dispute.
Organising the first ever elections in free India took over four months. The Indian National Congress won with over 45% of votes from around the country. The man who headed the drafting committee of the Constitution, B R Ambedkar lost to Kajrolkar Narayan Sadoba of the INC in the Bombay North constituency.
In between all the hard work involving government formation and other political events, there was parallel effort going on in other areas. New Delhi hosted the first Asian Games, in which 489 athletes from eleven countries took part.
The first IIT was set up in Kharagpur at the site of the former Hijli detention camp.
Mahatma Gandhi is once said to have remarked that if he had more people like him, he would win freedom from the British in a few months. The great man was referring to Potti Sriramulu, who famously undertook a hunger strike demanding a separate state for Telugu-speaking people. Sadly, his wish came true only after he died in the process.
Syama Prasad Mukherjee was the founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, ideological cousin to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. Mukherjee scoffed at Article 370, and in 1953, defying an order not to, travelled to Kashmir to voice his protests. He was arrested and jailed, and later died due to health complications, at just 51 years of age. How his continued presence would have changed the political scenarios of the time, can only be a matter of speculation.
Misguided or misread—relations between India and China have seen many ups and downs. This time it was an upward spiral. On one side drums were beat proclaiming Panchsheel, the guiding principles in bilateral relations between the neighbours. India also recognised China’s claims over Tibet, the largest glaciological area in the world that provides water for more than half of Asia.
A quiet Tamilian, Ramanathan Krishnan, heralded the arrival of Indian sports at the international scene by winning the Junior Wimbledon.
There was a spate of countries reclaiming their lost identities after being handed back power from their colonial captors. The non-aligned movement gained prominence. The term was first used by Prime Minister Nehru, at a speech in 1954 in Colombo, and the movement took root at the 1955 Asian-African Conference in Bandung, Indonesia.
Satyajit Ray, the master film maker, made his debut with Pather Panchali, the first film of his Apu trilogy.
Purported friend of the nation, Chou en Lai, visited India for the second time, and there were long discussions on the border between India and China, and who gets to keep what. Chou repeated his past assurances. Six years later the two countries went to war.
Swarajya began publication.
Sukumar Sen, a civil servant, undertook the most arduous task of his career—the second general elections. The exercise was made more difficult considering that 80% of the 193 million strong electorate could neither read nor write.
A 100 years after the war of Independence, and 200 years after Clive deposed the Nawab of Plassey, thereby gaining a significant foothold in India, the nation elected 494 representatives to the Lok Sabha.
Mehboob Khan’s seminal epic Mother India hit the screens. The movie was India’s first submission to the Academy Awards, in the Best Foreign Language Film category, and also made it to the final short list of five movies.
This was the year when the Armed Forces Special Powers Act came into force. It was designed to help state administrations to cope with internal disturbances that grow out of scale.
This was the year when the Indian public service broadcaster Doordarshan was established. Over the five and a half decades that it has been around, the network has contributed a lot to socio-economic causes and promotion of national integration.
Rajaji founded the Swatantra Party to counter Nehru’s Congress. By the time of the fourth Lok Sabha it had become a force to be reckoned with—the single-largest opposition party, with 44 seats. The honeymoon did not last, and the party declined rapidly following Rajaji’s death.
The flying Sikh, Milkha Singh, produced his best at the Rome Olympics, but finished fourth in the 400m race. The time that he set in that race was a national record for 38 years, till it was broken in 1998.
Goa was a Portuguese colony. When many years of negotiations failed to make Portugal give up the territory, India decided to use force. In late 1961, the Armed Forces were deployed to evict them, and after a brief operation that lasted 17 days, the Portuguese surrendered. Governor Manuel Anonia Vassalo De Silva signed the surrender document on 19-December.
Diplomatic interventions failed, and India’s granting asylum to the Dalai Lama, and other incidents proved to be a trigger.
The Chinese launched offensives in Ladakh and other areas along the McLahon line. One of the more positive outcomes of this conflict was the modernisation of the Indian Armed Forces.
