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Why is 2008 an Unforgettable Year for India?: ‘India at 70’ — An Excerpt

Author Roshen Dalal in her new book, ‘India at 70’, explores the journey of India through its 70 years since Independence in the minutest details. The enthralling read is not just a dive into the rich history of the country, but also a celebration of the major milestones in every aspect and field of society.
In the following excerpt from the book, Roshen Dalal takes a deeper look into why the year 2008 will always be considered unforgettable in the history of modern India.
The year 2008 had some unforgettable moments.
Floods are not uncommon in the monsoon season, but in August that year, the floods in Bihar were exceptionally severe. River Kosi changed course, and over 2.3 million people were affected.
In October, the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Agreement was signed and was considered a landmark treaty. According to this, the US would provide India with nuclear fuel and technology for peaceful use.
On 26 November, disaster struck. Terrorists attacked Mumbai. Over 150 people were killed, and more than 300 were injured. The places attacked were Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Railway Terminus, Oberoi Trident Hotel, Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Leopold Cafe, Nariman House and Cama Hospital. Showing great bravery, police official Hemant Karkare of the Mumbai Anti-Terrorist Squad, Vijay Salaskar, senior police inspector, and Ashok Kamte, additional commissioner of Mumbai Police, tried to stop the terrorists, but lost their lives in the process. Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan of the National Security Guard was also killed. In response to these attacks, the National Investigation Agency was set up in December as a counterterrorism body.
THE 2008 SUMMER OLYMPICS: In the 2008 Olympics, held in Beijing, Abhinav Bindra won a gold medal in shooting, in the men’s 10 m air rifle event. Vijender Singh won a bronze medal in boxing, in the middleweight category, and Sushil Kumar won a bronze medal in wrestling, in the 66 kg freestyle category.
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE: Slumdog Millionaire, a 2008 British film directed by Danny Boyle, is based on the novel Q & A (2005) by Vikas Swarup, an Indian diplomat. It tells the story of Jamal Malik, an eighteen-year-old from the Mumbai slums, who wins the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? by answering every question correctly. He is arrested and accused of cheating, but through flashbacks, he explains how he came to know each answer. The film won eight Academy Awards and seven BAFTA Awards. The lead actors were Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Madhur Mittal, Anil Kapoor and Irrfan Khan.
The music, by A.R. Rahman, was a great hit, particularly the song ‘Jai Ho’. Rahman won the Golden Globe Award in 2009 for the best original score and two Academy Awards—for the best original score and the best original song (‘Jai Ho’). Resul Pookutty, along with Richard Pryke and Ian Tapp, won the Academy Award for the best sound mixing.
Revisit every significant moment in India’s journey since 1947 with Roshen Dalal’s ‘India at 70’!
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When the Journey Began: ‘India at 70’ — An Excerpt

In 2017, India’s spacecraft Mangalyaan is orbiting Mars, satellites are regularly sent into space, the economy is growing rapidly and India’s diverse art and culture is appreciated globally. And, most importantly, India is the largest democracy in the world.
The story of India as an independent nation began seventy years ago, in 1947, when the country gained independence after almost 200 years of British rule. For the first time, India became a united political entity, a nation with clearly defined boundaries. What type of country would the new India be? Would it remain united and strong?
At this time, the territory known as India consisted of eleven British provinces and some additional areas directly under British rule as well as 565 Indian states (also called princely states) where the British had overall control. The Muslim League, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, wanted a separate state of Pakistan, and finally it was decided that this demand would be granted. On 14 and 15 August 1947, two new nations were created, but the boundary lines between them were known only on 17 August. Pakistan was in two parts; West Pakistan was formed in the western half of Punjab while East Pakistan was created from the province of Bengal. As the lines for dividing the area were drawn on a map, districts, canals and even villages were divided.
This partition of one country into two created many problems. In the west, 10 million migrated across the new borders, and as anger arose between Muslims on one side and Hindus and Sikhs on the other, about 1 million were killed. There were other issues too, as the entire administration and all its possessions—including tables, chairs, books, musical instruments, cars, pencils and pens as well as the army, police, railways, postal services, money and other items—had to be divided.
The process of integrating the different states to form one India began before Independence. While some of the states were in the region of Pakistan, 554 states were in Indian territory. These states had different kinds of rulers. Some controlled huge areas and had vast quantities of wealth, land, buildings, money, gold, jewels, cars and elephants; others had small territories of just a few square kilometres. There were actually 425 small states. By 31 July, two types of agreements had been worked out for the Indian states to sign, by which they agreed to join India and give up some of their powers. At the time of Independence, the Constitution of India was being prepared. A constitution consists of the rules and ideas according to which a nation is governed. The Constituent Assembly, a group of people who would discuss and write India’s constitution, first met on 9 December 1946. The Constitution was ready by the end of 1949, after which India became a republic in 1950. Two years later, the first elections were held and India’s Parliament began to function. Thus, though India’s complex history dates back to the Stone Age, the year 1947 brought in great change.
This is an excerpt from the introductory chapter of Roshen Dalal’s ‘India at 70’. Get your copy here today!

