72 Years of Independence: Watershed Moments That Shaped India

As we celebrate 72 years of Indian Independence, it’s a good time to look back at the events and times that shaped our nation since 15 August 1947.

1947 – Tryst with Destiny

India becomes a free and independent nation whose struggles and aspirations were encapsulated in Pandit Nehru's acclaimed ‘tryst with destiny’ speech.

Jawaharlal Nehru making his “Tryst with Destiny” speech at the Midnight Session of Parliament.

1948 – A Patricide Rocks the Nation

Nathuram Vinayak Godse and his collaborator Narayan Apte, members of the extremist outfit Hindu Mahasabha, assassinate Mahatma Gandhi.

Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on 30 January 1948 in the compound of Birla House (now Gandhi Smriti), a large mansion in Central Delhi.
A group picture of people accused in the murder of Mahatma Gandhi.

1950 – A Republic at Last

On 26 January 1950, the 34th and last Governor-General of India, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, reads out a proclamation announcing the birth of the Republic of India.

The front page of The Indian Express dated 28 January 1950.

Also Read: Birth of a Nation: Looking Back at India’s First Republic Day

1952 – The First Dance of Democracy

Jawaharlal Nehru, who had led the interim government since 1947, is elected in the country’s first parliamentary election in 1952.

A view of the polling station at Town Hall, Delhi on 14 January, 1952. 
Jan Sangh supporters on cycles campaigning for their party in the 1952 general elections in Delhi.  

1959 – Tibetans Find a Home in India

The 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso escapes to India along with a number of refugees fleeing Chinese occupation of their country. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru meets the Dalai Lama in Mussoorie in 1959 and assures him of protection for his people. The Tibetan spiritual leader would go on to establish the Tibetan Government-in-Exile at Dharamshala.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the Dalai Lama, on 24 April 1959. 
PN Menon and the Dalai Lama at Siliguri station.
PM Nehru with the Dalai Lama. 

Also Read: Graphic Novel: The Dalai Lama’s Escape to India

1962 – The First Military Failure, the Sino-Indian War

The Indian Army suffers the following casualties in the border war against China: 1,383 killed, 1,047 wounded, 1,696 missing, and 3,968 jawans captured. The Chinese PLA suffers the following casualties: 722 killed, 1,697 wounded.

Also Read: 1962 India-China War: Seven Things You Might Not Know

1962 – The Passing of Nehru

India’s first prime minister is a troubled man after India’s defeat in the 1962 war with China. He dies on 27 May. Interim prime minister Gulzarilal Nanda, who is sworn in, is soon replaced by his close political confidant, Lal Bahadur Shastri.

Nehru passes away at age 74.

Also Read: Here’s the Truth Behind the Viral Photo of Nehru in an RSS Uniform

1965 – A Second Victory Against Pakistan

India's military losses in the war with China embolden Pakistan to attack. Though both sides suffer heavy casualties, India is perceived as the victor. Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri is hailed as a national hero for the victory that ameliorated the memory of the defeat to China. It is the second war fought over Kashmir.

Major engagements with infiltrators in August, large number of raiders killed, others exfiltrated back to POK.

Also Read: In Pictures: 52 Years of Op Gibraltar and the 1965 Indo-Pak War

1971 – A Third Victory

A third war with Pakistan breaks out over the creation of Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan. As Pakistan signs the Instrument of Surrender on 16 December, it unilaterally and unconditionally cedes to India.

1975 – The Year of 'Emergency'

Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, then President of India, declares a state of internal emergency upon the advice of then-PM Indira Gandhi, thereby granting her full power to rule by decree. Nearly 1,000 political opponents are imprisoned and a programme of compulsory birth control is introduced.

Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Also Read: 1975 Emergency: A Graphic Novel Revisits the Dark Age of Democracy

1979 – A Nobel for a Mother

Sister of Mercy Mother Teresa’s undying kindness and compassion for the downtrodden, the displaced and the diseased in India is recognised as she is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Mother Teresa with John Sanness, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, during the award ceremony in Oslo in 1979.

1983 – Kapil's Devils Conquer the World

Seen as underdogs going into the tournament with no hopes of clearing the league matches, the Kapil Dev-led Indian cricket team triumphs against all odds, including wagers of 100-1 in favour of the Windies in the finals of the cricket World Cup.

Kapil’s famous 175* 

1984 – Golden Temple Under Seige

In 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi signs the order to launch a military offensive to smoke out Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale’s militants who had unleashed terror on Punjab and taken refuge in the Golden Temple.

For five days, the Indian army pounds the holy Sikh shrine with heavy artillery, tanks and helicopters. This is Operation Bluestar.

1984 – The Assassination of Indira Gandhi

Indira Gandhi is assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards on 31 October 1984, following which her son, Rajiv, takes over. Gandhi is assassinated just a few months after Operation Blue Star.

A pogrom continues across Delhi and the adjoining areas for three days. There is looting, destruction of property, and killing.

