India @ 75 — milestones that shaped India

Photo by Shreshth Gupta on Unsplash

As India celebrates its 75th year of Independence, here’s a look at the major milestones that had lasting impact in its journey — good, bad and ugly.

  1. 1946 — Gandhi Chooses Nehru, despite Patel’s victory : 12 of 15 state committees nominated Patel for party president, despite this overwhelming support for Patel within congress, Gandhi persuades Patel to withdraw his nomination to make Nehru as congress president and de-facto first Prime Minister of India. This development remains an eternal “if” in Indian polity as to what shape India would have taken had Patel become the first Prime Minister of India.
  2. Aug 15th 1947 — Freedom and Partition : While Independent India was taking birth from 200 years of conquest, it was not without blood. Millions of people were displaced and lakhs of people killed in the riots of partition on the western and eastern borders of India.
  3. 1947 — B.R. Ambedkar as the first Law Minister : Ambedkar was not only extra ordinarily qualified for this job but being a Dalit himself and the one who fought for their rights, making him the head of the drafting committee of Indian Constitution, was a re assuring signal that new Independent India would be equal for all Indians.
  4. The Indo-Pakistan War of 1947–1948 Pakistan launched the first of the four Indo-Pak wars by sending Lashkar’s to Jammu and Kashmir in a bid to capture Kashmir, this conflict which started just after independence of both the countries still is remains a dispute on which 3 more wars have been fought.
  5. 1947 — Accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India : Maharaja Hari Singh signed to accession instrument, making Jammu and Kashmir part of India.
  6. 1948 — Nehru takes the Kashmir issue to the United Nations Security Council : In what has proven to be a decision that has been detrimental to India’s interests, Kashmir issue was internationalized by Nehru in 1948.
  7. 1948 — Death of Mahatma : Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse on 30th January 1948 marking an end of an epoch in India’s history. No one can say for sure what influence Gandhi would have had on Indian polity if he lived longer, but no one can dispute he would have had a huge impact if he lived on.
  8. 1948 — Integration of India : The map of India we have today would not have been possible if Vallabhai Patel had not integrated the 562 princely states in a masterful way using ‘sam dam dand bhed’, all resources at his disposal.
  9. 1950 — India becomes Republic : Any country draws its shape from its constitution and on January 26th 1950 the constitution of India came into effect.
  10. 1950 — Universal Adult Franchise : One of the most audacious and biggest decolonizing provision made in the constitution was to grant right to vote to all adult Indians. While today voting right is taken as granted, at the time of India’s Independence, it was seen as a dangerous experiment by the rest of the world. Majority of Indians were illiterate and given the immense diversity and social problems, they were concerns that India could veer towards disastrous results. World leaders cautioned Nehru and others not to do this, but credit to Nehru, Ambedkar and other founding fathers, they thought to truly achieve an India which can eradicate untouchability, gender discrimination and other socio economic disparities, voting rights to all, was the foundation. Just to understand the gravitas of this provision, look at the worlds greatest democracies, i.e USA and UK, woman in USA did not have the right to vote till 1920 and Blacks got their rights as late as 1965. In UK too, woman got their rights in 1928.
  11. 1951 — First General Election of India : One of the key concerns for universal adult franchise apart from the one’s discussed above was the challenge to undertake this mammoth exercise which was going to be the world’s biggest election. As one can imagine, there were multiple challenges to overcome this undertaking, starting from preparing the electoral rolls, educating the masses about this system, making them aware of the various political parties and their symbols. Transporting all ballots, and other infrastructure to the remote parts of the country, which had almost no roads or logistical support, All this in a country with a literacy rate of 18 %. In order to mitigate any challenges on the day of elections, mock elections were conducted. The elections were held from 25 October 1951 and 21 February 1952. This election which was referred to as “The great experiment” across the world, astounded the International observers with a turnout of 45 % and the orderly manner in which it was done. Credit to the first election commissioner of India Sukumar Sen, who made this possible. Sukumar Sen is truly the unsung hero of India’s democracy.
