Reverses for BJP, Indo-Pak ties on upswing: 2015 in a nutshell
In the last 12 months, India saw dynamic shifts in the way political events unfolded with elections that stopped the ruling BJP’s victory run and brought about changes in the way we dealt with neighbouring countries.
We saw daring terror strikes, unparalleled protests and unprecedented laws being passed. We also saw nature turn its colours in the relentless rains that pounded parts of Tamil Nadu.
As the year 2015 comes to an end, we bring to you the top 15 news events that changed the way we look at things:
1. BJP take a beating
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) stunned everyone in February with an overwhelming victory in the Delhi assembly polls, setting up a second stint for Arvind Kejriwal as chief minister and leaving the BJP licking its wounds in the city from which it rules the country.
The AAP bagged as many as 67 seats of the 70-member House, going far beyond the most optimistic exit polls, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was left bruised in a distant second place with wins in just three seats. The Congress drew a blank.
An exuberant Kejriwal, 46, described his party’s comprehensive success as a “people’s victory”. Even before the counting of votes ended, PM Modi tweeted he had congratulated Kejriwal and assured him of “complete support in the development of Delhi”.
In another huge blow to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which fielded Prime Minister Narendra Modi as its chief campaigner in the Bihar assembly elections, the Nitish Kumar-led Grand Alliance virtually swept the polls with almost three-fourths of the 243 seats.
The BJP was hoping to win in Bihar and carry the momentum to the next round of assembly elections in five states early next year. In these states, parties may seek to emulate the Bihar model of a Mahagathbandhan for survival in the face of a resurgent BJP.
2. Jayalalithaa DA case
On May 11, 2015, the Karnataka high court overturned a trial court judgment and acquitted AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa and her three associates in an 18-year-old disproportionate assets case.
The order paved the way for her return to power as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu after she was forced to step down in September 2014 when she was convicted by a Bengaluru trial court. Jayalalithaa had appealed against her conviction in the Rs 66.64-crore disproportionate assets case by the special court judge Michael D’Cunha, who had sentenced her to four years in jail and slapped a fine of Rs 100 crore.
The AIADMK chief, along with aides N Sasikala, VN Sudhakaran and J Elasvarasi, was held guilty of holding
unaccounted for income during her tenure as chief minister from 1991-96 by the trial court.
3. OROP row
Scores of ex-servicemen across the country started a protest over the delay in implementing the One Rank, One Pension (OROP) scheme, a poll promise made by the BJP, for them. Raising slogans like “No delay no dilution” and “Sainik ekta zindabad”, they launched an indefinite relay hunger strike at Jantar Mantar on June 14. Some-servicemen even signed a petition in blood.
The Supreme Court had ordered the implementation of OROP six years ago in 2009, and in February this year, reminded the government that it is yet to do so. In 1983, the Supreme Court said, “Pension is not a bounty nor a matter of grace depending upon the sweet will of the employer.”
The BJP-led government on November 7 notified the implementation of the OROP scheme that will guarantee equal pension to military personnel retiring at the same rank with the same length of service, regardless of the date of retirement.
However, the government’s notification has failed to impress veterans who, as of now, are continuing with their agitation.
4. Bangladesh land swap deal
Ending more than four decades of wait, India and Bangladesh started the exchange of 162 adversely-held enclaves from July 31 marking the start of the implementation of their landmark land boundary agreement (LBA).
Bangladesh and India will implement the LBA of 1974 and the enabling Protocol of September 2011, in a phased manner over the next 11 months. The agreement was ratified during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Dhaka visit in June.
While India will hand over 51 enclaves, comprising 7,110 acres to Bangladesh, the neighbouring country will give India 111 enclaves comprising around 17,160 acres.
According to an estimate, around 37,000 people are living in Indian enclaves in Bangladesh while 14,000 people are staying in Bangladeshi enclaves in India. None living in Bangladeshi enclaves in India wants to shift to that country, as per a joint survey. However, an estimated 600 people want to migrate to India.
5. Militant strikes
Three terrorists were shot dead 11 hours after they stormed a police station in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district and fought an intense gunbattle with security forces on July 27. Six people, including a senior police officer, two home guards personnel and three civilians, were killed in the attack.