1984 – Bhopal Gas Tragedy

As the country came to grips with the assassination of Indira Gandhi on 31 October, a terrible tragedy strikes again on 2 December. A gas leak at Union Carbide pesticides plant in Bhopal. Thousands are killed immediately, and many more subsequently die or are left disabled.

1985 – Blown Apart in Mid-Air

Kanishka, Air India’s ill-fated Flight 182, en route to Delhi from Montreal, meets with a bloody end in mid-air. All 329 on board, including 22 Indians, die. Sikh extremism that was consuming India in the wake of Operation Blue Star is said to be the motivation behind the bombing. Sikh separatists are said to have placed explosives inside the plane, blowing it to smithereens just an hour after takeoff.

Officers, Irish sailors, and rescue workers look on as the 329 victims of the Air India jet are lined up on the docks in Cork, Ireland on 24 June 1985.

Also Read: Kanishka Bombing, the Deadliest Air Attack Before 9/11

1990 – Caste Inferno Engulfs the Nation

Rajiv Goswami’s attempt at self-immolation to protest Prime Minister VP Singh’s implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations sends shockwaves through a nation already cleaved by caste.

His bravado fans the flames of protest that had already been lit by Singh’s attempt to raise the reservation quota of students in professional institutions and central universities to 49.5 percent from 22 percent.

At the height of the anti-Mandal protests, Rajeev Goswami was among the first to attempt self-immolation.

1991 – A Death in the Family

The nation is shocked as former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi is assassinated by a Tamil suicide bomber sympathetic to Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers in southern India during the election campaign.

1991 – An Economy Liberalised

A new Congress government headed by PV Narasimha Rao is voted in. India is smack dab in the middle of an extraordinary financial crisis.

Manmohan Singh, then finance minister under prime minister PV Narasimha Rao, presents the interim budget of 1991-92, which rearranges the economic architecture of the nation and ushers in what is often referred to as economic liberalisation.

1992 – When the Roof Falls

6 December goes down in history as one of the darkest days since India gained Independence. Workers of the Vishva Hindu Parishad tear down a 16th-century mosque located in Ayodhya. The mosque is believed to have been built over a shrine which exhorted the small piece of land as Ram Janmabhoomi – the birthplace of Lord Rama. This sparks nationwide communal riots in which some 3,000 people die.

1993 – Mumbai Blasts Scar

India’s retribution for the destruction of the Babri Masjid is not swift, but that’s because revenge needs to be planned and plotted. Thirteen coordinated explosions rip Mumbai apart and change the psyche of the nation. In all, 257 people died and about 700 suffered injuries.

Mumbai is never the same again. Religious differences simmer and wounds of that fateful day have still not healed. Since 1993, numerous other explosions have killed hundreds more in a city that has learned grudgingly to live with violence.

The front page of Hindustan Times after Mumbai blasts.
Fire rages on at Century Bazaar, Worli.

1994 – Two Queens

Beauty and brains make the news as Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai won the Miss Universe and Miss World titles respectively.

Indian actress and beauty queen Sushmita Sen was crowned Femina Miss India Universe in 1994. 

Also Read: Sushmita Walks Down Memory Lane, 23 Years After Winning Pageant

1999 – A War on Icy Heights

Tension in Kashmir leads to a brief war with Pakistan-backed forces in the icy heights around Kargil in Kashmir.

2000 – A Billion of Us

India welcomed its billionth citizen on 11 May as the country marks the birth of the milestone baby.

2001 – Operation Parakram

India fires on Pakistani military posts in the heaviest firing along the dividing Line of Control in Kashmir for almost a year. In December, a suicide squad attacks Parliament in New Delhi, killing several policemen, including five gunmen who die in the assault. India, Pakistan amass troops along the common border amid mounting fears of a looming war.

2001 – A Nation Shaken On Republic Day

India wakes to the most catastrophic natural calamity in 50 years. At 8:46 am, Gujarat is hit by an earthquake that lasts two minutes, with aftershocks that continue for a month. About 20,000 people are killed, 167,000 injured and 600,000 left homeless. The shockwaves affect an area of 700 kilometres, paralysing the province.

2002 – Communal Violence Tears Gujarat Apart

Barely stumbling out of its quake aftershocks, communal bloodshed breaks out after 59 Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya are killed as a train is set on fire in Godhra, Gujarat. More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, die in subsequent violence. Police and officials blamed the fire on a Muslim mob, but a 2005 government investigation said it was an accident.

A file photo of an exhibition of pictures of Gujarat riot victims held in Ahmedabad on 27 February 2012 to mark the tenth anniversary of the violence.  
It is generally said that people from the upper strata are usually not a part of such incidents. But this time, there was no class difference. 
The skyline of Ahmedabad filled with smoke as buildings and shops are set on fire by rioting mobs

2008 – The Trigger-Finger That Got Us Gold

By winning the gold in the 10 m Air Rifle event at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, he became the first Indian to win an individual gold medal at the Olympic Games. It was also India's first gold medal since 1980, when the Men's Field Hockey Team won the gold. --- WHO IS THIS?? HAVE TO NAME.