India: 70 Years of Independence

By Roshen Dalal
India celebrates 70 years of independence on 15 August, and we may wonder why this date is so important. A simple answer is that on this date in 1947, India gained freedom from almost 200 years of British rule. But further questions follow. What was wrong with British rule? How was it different from that of earlier invaders and settlers? Through the narrow passes and river valleys in the high mountains, India had seen many invasions from ancient times. Darius I (522-486 BCE)of Persia (Iran) included part of north-west India in his territories. Alexander, the Macedonian conquerer, too, came to the north-west in 336 BCE, but could not stay long. The Bactrian Greeks (from 200 BCE), the Parthians (1st century CE), Kushanas (1st to 3rd centuries CE), Indo-Sasanians (3rd -4th centuries CE), and Hunas (5th century CE), and were among other invaders. All of them set up kingdoms for short periods of time, and many were absorbed into Indian society. Later there were invasions from Ghazni and Ghur in the region of present Afghanistan, which led to the rule of the sultans. The sultans defended India against the invasions of the Mongols. The Mughal dynasty was then founded by Babur in 1526, who originated in the small kingdom of Farghana in Central Asia. There were other dynasties such as the Ahoms, who invaded the north-east of today’s India. But most of these who were once invaders, ruled parts of India much like other kings of the country. They collected and spent taxes here, constructed buildings, provided justice, and encouraged the arts. British rule was different, in that they used India as a source for money and raw materials that were transmitted to their own country. Dadabhai Naoroji (1825-1917), an Indian political leader and the first Asian to become a member of Parliament in Britain, explained this as ‘the drain of wealth’, in his book Poverty and and Un-British Rule in India.  He estimated that the British were taking money away from India at the rate of 30,000,000 to 40,000,000 pounds a year. Railways had been constructed, but the money earned from them belonged to Britain. In addition, railways were used to transport raw materials, which were later sent out of India. It seemed as if there were some good points, as law and order were maintained, but Naoroji said that under the British, ‘the Indian starves in peace and perishes in peace, with law and order’.  Artisans lost their livelihood. There was inequality, as only the British were given high posts. India was a ‘colony’ of Britain, but neither India nor Britain were unique. Across the world, other European nations, the including France, Portugal and Germany, had their own colonies, and similarly exploited those they colonized.
It was a long struggle to gain freedom from the British. The Revolt of 1857 was the first widespread expression of protest. After the founding of the Indian National Congress in 1885, the movement became more organized, and finally, though many groups had participated, it was Mahatama Gandhi who led India to freedom through satyagraha, his policy of peaceful protest, combining non-violence and truth. There were around 565 Indian states, which the British did not directly rule, though they controlled them through their agents. Many people in these states also participated in the freedom movement.
These peaceful protests brought about gradual changes, and an involvement of Indians in the government in the British provinces.
India became free at one minute past midnight on the of 14th August, that is, the first minute of the 15th. Though many celebrated and rejoiced, some, like Mahatma Gandhi, were sad–firstly because two countries of India and Pakistan were created instead of one, and secondly because there were riots and killings between Hindus and Sikhs on one side, and Muslims on the other.
But the new country of India overcame these problems. With the adoption of the Constitution on 26 January 1950, India became fully independent. It became a democracy, a Republic with two houses of Parliament, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, headed by the president, with real power in the hands of the prime minister, the other ministers, and Parliament.
What we must celebrate after 70 years, is that this democracy is still functioning. As I see it, this has been India’s greatest achievement. Pakistan gained independence at the same time as India, but could not provide a stable government. Many more countries gained Independence after India, both in Asia and Africa. Most of them have faced problems, in governance and otherwise.
As we celebrate India’s freedom, we must guard and protect its greatest treasure–that of being a democracy, with a Constitution that guarantees certain freedoms, and provides equal rights to people of all communities, castes and religions.

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