  12. 1951 — Restricting the Freedom of Expression : Nehru’s administration made the first amendment to the constitution of India (Article 19(1)(a)) in order to restrict the freedom of expression when it came under severe criticism’s from different publications. This amendment is used till today to restrict freedom of speech even after 75 years, setting a bad precedent which got worse over time.
  13. 1952 -1956 — Hindu Code bills: The personal laws of Hindu’s, Jains, Buddhist’s and Sikhs were codified giving greater rights to woman. These bills have proven to be beneficial in India progressing into a modern nation but it also presented a division and a lasting grievance of muslim appeasement, as a uniform civil code for all of India’s citizens was not achieved by excluding muslim’s.
  14. 1954 — Creation of BARC (Bhabha Atomic Research Centre ): India was a poor country in 1954 but a nuclear program was of India’s long term interest and its creation has proven to be key for India’s security.
  15. 1956 — States Reorganization Act : Major changes to the state borders and re-organizing of states was done based on language, many states in today’s India are a result of this re-organization.
  16. 1956 — IIT’s/AIIM’s/IIM’s : Through 1956 to 1961, Nehru established and built premium higher educational institutes which have yielded great results till today but at the same time his lack of focus on Primary education has proved to be a great missed opportunity.
  17. 1957 — India’s first Stock Exchange : The Bombay Stock Exchange was the first stock exchange to be recognized by the GOI in August 1957.
  18. 1959 — Kerala crisis : Indian democracy had a litmus test after a decade of its independence, the one it surely did not pass. When political clashes and violence emerged in the state of Kerala, Nehru imposed Presidents rule using Article 356 and dismissed the first time elected communist government. This set a bad precedent and Article 356 was then misused to dismiss state governments 115 times till today.
  19. 1961 — Liberation of Goa: While all of the princely states were integrated to India by 1950, Goa remained under the Portuguese rule till 1961 and armed action was carried out by Indian Armed forces including air, sea and land strikes to defeat the Portuguese and make Goa part of India.
  20. 1962 — ISRO : The Indian National Committee for Space Research(INCOSPAR) was set up in 1962 by Dr. Vikram Sarabhai to formulate the Indian space research program which later became ISRO. The foundations for the great successes in space program of India we see today was laid in 1962.
  21. 1962 — India-China War : In what can be considered as the gravest mishandling of Nehru was the India-China War, in which India lost more than 1000 soldiers and also lost the Aksai Chin region to China.
  22. 1964 — White Revolution : Inspired by the success of Kaira Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union (Amul), Lal Bahadur Shastri requested Verghese Kurien to replicate this across India and set up the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) under Kurien’s leadership. Operation Flood was launched in 1970 with the objective of making milk deficient India to be self sufficient. By 1998, India became the largest milk producing nation surpassing united states.
  23. 1960’s — Green Revolution : During the 1960’s Agriculture in India was modernized, with the objective of increasing the food production in India and this was undertaken under the stewardship of M.S. Swaminathan, who ushered in the Green revolution making India self sufficient in food grains. While this brought great prosperity to India in the initial years and helped eliminate food shortages, it is having a negative impact in the long term both for ecology and economy.
  24. 1960’s — Midday Meal Scheme : In the early 1960’s Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu K.Kamraj launched this scheme for first time in Tamil Nadu. The outcomes of this scheme have proven to be successful in increasing enrollment and improved nutrition for children and eventually this was implemented all over India.
  25. 1965 — India Pakistan War of 1965 : Pakistan launched Operation Gibraltar with objective of securing J&K from India, sensing that India was recovering from the 1962 defeat and underestimating the resolve of Lal Bahadur Shastri, Pakistan under took this misadventure. The 1965 war ended as a strategic and political defeat for Pakistan.
