1. Heroes of the water tragedies
Whether it was the tsunami, the Mumbai floods, the Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu flood disasters or the earthquake in Jammu and Kashmir, there were many examples of selfless acts in a particularly bad year as far as natural disasters are concerned.
There were doctors who opened their hospitals and gave free treatment to tsunami victims. College students who hitched rides on relief trucks to distribute food, water and clothes. Ordinary folk who rescued passengers on a city bus submerged in water in Mumbai. Kashmiri Pandits living in refugee camps in Delhi adopted a quake-hit village in Jammu and Kashmir — the state from which they were forced to leave because of their religion.
These were individuals who saved lives of friends and strangers; some left whatever they are doing to go to affected areas to help — and went a long way in strengthening people’s dwindling faith in human goodness.
2. Rise of the sporting brat pack
2005 was the year of the rising stars in sport. Sania Mirza — Tennis, Mahendra Singh Dhoni — Cricket, Joshna Chinappa — Squash, Shiv Kapur — Golf and, of course, the indomitable Vijaypat Singhania, the 70-plus industrialist and maverick aviator who created a world record for his flight on a hot air balloon.
The nation went into overdrive with Sania’s pursuits on the tennis court and beyond. Fanatics frowned over her short skirts and burned her effigy when she spoke about premarital sex, forcing her to retract. Others obsessed over her t-shirts and fans followed her tennis ranking, probably more closely than she herself. Sania was the sporting sensation of the year and every bit of the Sania mania was real.
Then there was Joshna, 19, the Asian junior number one in squash, who made news. Shiv, who won the Rookie of the Year and clinched the season-ending championship tour of the Volvo Masters of Asia. Dhoni, the wicket-keeper batsman, who began his career with a smashing batting average. They treated us to some great sporting action, we only hope the next year is even better.
3. The Indo-US thaw
After decades of suspicion, India and the United States began on a new path of strategic understanding in July when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W Bush met in Washington, DC.
The civilian nuclear agreement was the most significant and most debated. The American President assured Dr Singh that the transfer of civilian nuclear reactors to India would become a reality by the end of his term.
Bush referred to India as a ‘responsible State with advanced nuclear technology’ and said ‘India should acquire the same benefits and advantages as other such States.’
The agreement faces a tough passage in the United States Congress — for it to become law — but it has not dampened the optimism that the visit resulted in.
With talks of Bush visiting India early in 2006, the two countries can only look forward to strengthening strategic relations. So keep all your Bush jokes in check and get ready for the hype and hoopla of the Bush visit in a couple of months time.
4. A fresh start for Bihar
Political power doesn’t always grow from the barrel of a gun; the ballot will do fine, especially in a democracy.
As it did in Bihar when the 15-year reign of Lalu Prasad Yadav and his wife Rabri Devi came to a resounding end after the year’s second assembly election results on November 22.
For Nitish Kumar, who wrought the unthinkable, leave alone the undoable, the result must have come as vindication.
In the February assembly election, the voters did not give Nitish Kumar’s political grouping a clear mandate, which led to the Raj Bhavan in Patna becoming the focus for reported intrigue to keep him out of the chief minister’s post.
For Lalu, the reversal in fortune must be doubly galling, for Nitish Kumar was a confidant who succeeded in claiming Lalu’s political space as his own.
Moral of the story: Never take the voters for fools.
5. National Rural Employment Guarantee Bill
Do not dismiss this just because it sounds too ‘sarkari’ to your ears.
The Indian Parliament passed the National Rural Employment Guarantee Bill, 2004 on August 23, 2005 which aims at removing poverty by assuring at least 100 days’ employment. The government has pegged a minimum daily wage of Rs 60.
The Bill was chiefly designed by Belgian economist Jean Dreze whose books on the Indian economy were incidentally a source of information for director Ashutosh Gowariker for his film Swades.
The scheme will cost about Rs 40,000 crores (Rs 400 billion) annually and will be paid for by the Centre, state governments and some other government schemes.
200 districts will be covered under the Bill and will include all the 600 districts in the country within five years.