Sucheta Kriplani, a freedom fighter and politician from Uttar Pradesh, became the first woman chief minister, 16 years after the country gained independence. The role of women in politics continues to be marginal, however. Till date only fourteen more women have served as the chief minister of an Indian state.
It would take 44 more years till we got a woman president, and 46 until we had a woman speaker of the Lok Sabha.
India’s first Prime Minister, and a dominant personality in Indian politics, Jawaharlal Nehru, died of a sudden stroke. Cabinet minister C Subramaniam, who broke the news to the Lok Sabha, said “The prime minister is no more. The light is out.” It ended an era.
Lal Bahadur Shastri emerged as the person of choice to head the government, overshadowing stalwarts such as Kamaraj and Morarji Desai. Shastri however did not have many years at the helm. He himself died of a heart attack after just two years at the helm.
Shastri did not have an easy time as PM. Almost as soon as he assumed office, hostilities along the Indo-Pak border increased, and the countries went to war when Pakistan attempted to capture Kashmir. The war saw battles such as that of Asal Uttar, in which Pakistan lost 165 tanks.
In Pakistan, it saw the emergence of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who established the Pakistan People’s Party. In some ways, Pakistan’s obsession with Kashmir would later turn against it as the struggle in East Pakistan intensified in the years that followed.
The year saw the transformation of Bal Keshav Thackeray from a man who caricatured people as a cartoonist, to that of a man fighting for the rights of the Maharashtrian manoos. Thackeray started the Shiv Sena, a party that changed the face of politics in western India.
Gulzari Lal Nanda, the Member of Parliament from Sabarkantha in Gujarat, took oath as interim Prime Minister for the second time in three years. The first was when Nehru died. The second was when Shastri passed away.
The third Parliament elections saw Indira Gandhi contest her first election. She stood from Rae Baraeli. Though the Congress was slowly losing its sheen—it dropped 70 seats from the previous election—Indira’s entry gave it a new lease, and a thrust into dynastic politics from which it still has not come out of.
What is a list without cricket? The Indian team that had till then lurked in the shadows, won its first series overseas and outside of the sub-continent. The Nawab of Pataudi’s team played with intent, and won a series in New Zealand 3–1.
Raipur-born Har Gobind Khorana won the 1968 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. He revolutionized biotechnology with his pioneering work in DNA chemistry. While Watson and Crick had discovered the structure of DNA, Khorana went one step further. He figured out that the building blocks of DNA combined to form amino acids—the components from which proteins are made.
The historic, and widely, criticised step of the government to acquire and control fourteen major banks in the country was initiated. The 14 banks controlled 70 percent of the country’s deposits. Morarji Desai, who was finance minister then, was not in favour of the move.
While the earlier conflicts between India and Pakistan were to do with Kashmir, the 1971 war came about due to a Pakistani genocide in East Pakistan. Mercifully it did not last long. India trumped Pakistan on the Western front, and Dhaka too fell quickly.
Gavaskar announced his arrival on the world stage with fifties in both innings of his first Test. He would go on to become the first man to reach 10,000 runs and 30 centuries in Test cricket.
He finished the series against the formidable West Indies with 774 runs, a record for a batsman in a debut series.
Thespian MG Ramachandran, darling of the masses, founded the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, a political party that broke away from the DMK. Till then a Congress stronghold, Tamil Nadu has since become a battle-ground for the two major local parties.
The majestic cat—the tiger—has long served as the target of hunters and poachers. According to the WWF, 97% of wild tigers have been lost in just over a century. In the early 1970s, the tiger population in India was estimated to be around 1,800. This jolted the people in power to act and Project Tiger was launched. It is heartening to learn from recent reports that, after many years of conservation efforts, the tiger population has seen an upward growth.
It is ironic that India’s first nuclear detonation should take place on the birthday of a man who advocated peace. Pokhran-1 as the test is called, took place on Buddha Jayanti in 1974, marking the first time any country outside those in the UN Security Council had conducted a nuclear test. The top secret event was code named Smiling Buddha.