  26. 1966 — L.B. Shastri dies and Indira Gandhi becomes PM : On 11th January 1966, Lal Bahadur Shastri dies in Soviet Union. Indira Gandhi was elected as the Prime Minister by Congress Parliamentary party setting in stone dynastic rule in India and also a major milestone which has shaped the future of India.
  27. 1967 — Naxalbari movement : The word naxal or naxalite comes from the village Naxalbari where there was an uprising, an armed peasant revolt led by communists and tribals. This movement spread across eastern India causing violence for decades and blood shed in at-least 4 to 5 eastern states and causing deaths of civilians and police in the order of thousand’s. India is still reeling with this insurgency albeit its size and magnitude is mainly limited to the state of Chhattisgarh.
  28. 1969 — India takes hard left towards socialism: Indira Gandhi decides to Nationalize 14 private banks, coal, steel, copper, refining, cotton textiles and oil companies in what was seen as a populist moves. This marked the full hard left towards socialism in Indian economy which has proven to be a great loss of growth and prosperity for decades to come.
  29. 1969 — Indira Gandhi becomes undisputed leader of Congress : In a power struggle within the congress leadership, Indira Gandhi was expelled from congress causing her to split the congress party into two: Congress (Organization) and Congress(I)(Indira) — eventually the Congress(I) prevailed making Indira Gandhi one of the most powerful leaders of Independent India.
  30. 1971 — Bangladesh Liberation War : In the 3rd war between India and Pakistan, India decisively defeated Pakistan with as many as 90,000 Pakistan servicemen surrendered to India in a humiliating defeat which would shape both the countries in decades to come.
  31. 1972 — Shimla Agreement, A lost opportunity : After winning a decisive war and having all the aces with her, it’s perplexing as to why Indira Gandhi settled for a disadvantageous deal. Pakistan was given everything they asked for including the territory it lost and also safe return of all the soldiers without one of them persecuted for the atrocities they committed in Bangladesh. This was akin to snatching defeat after a victory, This was a lost opportunity which could have been used to settle the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan in India’s favor once for ever.
  32. 1975 — India Under Emergency : The black mark on Indian democracy was the declaration of state of Emergency in 1975 by Indira Gandhi. Today’s non congress leaders have all been the children of emergency and emergency changed the Indian polity for ever.
  33. 1975 — “Secular” word : The much maligned and over used word in the history of Independent India has been “Secular”. This was not part of the original constitution and was inserted into the constitution when India was under emergency.
  34. 1976 — Abolition of Bonded labor :Bonded labor was a system under which lenders forced borrowers for debt repayment through labor. This was legaly abolisded in 1976. This was a form of slavery which cannot be accepted in a modern democracy.
  35. 1977 — Janata Alliance comes to power : The 1977 elections resulted in a huge defeat of the Congress party, the voters punished Indira Gandhi for the emergency and she even lost her own seat of Rai Bareli. Morarji Desai was sworn in as the 4th Prime Minister of India.
  36. 1980 — Collapse of Janata Govt and return of Indira Gandhi : While the country was jubilant and had high hopes at the victory of Janata Alliance, it was soon understood that a coalition of parties with opposite ideologies i.e socialists and Bharatiya Jana Sangh was too much of a contradiction to run a government. It collapsed and Indira Gandhi stormed back to power.
  37. 1983 — India wins Cricket World cup : India’s win in the 1983 WC started the euphoria for cricket and the game spread to all corners of the country.
  38. 1984 — Operation Bluestar : Indira Gandhi ordered Operation Bluestar, a military action to take out Khalistani terrorists and their leader Bhindranwale, who were hiding in the Golden temple of Amritsar. The intention was to eliminate the Khalistan insurgency but it had an opposite effect, violence and insurgency peaked in the coming years. It also lead to the assassination of Indira Gandhi herself in 1984 triggering the anti Sikh riots.
