Nation in 2000
The new millenium started on a solemn note for India. The hijacking incident had left a deep scar on the psyche of the nation. A compromise had been reached. It was one too heavy. Hardcore militants had been escorted by the foreign minister to freedom in lieu of innocent passengers travelling on IC 814. It was under these circumstances that a wary nation trudged the path of the new year. Akrita Reyar traces the journey.
By Akrita Reyar The new millenium started on a solemn note for India. The hijacking incident had left a deep scar on the psyche of the nation. A compromise had been reached. It was one too heavy. Hardcore militants had been escorted by the foreign minister to freedom in lieu of innocent passengers travelling on IC 814. It was under these circumstances that a wary nation trudged the path of the new year. India, US rediscover each other Slowly, things began to limp back to normal. By March, there was something to cheer. The 50-year hiatus between the oldest and the largest democracies of the world came to an end. The historic visit of President Bill Clinton, the first by a US head of State since Jimmy Carter in 1973, helped to remove several cobwebs caused by the lack of communication in the past. Never before had the Americans toed the Indian line on so many issues. There was a broad consensus that the two countries would not just be friends but strategic partners. Clinton called India a great country, sympathised with its concerns and the two signed a vision statement. In stark contrast, Clinton called Pakistan the bad boy, asked it to show restraint, bring back democracy or wash its hands off their friendship. The reciprocal visit of Vajpayee to Washington was a big hit too, atleast in terms of the relationship between the two countries. Clinton hosted for Vajpayee a banquet that was the largest ever for a single visiting head. The gesture was symbolic but it sent the right signal. While not many tangibles emerged, there was a distinct breakaway from the past. Clinton gave the clincher when he said that he could not envisage a world of their perception 20 years from now without India and the US coming together. Guns fall silent Further down dates, there was more good news in store. For the first time ever, militants in Kashmir wanted to talk peace. Hizbul Mujahiodeen, the largest militant outfit operating in the Valley, announced a ceasefire on July 24. The Army returned the compliment on Aug 5. There were parleys between the group’s representatives and a home ministry team lead by secretary Kamal Pande. But the bonhomie was shortlived. The path to peace was replete with problems. For one, there are too many cooks in the Kashmir kitchen. Most of the other militant groups including the umbrella United Jehad Council denounced the ceasefire, the Hurriyat parried over the initiative and Pakistan did everything to sabotage it. Pakistan was eventually successful. The Pak-based HM chief Syed Salahuddin suddenly started adamantly asking for tripartite talks. The condition was impossible for India to meet. The talks and the ceasefire were called off. This period also saw stepped up militant activity including the massacre of 100 Amarnath pilgroms in a cruel orgy of terror spread over two days. What the ceasefire however did is that it opened channels of communication between the militants and the government. And for the first time gave the beleaguered state hope that a solution can be thrashed out. In December, this time Prime Minister Vajpayee has extended the olive branch. He announced the Ramzan ceasefire. It was widely welcomed by the people of the state. The PM has now extended it by a month. Hurriyat leaders (several of them were released in April) are also talking about meeting militants as a part of the peace initiative. The seed has been sown. It may just bear fruit in times to come. Hostage drama Mid year, there was shock in store for India. A lean, ill-equipped and illiterate forest dacoit was to hold this country of a billion to hostage. When on July 31, the notorious Veerappan abducted Kannada matinee idol Rajkumar and three others, almost immediately there were riots in Karnataka. There was such frenzy on the streets that the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments nearly crawled to appease the outlaw. The sloppy handling of the crisis is an ideal example of complete mismanagement. One obscure editor called R R Gopal of a regional magazine Nakeeran was pulled out to hold negotiations. The fellow went on such innumerable visits to the forest that the man began to look like as if he was on a vacation. The Karnataka CM S M Krishna appealed to Veerappan on the radio, begging him to release the actor. The sickeningly complaisant Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments even said that they