Abhinav Bindra, Vijender Singh and Sushil Kumar emerged as Indian medal winners at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. 

2008 – Terror Strikes Mumbai, Again

Nearly 200 people are killed and hundreds injured in a series of coordinated attacks by gunmen on the main tourist and business area of India's financial capital, Mumbai. India blames militants from Pakistan for the attacks and demands that Islamabad act against those responsible.

2009 – Criminals No More

In a landmark move, the Delhi High Court decriminalises homosexuality in India. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is declared to violate the fundamental right to life and liberty, and the right to equality, as guaranteed by the Constitution of India. It marks a day of triumph and celebration for every organisation in the country that fought for tolerance and social equality for the LGBT community.

For the first time, India participates in the celebration of Queer Pride with events and pride marches planned across the big metros of the country.

File photo of participants taking part in a gay pride march in New Delhi in June 2009. 

2010 – The Massacre in Dantewada

In April 2010, 80 men from the Central Reserve Police Force are brutally ambushed by Maoist rebels near the village of Chintalnar in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh. Seventy-five police personnel are killed before reinforcements arrive in what is regarded one of the most vicious attacks by Naxals.

2011 – Champions Again!

After a long wait of 28 years, India creates history by becoming the first country to win the cricket World Cup on home soil. It is a memorable event not only for the country but also its favourite cricketing son, Sachin Tendulkar, who had seen the Indian team’s ups and downs for more than two decades since his debut. The team dedicates the trophy to the Master Blaster for his tireless contribution to Indian cricket.

Also Read: India-Pak 2011 World Cup: Why I Cheered When Sachin Got Out at 85

2012 – The Crime That Shook India

The brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old girl on a moving bus in Delhi on 12 December inflames the nation. Six men, including the bus driver, viciously attack the girl and her male friend with rods, gang raping her. Nirbhaya, as she came to be known in the media, dies from the serious injuries inflicted on her, 13 days later. The country erupts in protests.

2013 – From Natural, to Unnatural

The Supreme Court reverses a 2009 Delhi High Court order decriminalising homosexual acts, saying Parliament, not the courts, must resolve the issue.

Also Read: Indian Psychiatric Society Supports Decriminalising Homosexuality

2013 – ‘Himalayan Tsunami’ in ‘God’s Own Land’

On 16 June 2013, flashfloods in Uttarakhand wiped out settlements and decimated lives in its greatest tragedy till date which left over 6,000 people dead and thousands homeless. The tragedy that ensued came to be known as Kedarnath flash-floods, a Himalayan Tsunami.

(--- NEED TO MENTION THAT IT’S A FLOOD, NO?)

Also Read: Is Kedarnath In For Another Disaster With Char Dham Redevelopment?

2014 – Ab ki Baar, Modi Sarkaar

The 2014 Lok Sabha elections is billed by the Congress as a stage to showcase Rahul Gandhi's charisma and prowess, but it is Narendra Modi who gets the people's vote and becomes India's 15th prime minister, ending the dominance of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that governed India for most of its 67 years of independence.

Also Read: Modi@4: GST, Demonetisation & the Above-Average Indian Economy

2015 – India Bids Farewell to the 'People's President'

Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, who rose from humble beginnings to become one of India's leading scientists and later a hugely popular president, passes away on 27 July after collapsing during a lecture at the IIM-Shillong, plunging the entire country into mourning.

Three years ago, on 27 July, India lost its ‘Rocket Man’.

Also Read: “He Died in My Arms,” SP Singh Recounts Dr Kalam’s Final Hours

2015 – A Ray of Hope

The anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party, headed by Arvind Kejriwal, wins a stunning victory in Delhi state elections, marking the BJP's first big setback since it triumphed in the 2014 general election.

AAP workers celebrate the party’s victory in Delhi election. 

2016 – Monetised No More

In a surprise announcement, the government withdraws high denomination 500 and 1,000 notes from circulation in November causing chaotic scenes at banks across the country as customers try to exchange old notes before they become worthless.

Prime Minister Modi’s audacious move of demonetisation could’ve easily avoided causing hassle to the poor.

Also Read: Demonetisation: Where It Worked and Where It Didn’t

2017 – The Biggest Tax Reform

After much persuasion and debate, the Good and Services Tax (GST) is finally out. Touted as one among the biggest tax reforms to hit Independent India after liberalisation, the three-tiered structure has a huge impact on businesses and citizens alike.

India celebrated the first anniversary of the launch of the Goods and Services Tax, which began with a symbolic ringing of the bell as a midnight session of the Indian Parliament on 1 July 2017.

Also Read: No GST on Sanitary Pads, But Is It the Best Option for Periods?

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