  39. 1984 — Bhopal Gas tragedy : Bhopal gas tragedy is a chemical accident at UCIL pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. The official death toll due this accident is 2259. It is one of the biggest disasters India has witnessed.
  40. 1984 — First Indian to travel in space: Rakesh Sharma becomes the first Indian to travel in space.
  41. 1984 — Rajiv Gandhi wins a landslide : Riding on the sympathy wave of his mothers assassination, Rajiv Gandhi who was a complete novice in politics won the largest majority in the history of Independent India.
  42. 1985 — The Shahbano case : It would not be exaggeration if it said that the BJP’s rise today can be traced back to this Shahbano case. In a bid to not upset the fringe elements of the muslim population, Rajiv Gandhi’s government overturned a supreme court judgement granting shahbano alimony. This cemented the growing grievance among many Hindu’s of the Muslim appeasement and provided BJP and L.K .Advani a whip to propagate this sentiment, In a defensive move to counter this, Rajiv Gandhi opened the locks of Babri Masjid and allowed to place the Shilanyas, triggering the Ayodhya movement and catapulting the BJP into a national party. Such was the impact of this incident that shaped Indian politics for decades to come.
  43. 1987 — Bofors Scandal : Bofors scandal was a major political corruption scandal involving weapons contract with allegations directly implicating Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Bofors not only derailed the Rajiv Gandhi govt. It also derailed the arms procurement for Indian Armed forces.
  44. 1987 — Rigging of J&K state elections : The 1987 state elections of Jammu and Kashmir were widely believed to be rigged by the Rajiv Gandhi government and lost legitimacy in public view further fueling insurgency in the valley.
  45. 1989 — Rajiv Gandhi defeated : Owing to the Bofors corruption scandal, Congress was defeated and a coalition government under V.P.Singh was formed which involved the BJP and the communist party coming together to support V.P.Singh.
  46. 1990 — Exodus of Kashmiri Pandits: A black mark for Indian democracy as Kashmir under went ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus in January 1990.
  47. 1990 — Mandal Commission : V.P. Singh decided to implement the mandal commission report which recommended reservations for Other Backward Classes, causing massive protests from upper caste youth, especially in north India. Politically this further consolidated the strength of many caste based regional parties and entrenched caste based electoral politics.
  48. 1991 — Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi : On 21st May 1991, Rajiv Gandhi was killed by a LTTE terrorist by a suicide bomb during an election campaign. As a result, P.V. Narasimha Rao who was about to retire from the politics, became the 9th Prime minister of India.
  49. 1991 — Economic Reforms : While Indians tasted political freedom’s after Independence, the economy was largely controlled by the state and entry of private sector or foreign investment was mostly strangled by the oversight and regulations of the Indian state, infamously known as license-permit-qouta raj. Thanks to P.V.Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh, Indian economy was liberalized ushering in growth and prosperity to crores of Indian’s in the following decades. These reforms were truly a turning point in India’s Independent history and the journey of India can be divided pre 1991 and post 1991.
  50. 1992 — Demolition of the Babri Masjid : The Ayodhya Ram mandir movement had reached a crescendo in 1992 when lakhs of kar sevaks assembled in-front of Babri Masjid and it was taken down illegally, which had cascading effect of communal riots, and later a big political issue which dominated Indian polity for the next decade.
  51. 1994 — S.R.Bommai vs Union of India : S.R.Bommai vs Union of India case in 1994 is one of the most referred cases in the Indian Judiciary and has had a huge implications on the Center-state relations and also stopped the center from misusing the Article 356 which gives the center the power to impose president’s rule in a state.
  52. 1997 — Y2K boost to Indian IT sector : There was huge demand for engineers and IT services to fix the bug during Y2k across the world, and India had the human resources needed and this gave a huge boost to the Indian IT sector and after this the software services took off in a big way providing employment to lakhs of people and it now contributes 7 % of India’s GDP.