The Rs 60 per day for 100 days amounts to just Rs 500 a year which is minuscule in reducing poverty, but the government’s efforts in getting the bill through is a landmark one.
This time it is seen as a genuine effort to tackle poverty.
6. The law finally catches up with Abu Salem
In much the same way he left India — on the quiet — gangster Abu Salem and his companion, starlet Monika Bedi, returned to the country on November 11, bundled in on an early morning flight from Portugal where the couple had been living and from where they were extradited.
For the Central Bureau of Investigation, which fought a long and protracted battle to bring Salem back to the country to face charges of conspiracy in the March 12, 1993 Mumbai serial blasts — and to spill the beans on former mentor Dawood Ibrahim, the main accused in the case — Salem was the biggest catch so far.
What was significant about the extradition was it came about without a formal treaty with Portugal.
The Indian government sought his return under the United Nations Convention on Suppression of Terrorism of 2000, to which India and Portugal are signatories. The Portuguese courts finally cleared the extradition, but only after India provided an undertaking that Salem would not be given the death penalty — something the court in Mumbai, which is trying the blasts case, is reportedly not too happy about.
7. The invasion of the skies
Kingfisher Airlines, Spice Jet, Go Air and who knows how many more are to follow.
Years after being straddled with just a handful of domestic airlines to choose from, India saw three new airlines enter the skies this year alone.
With competitive fares, attractive deals and a new service culture, passengers found themselves flocking to ticketing counters as lower fares made air travel more affordable for the Indian traveller.
Kingfisher, which began operations in May, already flies to around 13 destinations, Spice Jet to 11. Both airlines will begin foreign operations in the next couple of years. Go Air, the latest off the runway, currently has fares as low as Rs 999.
So, Go, Spice up your travel and become the King of good flying times
8. The return of Vikram Seth
One of India’s best loved writers was back home for a month to promote his latest book, Two Lives. This very personal book hold the fascinating story of Seth’s maternal uncle, Shanti and his German wife, Henny.
Seth did a whirlwind promotional tour, reading passages over glasses of white wine to an enthusiastic audience that included governors, parliamentarians, diplomats and actor Aamir Khan.
In the part memoir, part biography, part history, Seth tells the story of his dentist uncle and his wife whose lives hold a wealth of experiences spread over three continents.
‘What is important for a writer is when a reader is gripped by a book and delays his dinner to read a few more pages,’ the writer had said during a reading in Kolkata.
Two Lives easily fits that bill. If you haven’t read it yet, make it your first read for the New Year.
9. 60 years after World War II
War veterans from around the world with leaders from 56 countries gathered in Moscow in May to mark the end of the Second World War, which cost 55 million lives.
Two Indians, Commander V S P Mudaliar (retired) and Major General Bikram Singh Kanwar (retired), participated in the ceremony. Both men fought World War II as part of the British army and navy.
In India, on Remembrance Day, a small group of ex-servicemen assembled in Mumbai’s Afghan Church to remember the dead. India is believed to have raised the largest volunteer army — 2.5 million strong — in the war.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh attended the memorial event in Moscow’s Red Square in May. The paegent was a fitting commemoration of a war that changed the world.
Photograph: Jewella C Miranda
10. Now it is India!
In three months alone, international information technology majors and Non-Resident Indians have announced investment plans of around $10 billion in India.
Global technology giants Microsoft, Intel, Cisco and AMD have committed to investing $6.85 billion in India.
Big names like Hyundai, LG, Nokia, Samsung, Suzuki, Ford, Fiat have built or are building global-scale manufacturing hubs in India to serve other markets.
The world is sitting up and taking note of a confident India’s rocketting economy, technological prowess, exceptional talent pool, enormous market, rising disposable incomes, and most significantly the immense promise it holds for the future.
It is creating world-class businesses in knowledge-based industries like software, IT enabled-services, and pharmaceuticals. It is on the threshold of becoming an economic powerhouse.
And the world wants to be a part of this success story.
Multinational companies are eagerly investing in India’s information technology and manufacturing sectors, while foreign investors are pouring mega dollars into the nation’s booming stock markets.
And this is just the beginning…