Jayaprakash Narayan, the Bihar-born leader, inspired a student movement with his call for Sampoorna Kranthi or Total Revolution. The movement did not achieve its goals, fizzling out soon. It did lead to the dark days of ‘emergency’, a time when civil liberties were put down by authority, the press was censored, and everything went haywire for 21 months.
The year had a few other eventful occurrences. ISRO launched India’s first satellite, Aryabhatta.
The humble Rajinikanth, who would later go on to become one of the most famous people on the planet, was launched in K Balachander’s Apoorva Ragangal.
In 1947, when India became free from the British, Sanjay Gandhi was just a year old. 29 years later, he was at the centre piece of political action, trying to free India from another problem—an ever growing population. His idea was not so non-violent though. His forced sterilisation camps where countless men were made to undergo vasectomies remains, along with the Emergency, one of the more ignominious periods in modern Indian history.
Yet another elections, but voila, no Congress at the helm. In the post-Emergency period, the Janata party emerged victorious and formed the first non-Congress government at the centre. Morarji Desai became Prime Minister.
Dr Subhas Mukhopadhyay created history by using in-vitro fertilisation to create the first test-tube baby in India. Contrast this with the events of two years ago when a Nehru-family scion was parading his barbaric thought process country-wide.
Reviled and insulted while he was alive, a depressed Dr Mukhopadhyay committed suicide a couple of years later. A dramatized version of events can be viewed in the national-award-winning film by Tapan Sinha, Ek Doctor Ki Maut.
36 refugees are killed in police action in Marichjhapi island of West Bengal. The shooting and eviction was authorised by the CPI(M) led government.
Sanjay Gandhi died in a freak air crash, finishing that sordid era.
India won the last of its hockey Olympic Gold medals among a curtailed field in Moscow.
It was also the year when a lithe lad from the old-world charm of Malleswaram in Bangalore, overcame the high pressure of international Badminton, and became the first Indian to win the All-England Title. It was the time when the Chinese were making a foray in the sport, and Prakash’s triumph against odds was phenomenal.
Chinese, Malaysian and Indonesian players have collectively won 45 All-England titles, while only two Indians have come up trumps. This amplifies Padukone’s achievement.
Its first client was Data Basics Corporation, in New York. Established with a capital of USD 250, today it employs 165,000 people and has a market capitalisation of—hold your breath—USD 36 billion. Yes, with a ‘b’.
Narayana Murthy’s venture Infosys that started with six other engineers in Pune, has given entrepreneurs much to learn from.
Perhaps the people of this country felt the man was bigger than life, that it did not need anyone to tell his life story on film. It took a Britisher to bring him back to world memory. Richard Attenborough’s movie Gandhi hit the screens in 1982. Interestingly, the man who acted as Gandhi was born to a Gujarati–Indian father.
Bhanu Athaiya won an Oscar for her efforts at costume design, another first for an Indian.
Not many people would have given the team much of a chance. An outfit led by the indomitable Kapil Dev, great talents such as Vengsarkar and Amarnath, and many bits and pieces bowlers captured the World Cup, and heralded the growth of cricket in India, a period from which the country has never looked back.
There were many memorable spots of action during the group stages of the tournament too, with Kapil’s 175 against Zimbabwe being one of the more famous. Apparently, the BBC crew who were supposed to cover that game went on strike and there is no video of the match available!
Civil unrest in Punjab caused by Khalistan demands for a separate nation came to a head when the Army stormed the holy Sikh Shrine, the Golden Temple.
Indira Gandhi fell to assassin’s bullets, in an Orwellian-numbered year.
Two other events brought out the triumph of the human spirit. Rakesh Sharma was the first Indian to go to space. Bachendri Pal became the first Indian to summit Mount Everest. Since then Ms Pal has been promoting adventure activities, and has been instrumental in Tata Steel (where she works) becoming perhaps the only company in India where adventure training is compulsory for new recruits.
The country became acquainted with an unwanted memory—that of terrorism. Air India Flight 182 (Kanishka) disintegrated in mid-air, blown up by a bomb.
All was not complete in the sordid drama in Punjab. Some extremists continued to be holed up in the Golden Temple and another operation, Black Thunder, was conducted to flush them out.
