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Over and out

As it is often said, when it rains it pours. The adage proved tragically true with the onset of the monsoon in July.

india Updated: Dec 17, 2005 01:10 IST

As it is often said, when it rains it pours. The adage proved tragically true with the onset of the monsoon in July. Bombay had its heaviest downpour in history, drowning over 1,000 people and killing some who lived in rickety multi-storeyed houses. The rains inundated large parts of Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. I suffered two personal losses: Rafiq Zakaria, whose family had adopted me when I lived in Bombay, and my English secretary for many years, Yvonne Le Rougetel, who died in England . She left a will asking for her ashes to be scattered on a hill-top in Himachal Pradesh. Others who departed included economist I. G. Patel and C. R. Irani of The Statesman.

Cracks in the edifice of the Sangh parivar widened. Rane was expelled from the Shiv Sena with dire consequences to its ruling elite. Al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba gangs mounted an attack on Ayodhya killing five men. A fortnight later, they killed eight army personnel. This was followed by an explosion in a Delhi-bound train which took ten lives. The worst tragedy was a fire on the Bombay High oil rig which not only killed ten men but seriously depleted our oil resources.

Our prime minister and his wife, Gursharan Kaur, left for Paris en route to Washington. Everywhere, a red carpet was laid out for them. Equally cheerful was Mahesh Bhupati and Mary Pierce of France when they won the mixed doubles title in Wimbledon.

August passed off peacefully. No VIP or friend took his or her leave. V. Shanta won the Magasaysay award for her research on cancer. Sania Mirza was graded 42 on the list of the world’s best women tennis players; she later rose to be among the first 30, and became, like Aishwarya Rai, the nation’s heartthrob. Madan Lal Khurana, ormer Delhi CM, was suspended from the BJP for criticising its leaders. The PM won over the hearts of the people by apologising for the Congress government’s failure to prevent the massacre of innocent Sikhs after Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

September was also largely newsless. My obit column had no entries. A Jat-Dalit clash in Haryana spread to Punjab. A bridge on the Sutlej collapsed, killing 40 jawans. Tony Blair and his wife were in Delhi. A positive step was the release of over 5,000 prisoners from Indian and Pakistani jails. The month ended with an all-India strike of workers called by the Left. It had limited impact because no one knew what it was about.

By October, the monsoon spread over northern India. Three eminent wielders of the pen departed: journalist Chanchal Sarkar, Hindi novelist Nirmal Verma and poet-fiction writer Amrita Pritam. A train derailed near Jhansi, leaving 13 dead and over a 100 wounded. On October 8, a disastrous earthquake shook Pakistan and India. What was felt as a mild tremor in Delhi levelled thousands of homes in Pakistani and Indian Kashmir. The toll was estimated to be close to a 100,000. It did not stop jehadis from killing Kashmir’s Education Minister a few days later. Ghulam Nabi Azad replaced Mufti Mohammed Sayeed as J&K CM.

A great change was the replacement of Sourav Ganguly by Rahul Dravid as captain of the Indian cricket team, evidently on the advice of the new coach, Greg Chappell. There was a dramatic turnaround in India’s performance. In one-day matches, it beat the Sri Lankans. And it also stood up to the South Africans.

The winter set in on the first day of December: snows in the Himalayan regions, chilly weather elsewhere. Rather than guess what might happen in the few days left before the year ends, I thought it would be more worthwhile to speculate how 2005 would go down in history. Undoubtedly the battle between Rightwing conservatives of the Sangh parivar and the more forward-looking Congress and socialists (including communists) reached its decisive phase.

We had the RSS chief telling Hindus to breed more, protect cows, try the curative properties of cow’s urine, applauded by the self-styled sanyasin Uma Bharati and her mentor Govindachari. It may have made sense when the Aryans came to India. There was shortage of milch cattle, so they protected them. When their rulers were in doubt, they consulted jyotishis, who, in turn, consulted the stars.

The RSS is yet to wake up to the reality that it is not 2005 B.C. but 2005 A.D. Who will lead their army after A.B. Vajpayee, whose speech impediment is worsening, and when L.K. Advani retires, as he has promised? Jaswant Singh, Arun Jaitley, Pramod Mahajan, Venkaiah Naidu and Sushma Swaraj are in the running. Despite its good show in Bihar, the BJP is in disarray. And in worse state is its ally, Shiv Sena. It has been trounced in the Konkan and Mumbai. It is unlikely to revive as a political force.

The UPA under the command of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh has weathered storms created by an effete opposition. Our economic state is better than ever, with the Sensex shooting above 9,000.

I wish all my readers a Happy New Year.

Many thanks

It was the boss’s farewell party. The boss gave a wonderful speech and concluded: “I thank you all from the bottom of my heart and my wife, present here also, thanks you from her bottom.”

(Contributed by R.P. Bajaj, New Delhi)