  53. 1998 — Nuclear tests : India performed 5 nuclear tests in Pokhran. Later development’s across the world clearly proved that India becoming nuclear capable was crucial for its security doctrine.
  54. 1999 — Kargil War :Kargil War between India and Pakistan started when Pakistan military crossed over to the Indian side of LOC to occupy strategic locations. India again emerged victorious and secured all its territory and Pakistan had to go to America to help broker a cease fire.
  55. 1999–2004 NDA Government — The BJP lead NDA government was the first non congress government to last its full term. Indian democracy has two major national parties for the first time.
  56. 1999 — Highjacking of IC814 : A national crisis erupted when the flight IC814 was highjacked by 5 terrorists and flown to Taliban ruled Afghanistan.The highjacks demanded the release of terrorists in Indian jails which included Masood Azhar . Under pressure, the GOI caved in and Minister of External Affairs Jaswanth Singh flew in with the terrorists in exchange for Passengers. This same Masood Azhar later masterminded the Parliament attack in 2001.
  57. 2001 — Indian Parliament Attack : Terrorists attacked the Indian Parliament on 13th December 2001. They belonged to two Pakistan backed terrorist organizations.
  58. 2004 — Congress returns to power under Sonia Gandhi : In a surprise move, Sonia Gandhi asked former finance minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to become the Prime Minister. This experiment of power sharing between a party president and Prime Minister proved to be a disaster for the country and party in later years.
  59. 2005 — Indo-US nuclear deal : This deal was a major break through for strategic partnership between India and US de-hyphenating Pakistan.
  60. 2008 — IPL begins : Indian Premier League established by BCCI in 2007, starts its inaugural season in 2008 and becomes a run away success. The IPL is now amongst the worlds most valuable leagues.
  61. 2009 — Aadhaar : Aadhaar is a 12 digit identification card given to all citizens of India with biometric data, it is the world’s largest biometric ID system. With the advent of Aadhaar, Indians have seen transformation in delivery of welfare benefits.
  62. 2011 — India Anti Corruption movement : The UPA government was marred with series of scandals in its second term and Anna Hazare a social activist started an anti corruption movement which caught the imagination of Indian public. Demonstrations, protests were held across the country. This movement made the Manmohan Singh government a lame duck, as the government lost nerve to bring in any policy changes resulting the phrase “Policy Paralysis”. The Aam Aadmi Party led by Arvind Kejriwal was also born out of this movement.
  63. 2013 — Mission Mangalyan : Mangalyan is a Mars orbiter Mission. It was launched in September 2013 by ISRO making it only the 4th agency to achieve this. It is also the only agency to achieve this in its maiden attempt. ISRO has symbolized what India can achieve when it supports meritocracy without politics.
  64. 2014 — Modi Rises, Gandhi Dynasty Fades : First time in Indian democracy a non congress party i.e. BJP wins a full majority in the 2014 general election, under the leadership of Narendra Modi. This marked a tectonic shift in Indian polity.
  65. 2016  Demonetization : On 8th November 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetization of 500 and 1000 rupee notes. This shock announcement caused panic and heavy shortages of cash across the nation. It also caused a huge shock to the economy and slowed down India’s economic growth. Although it helped accelerate the use of digital payments, its main objective of eliminating black money failed miserably.
  66. 2017 — India implements GST : GST was a long pending indirect tax overhaul simplifying the indirect tax regime by replacing a myriad of indirect taxes such as centrally levied taxes, custom taxes, additional customs duty, surcharges, state level VAT and octroi. It was finally implemented on July1st 2017.
  67. 2019 — Abrogation of Article 370 : By abrogating Article 370, Indian government basically declared that there is no more dispute on the Indian side of Kashmir and all that needs to resolved is only the Pakistan occupied Kashmir. This is a major strategic victory for India and also a closure to a long pending issue.

As listed above, there are many things to feel proud as Indians, there are also many missed opportunities to learn from. Happy 75th Independence day to all Indians !