Dean Jones braved the Madras heat to score a double hundred, and India suddenly lost their way, losing their last five wickets for 50-odd runs. Maninder Singh’s bewildered expression still remains in memory. What is this, you ask? The Australia-India Test at Chepauk became only the second tied Test in cricket’s history.
When he was a small child, his parents moved to the Philippines. He used to answer puzzles asked on a chess program on television. The story goes that he became so proficient at it, that he used to answer with unfailing regularity and get them all correct.
After some time the channel requested him to stop, so as to give other viewers a chance to win the prizes on offer. The young child was Viswanathan Anand. His breakthrough year was 1987 when he became World Junior Champion. He got his Grandmaster title a year later.
Bofors was a well-known name in Sweden with the company dealing in artillery manufacturing for more than 350 years. In 1987, it became a household name in India, and remained so for many years after, based on a reported allegation that Bofors was involved in under-the-table deals with top Indian politicos and defence officials.
Salil Ankola, Shahid Saeed and Waqar Younis. Do all these names collectively ring a bell? It was at the National stadium in Karachi when a 16-year old walked out for his first Test—Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. They were the three others who made their debut, in the same game.
Sachin made 15 runs in his first Test innings.
Later in the fourth and final Test of the series he was hit by a ball from Waqar Younis and needed treatment for a bloody nose. He stroked the next delivery for four and went on to make 57.
The rest is history.
The first technology park was setup in Trivandrum, paving the way for the IT boom. The bellwether of the Bombay Stock Exchange, the Sensex, touched the four-figure mark for the first time.
Seven years after his mother fell to an LTTE assassin, Rajiv Gandhi died, victim of a bomb-attack. He was campaigning for the forthcoming elections, at Sriperumbudur, a village on the outskirts of Chennai.
Five-time world professional billiards champion; Three-time world amateur billiards champion; Asian Games gold medallist; One-time Asian billiards champion; Seven-time National billiards champion; four-time National snooker champion. It exhausts us to just go over these numbers! The man behind these achievements, Geet Sethi, won his first world professional championship in 1992.
Another wunderkind came on the movie and music scene—A R Rahman scored music for Roja and has not looked back since.
The Mumbai blasts of March-1993 killed 257 people. Largely said to be engineered by the underworld mafia, the coordinated bomb attacks threw the country’s financial capital out of gear.
Playing a modified version of a Hawaiian slide guitar, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt put India on the Grammy map for his album ‘A meeting by the river’.
Missed call. SMS. Whatsapp. Angry Birds. All these alien sounding terms and services are now ubiquitous, as are mobile phone networks. It was on Independence Day in 1995 that the first commercial mobile phone service started in India, in New Delhi.
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge was released in 1995. The Mumbai cinema hall Maratha Mandir first came into the limelight, screening Mughal-e-azam for a record eight years uninterrupted. It has turned that record on its head, by screening DDLJ for a whopping nineteen years, completing its 1000th show a month ago.
When the Janata government collapsed, Vajpayee restarted the Jana Sangh as the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980. He became PM in 1996.
The joy was however short-lived as the government only lasted for thirteen days. Syama Prasad Mookerjee would have been both proud and sad.
The small world of Ayemenem, a sleepy town in Kerala, and the story of two twins, won Arundhati Roy the Booker Prize.
The man who was given his name ‘immortal’ by none other than Rabindranath Tagore is well-known for his work in welfare economics. Amartya Sen was recognised with the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1998.
In May 1998, Operation Shakthi was initiated. It culminated in the second nuclear bomb test explosions conducted by India. The tests resulted in major sanctions against India, but also showcased India as a power to reckon with.
This was the first year when the tennis doubles pair of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupati played together. What a year they had—they won Wimbledon and the French Open, and were runners-up at the Australian Open and US Open. Leander, of course, never seems to tire. At 41 years of age, the guy’s athleticism and enthusiasm will put many a younger player in the shade.
The Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPI-M), the third largest party at the national level, has its status as a “national” party revoked by the electoral commission. Enough said.