had agreed to at least 10 of his demands. It took an appeal by Abdul Karim, the father of one of the policemen killed in an operation to nab the brigand, to stop the circus. He moved the courts against releasing any of the prisoners as ransom. The Supreme Court quashed the order of release of the TADA detenus. It also blasted the Karnataka Govt for its “compounding negligence in apprehending forest brigand Veerappan for 8 years and now succumbing to his demands.” The SC directed Karnataka and TN govts to explain if they have chalked out any alternate plans to secure the release of Rajkumar. The drama finally came to an end when Veerappan released Rajkumar on Nov 15 unconditionally. Atleast that’s what remains the official line. However, the two state governments now seem to have chalked out plans to corner Verappan. Creation of new states In 2000, India also added to the count of its states. From 25 it became a 28 state country. Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh on Nov 1, Uttaranchal from Uttar Pradesh on Nov 9 and Jharkhand from Bihar on Nov 15. Ajit Jogi took over as chief minister of Chhattisgarh, Nityanand Swami as the CM of Uttaranchal and Babulal Marandi of Jharkhand. Raipur, Dehradun and Ranchi became their respective capitals. The creation of these was a long pending demand of the locals of the new states. It is not yet clear though whether the move will spell prosperity for the residents of these states as they so suspect. Though rich in resources, there seems to be no clear plan for movement towards progress. Judiciary : The nation’s messiah Finally, it was a year of the judiciary. Judicial activism was evident in every aspect of the Indian life. From getting old buses off the roads of Delhi to directing lawyers to get back to work to deciding on contentious issues between states like the issue of Almatti dam, the judiciary nearly took the reigns of governance into its hands. Among the several instances of judicial wisdom, the courts restrained the Union Govt and Ministry of Communications from giving free telephone connections to employees of Telecom dept, asked the Govt to submit a report explaining the findings of the probe into the deaths of 12 tigers at Nandankanan Zoo in Orissa and warned the Delhi Government that if the quality of River Yamuna did not improve substantially in three months, it would impose a stiff penalty. The apex court upheld the concerns of the minorities when it asked the Union Government to clarify its stand on the Srikrishna Commission report and crticised the government for expressing conflicting stands on the issue of prosecution of Bal Thackeray. The SC also actively involved itself in the Veerappan case and prevented the government from becoming a joke. It asked the state governments to pull up their socks to nab the bandit. The Courts were also seen intervening to bring striking employees back to work, whether it were the department of telephones or posts. The SC cleared the decks for early completion of the Rs 18000 crore Sardar Sarovar Dam. Looking after public health, the courts directed Government to move polluting units out of National Capital Region. The scene at the end of the year is reminiscent of a school-master pulling up ill-behaved children. Overview This may bear well with the toiling millions of the country but does not with the health of the nation. The fact that judiciary has had to step in indicates that there has been a complete collapse of the legislature and the executive. Violent squabbles stalled most business in Parliament. The government looked incapable of handling any internal problem, even the most basic like that of striking employees. The country added to reach the billion mark, only in its already teeming population. Gang war shifted from the mean streets of Mumbai to the bylanes of Bangkok. Chotta Rajan gave the police a slip, like so many a don have in the past. The procedural tangles in this case made our administration look fresh out of prep-school. On the security front, our airports, transport and public places remained as vulnerable as ever to attack. Even Red Fort, a symbol of national prestige, faced assault. Two ordnance depots caught fire in Bharatpur and Kanpur and there were reports that some outlets even supplied ammunition to criminals! Finally, the Prime Minister chose to rake up controversy by describing Ayodhya as an issue of national sentiment. There was no need for the dispute especially as Vajpayee is seen as the moderate face of the BJP. RSS chief Sudarashan added fuel to the fire when he forwarded the bomb theory in the Babri demolition case. Both backtracked later. The year couldn’t have ended on a more sourish note. And with even Christmas and New Year mail mostly undelivered because of the postal strike, there is little reason for hope.