"A new star rises" - Part One
THE other father of the nation, Jawaharlal Nehru, ushered in a momentous change in Asia with one of the greatest speeches ever recorded. As part of his legacy he left behind decades of economic folly, but I will always have a tremendous admiration for the man, if only for that amazing oratory which, even now, encapsulates the myriad complexities of a vast nation.
In a split article, a brief look back at the last 60 years sets the scene for gazing ahead.
"The soul of a nation, long supressed, finds utterance"
Despite the spilled blood now mixed with the dusts of Bengal and Punjab, despite the largest movement of people in history, despite shameful conduct on the parts of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and the British, Partition remains a footnote to many.
I do not wish to dwell on the heartache of Partition in this article. Although I have missed the entire BBC India/Pakistan season leading up to Independence, I managed to catch half of Partition: The Day India Burned today, which demonstrates what the BBC is still the best at. It was also the first British documentary about India I have seen which featured none of the following: Nitin Sawhney, Meera Syaal, Talvin Singh, State of Bengal or Nihal Arthanayake. Perhaps that's why I liked it so much.
In the years following Partition, India plodded onward and took a socialist path toward development. It became a republic and created an admirable constitution. Primary education and rural areas were forgotten as the government concentrated on the developing urban sprawls. Legions of Indians grew up illiterate.
Nehru's popularity had taken a battering when half a million people lost their lives after Partition, but as optimism replaced memories of loved ones, Indians felt hope in the free air. In 1962 these hopes were dashed when China steam-rollered Indian troops, still in disarray, and seized Arunachel Pradesh. This came years after India had provided home to the fleeing Dalai Lama.
Nehru came under heavy fire for the disastrous campaign and his failure to see the attack coming. He died two years later.
"Brothers and sisters who have been cut off from us"
Three years on from the Sino-Indian war, India fought an adversary it had clashed with once before, and would do again. Three (or four) wars over the region of Kashmir ensured Indo-Pakistani relations remained cold for decades.
Indian films reflected the conflicting moods in the country. Bengali cinema, which awoke the world to India's film industry in the fifties, often depicted a cosmopolitan, Westernised India juxtaposed with pathetic poverty in all its gore. Meanwhile the quickly-growing Bombay movie business churned out films full of Indian heroes and heroines to lift the nation's spirits.
Nevertheless, millions of Indians made their homes abroad. Britain and America, in particular, benefitted from the 'Indian brain drain', a trend that is happily being reversed now.
Bangladesh was born in 1971 and as defeated Pakistani troops withdrew, they slaughtered as much of Dhaka's intelligensia as they could round up. Nehru's daughter, Indira Gandhi, ended her torrid first time in power after a brief period of
military police-enforced emergency rule and India's first nuclear test.
When she returned to power some years later, she would be assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards on her way to meet Peter Ustinov. They shot in retalliation for her foolhardy storming of Amritsar's Golden Temple. Operation Bluestar was the name given to the attempt to defeat Sikh militants who aggressively sought an independent state.
Her elder son would soon follow in her footsteps, first to lead India and then to be assassinated. His younger brother, Sanjay, was killed in a plane crash and Rajiv was a reluctant heir to his family's legacy. A Tamil Tigress bearing a bouquet of flowers killed Rajiv Gandhi for his part in sending Indian troops sent to a war-torn Sri Lanka. The parallels between the family and a political dynasty in America meant the Nehru/Gandhi clan were oft referred to as the Kennedys of India.
Three years ago Rajiv Gandhi's widow, Sonia, led the resurgent Congress Party to power and controversially stepped aside to allow economist Manmohan Singh to become Prime Minister. At the time, India was a majority-Hindu democracy with a ruling party led by a Catholic, a Sikh PM and a Muslim president. Rajiv and Sonia's son, Rahul Gandhi, is a popular young politician.
Mahatma Gandhi's teachings went on to influence Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Aung Sang Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama, but he wasn't popular with all in India. Maoist Naxalites, entirely disparate from the Hindu right but united by their hatred of Gandhi, were thought to be all but eliminated in the 1970s. Manmohan Singh recently described them as the biggest internal threat to security and their popularity is once again on the increase.
India's population reached half a billion in the 1970s. A food crisis and twenty years of imports was halted by an example of a developing nation's understanding of their own environment. India's Green Revolution and Operation Flood saw the government aid farmers and allow the country to become self-sufficient.
The environment, however, paid a terrible price in 1984, when 40 tonnes of methyl isocyanate was released by the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal. An estimated 22,000 people died as a result and the Bhopal Medical Appeal alleges one person dies a day due to the disaster.
"After long slumber and struggle, awake, vital, free..."
As Narasimha Rao quietly paved the way for India to become the burgeoning economic superpower we hear about today by lifting stifling tariffs, a dark chapter in modern India's history unfolded in Uttar Pradesh.
75,000 kar sevaks, far right Hindus, destroyed the sixteenth century Babri Masjid (mosque) in Ayodyha, claiming it was built upon the site of Lord Ram's birth. Nationwide riots ensued and spilt over into Bangladesh. Ten years on, in 2002, Muslim extremists ignite a train of Hindu pilgrims, killing 58. Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat fuelled a fire burning amongst Hindus eager for blood.
A sickening backlash saw near one thousand people, overwhelmingly Muslim, perish in the first riots to be broadcast live on TV. The BJP were condemned for doing nothing to prevent the killing.
A year before the latest Kashmir clash, India and Pakistan become nuclear powers in 1998.
India's history has been peppered with terrorist attacks. Only the more notable are mentioned here. 250 died as 13 bombs went off in Bombay on the 12th of March 1993, Dawood Ibrahim exacting revenge for Babri Masjid is thought responsible. Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Toiba are blamed for the death of 52 in Mumbai in 2003. Five bombings hit Mumbai in eight months.
Delhi, seat of India's government, is targetted in 2005. The Pakistani Islamic Inquilab Mahaz claim responsibility for the death of 59 two days before Diwali, citing Kashmir as their cause. in 2006, seven bombs explode in eleven rush-hour minutes on Mumbai trains. Lashkar-e-Toiba were once again identified as responsible, in collaboration with the Students Islamic Movement of India. There was no Hindu backlash.
The city's resilience and determination to return to normal were truly inspirational. Western Railways restored full service by the evening and investors rallied, causing the Mumbai Stock Exchange to end the day 3% up.
Last month, the Sensex surpassed the 15,000 mark.
Tomorrow, Part Two:
"We have hard work ahead"
Titles are taken from Nehru's speech, A Tryst with Destiny [full text]. I'm not ashamed to say simply reading it can move me to tears.
Labels: culture, economics, history, India
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