The dawn of the new millennium saw the launch of the country’s first ever private FM radio station—Radio City—in Bangalore.
A municipality in Panchmahal district in Indian state of Gujarat, Godhra will probably be unknown, if it were not for the now-infamous train burning incident. The incident and its aftermath will remain in public consciousness for many more years.
A win in Australia after 22 years came in the Test match at Adelaide, with the chief protagonist in the on-field drama being Rahul Dravid, who scored an aggregate 305 runs in the test.
The low point in the fight against terrorism continued as blasts rocked Mumbai again.
India’s first no-frills airline, started by Capt Gopinath, first took to the skies, ushering in a new era in transport in the country.
India got its first Sikh Prime Minister, accidental or otherwise. Manmohan Singh took office in 2004. The man completed two full terms in office, a feat not many before him have achieved.
Christmas turned out to be a disastrous one for many who lived along the coast, as an earthquake measuring 9 on the Richter scale devastated coastlines all across Asia. India was badly affected.
The financial capital of the country was again in the thick of things, getting wetter than it had bargained. Mumbai went under 5–7 ft. of water due to heavy rains, in a massive flood. It brought the city to a standstill, raising eyebrows and bringing a parallel with hurricane Katrina that pummelled the US southern coast.
Nathu La (La means ‘pass’) is in the Himalayas and connects the Indian state of Sikkim with Tibet. An offshoot of the erstwhile Silk Route, it was a major trade post before it was closed after hostilities in 1962. It reopened after 44 years. The Sikkim tourism website claims that the ATM available here is the world’s highest Automated Teller Machine!
Literally meaning ‘people in majority’, the Bahujan Samaj party started by Kanshi Ram in 1984, has been in the thick of things ever since Mayawati took over the reins. The party won a historic victory in the Uttar Pradesh polls in 2007, but corruption allegations and other issues have plagued it.
The Sensex hit the 20k range.
In an audacious strike, terrorists came to Mumbai by boat under cover of darkness and laid the city to waste in a well-planned strike. The operation lasted four days, killing more than 160 people. Ajmal Kasab, the only terrorist to be captured alive, was executed in 2012.
ISRO added another feather to its cap with the launch of the moon probe, Chandrayaan.
When Vikas Swarup, a civil servant with the Indian Foreign Service penned his first novel Q & A in 2005, he would not have dreamed of the recognition it would bring him. The book did do decently. It was shortlisted for the Best First Book by the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and won a couple of other awards.
The highlight was when the movie rights to the book were sold. Danny Boyle took the book and transformed it into Slumdog Millionnaire, a roaring success, making the book a household name.
Who would have imagined that the humble Allium cepa, a mainstay in Indian cooking, will clock more headlines than Sachin or Manmohan? Onion prices went through the roof, literally bringing tears to many an Indian eye.
Sachin, Sachin! Some claim that the chants that rendered the air could be heard for a couple of kilometres around the ground. The victory over Sri Lanka in the World Cup Finals was a fitting end to a wonderful tournament, and a fitting tribute to the longevity of the man who served Indian cricket with much dedication over a 24–year period.
Tendulkar got a victory lap on his team mates’ shoulders after the match. As Virat Kohli mentioned after the game, ‘Tendulkar has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years; so it was fitting that we carried him on our shoulders after this win.’
A handful of medals may not be much to tom tom about, but this was India’s richest haul ever at the Olympics. It was a sure sign that sport in India was finally beginning to show its potential. Here we hope that the future is brighter.
INS Vikrant built by Cochin Shipyard Limited for the Indian Navy, and the first aircraft carrier built in India, was launched amid fanfare.
Sachin retired from Test cricket after playing his 200th match.
Ah well, what can we say after 4390 words, except “Narendra Modi happened”? If there is one thing about 2014 that Indians will remember after a few years, it will be the landslide win in the Lok Sabha polls powered by one man. Whether it will translate into “good days” we can’t be sure, but it spelt a change in the weather for sure.
That’s that. 65 momentous years. We hope this timeline compilation will give you a chance to reflect and reminisce on the days gone by.
Content researched by Nexus Consulting