The two global positioning system found on the men, suspected to be from Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, showed they started from Shakhargarh tehsil of Pakistan and entered India from Tash area along the border.
Just days after the Gurdaspur attack, two Pakistani militants ambushed a paramilitary convoy on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway in Jammu and Kashmir’s Udhampur district on August 5. Two Border Security Force soldiers were killed in the attack.
Naveed, suspected to be a Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist, was captured alive following the intense encounter. The 22-year-old became the second Pakistani militant to be captured alive after Ajmal Kasab, the lone 26/11 attacker who was subsequently convicted and hanged to death.
Naveed told investigators that he trained at a Lashkar-e-Taiba camp in Pakistan before he entered India some 45 days ago before executing the attack on August 5.
6. Death of APJ Abdul Kalam
Former president, renowned scientist and Bharat Ratna APJ Abdul Kalam died on July 27 after suffering a cardiac arrest while delivering a lecture to students at IIM-Shillong.
Kalam served as president for five years from 2002, enjoying the support of both the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress. He was closely involved in the country’s civilian space programme and military missile development efforts, which earned him the sobriquet ‘India’s Missile Man’.
A role model for students and young people, Kalam was always happy to be among them. He breathed his last in July, in the premises of an educational institution.
Kalam was laid to rest with full state honours in his hometown of Rameshwaram in south Tamil Nadu.
7. Patel quota stir
The low-key 22-year-old Hardik Patel emerged as the face of the Patels’ demand for reservations in Gujarat after he addressed a rally in Ahmedabad in August attended by half a million people.
Convenor of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti, Patel became a force to reckon with in almost two months, as his community pushed for reservation in government jobs and colleges under Other Backward Classes (OBC) category.
The Patel, most of whom are financially well off, want “backward” status as they claim they do not have the backing of any political party. According to them, a vulnerable section of the community has been suffering as a result of reservations for other communities. Patels are around 20% of Gujarat’s population.
8. Sheena Bora murder case
When former Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea’s wife Indrani Mukerjea was arrested in August on charges of murdering her ‘sister’ Sheena Bora, it looked like any other murder case involving the country’s rich and the famous. However, much has happened since with one skeleton tumbling out of the closet after the other.
Mumbai Police arrested Sheena’s mother Indrani, her stepfather Sanjeev Khanna and her mother’s driver Shyamvar Rai for allegedly abducting and killing her and subsequently burning her corpse.
Though police are yet to establish the motive for the murder of Sheena, it is believed that Indrani did not approve of Sheena’s affair with Rahul Mukerjea, Peter’s son from an earlier marriage. Indrani had all along claimed that Sheena was her sister.
9. Dadri lynching
A mob lynched 55-year-old Mohammad Ikhlaq and seriously injured his son Danish on September 28 in Uttar Pradesh’s Bisada village over rumours that they had stored and consumed beef.
It did not take long for the incident to become fodder for public debate and political posturing. It became a part of a raging intolerance debate after the murder of three well-known rationalist thinkers and the killing of Dalit children.
A slew of scientists, writers, historians and filmmakers returned top government awards in protest as activists alleged the government was doing little to quell the spate of communal violence and was fanning sectarian tensions.
Bollywood actors Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan also expressed concern about the intolerance, triggering a torrent of criticism from political leaders, especially controversial BJP parliamentarian Yogi Adityanath and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Sadhvi Prachi.
10. Punjab unrest
On October 14, a number of radical Sikh outfits held a protest after pages from their holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib were found torn in a Faridkot village. Two people were killed and over 60 were injured when police used teargas, lathicharge and fired in the air to disperse the protestors at Kotakpura chowk in Faridkot.
Six more incidents of desecration were reported from Sangrur, Ferozepur, Amritsar (rural), Taran, Ludhiana and Bathinda districts.
Punjab remained in the grip of tension for almost a month as Sikh organisations blocked vehicular traffic across key regions of the border state. Some of the protestors blamed followers of the Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda of being behind the desecrations.
A section of the hardline Sikh religious outfits softened their stance after the Akal Takht, the highest temporal authority of the Sikhs, revoked its September 24 decision of giving pardon to Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in the 2007 blasphemy case.
Both police and the Dera have consistently denied any involvement in fomenting trouble. After the police failed to make headway, the case was handed over to the CBI.
11. NJAC struck down
The government suffered a major setback on October 16 when the Supreme Court struck down a new law that replaced the opaque collegium system with a panel in which the executive was to have a say in judicial appointments, saying it eroded judicial independence.
A five-judge bench headed by justice JS Kehar declared the 99th constitutional amendment and the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act unconstitutional and revived the 22-year old collegium system, putting the judiciary on a collision course with Parliament and the government.
The NJAC proposed broad-based process in which judges of the Supreme Court and high courts were to be selected by the commission whose members were be drawn from the judiciary, legislature and civil society.
The petitions challenging the NJAC were filed by Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association (SCAORA) and others contending that the new law encroached on judicial independence.
12. Chennai floods
Tamil Nadu received heavy rainfall in November and December due to the extremely strong El Nino. But what turned this natural phenomenon into a calamity was the ill-preparedness and haphazard urban planning. Over 300 people were killed and lakhs displaced in the aftermath of the unseasonal rains and ensuing floods.
After reviewing the situation in the state, PM Modi instructed the central government to immediately release Rs 1,000 crore for relief and rescue operations. The Indian Army, navy, air force and the National Disaster Rescue Force (NDRF) were all brought into action to help people. Cuddalore and Chennai were among the worst-hit districts.
But what stood out during this entire period of calamity was people rallying help through social media and other mediums and not waiting for the government to come and set the situation right. Twitter was abuzz with hashtags like #ChennaiRainsHelp, #ChennaiFloodRelief and #ChennaiRainRelief where people posted details about help needed and being rendered.
Common people, celebrities, malls and multiplexes opened their doors to those who had been rendered homeless. A number of companies like Airtel, Zomato, Ola and Uber also used their resources to help the needy.
13. Salman Khan set free
In one of the most talked about verdict this year, the Bombay high court acquitted Bollywood superstar Salman Khan of killing a homeless man in a hit-and-run accident 13 years ago.
The HC said a lower court had erred in finding Khan guilty of culpable homicide at the end of his trial in May, when he was subsequently sentenced to five years in prison, and that the prosecution had failed to prove the charges against the actor.
In May, sessions judge DW Deshpande had found Khan guilty under all eight charges, including Section 304-II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 337 and 338 (rash and negligent driving).
14. Juvenile justice bill approved
Rajya Sabha on December 22 approved a landmark bill allowing the trial of criminals between 16 and 18 years as adults in heinous crimes like rape and murder, three years after the brutal sexual assault on a paramedic student in Delhi roused the nation out of slumber.
However, the amended sections of the Juvenile Justice Act will have no bearing on the December 16, 2012, case and the juvenile convicted in the case has been released.
The new act will replace the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, that had increased the age of punishment from 16 to 18 years. Under the new act, those between 16 and 18 years will be tried as adults for heinous offences as adults. The Juvenile Justice Board (JJB), however, will determine if the offender should be tried as an adult.
It further states that any 16-18 year old, who commits a lesser serious offence, may be tried as an adult only if he is apprehended after the age of 21 years.
15. Modi’s surprise Lahore visit
In one of the most unexpected events of the year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise “goodwill” visit to Pakistan on December 25, making it the first such trip in a decade in a step towards normalising ties between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
During the stopover at Lahore on the day of his Pakistani counterpart’s birthday, Modi and Nawaz Sharif spent some 90 minutes at the latter’s ancestral residence in Raiwind town, about 40 km from Lahore. Modi reportedly told Sharif that it was important for the leadership of the two countries to understand each other’s position.
The Pakistani media said the two leaders decided to take forward their bilateral relations for the benefit of South Asia. Modi and Sharif agreed to promote people-to-people contacts and confidence building measures.
Sources say that the foreign secretaries of the two countries will hold talks in Islamabad on January 15.