Amidst the jubilation over the inauguration of a new Parliament, triumphs in space exploration, and a commendable tunnel rescue mission, India grappled with the shadows of adversity throughout the year. Ethnic unrest in the Northeast claimed numerous lives, while a series of natural disasters and accidents inflicted heavy tolls. Additionally, the courageous stand of renowned women wrestlers against sexual harassment took center stage, adding complex layers to the narratives that unfolded in the headlines.
The onset of January 2023 ushered in a tumultuous period marked by a barrage of serious allegations. Accusations of sexual misconduct surfaced, targeting BJP MP and Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. Spearheaded by prominent wrestlers such as Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik, and Bajrang Punia, a protest unfolded at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. The wrestlers called for the disbandment of WFI, the removal of its president, and a thorough investigation into the allegations, setting the stage for a contentious and pivotal moment.
In the month of February, Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia found himself in the midst of a legal storm. Following approximately eight hours of questioning by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) regarding alleged irregularities in the now-discarded Delhi excise policy, Sisodia faced a significant turn of events. The sequence leading to Sisodia’s arrest by the CBI commenced in July 2022, triggered by a report from Delhi Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar to Lt Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena. The report accused Sisodia of granting undue advantages to liquor vend licensees in exchange for alleged “kickbacks” and “commissions,” purportedly utilised by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) during the February Punjab Assembly elections earlier that year. The arrest marked a critical moment in a narrative rife with political implications and legal intricacies.
March unfolded with the political landscape in the Northeast taking center stage, marked by crucial elections and a significant development in the Lok Sabha. The BJP secured a resounding victory in the Tripura Assembly elections, reclaiming power in Meghalaya and Nagaland as a junior coalition partner. Overcoming challenges posed by a Left-Congress alliance and the rising influence of TIPRA Motha in tribal constituencies, the BJP secured 32 seats in Tripura, one more than the majority mark. In Nagaland, the party retained power alongside senior alliance partner Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party, while in Meghalaya, the National People’s Party emerged as the single-largest party. Despite contesting elections separately, the NPP and BJP, having previously governed the state together, decided to join forces once again to establish a government. Adding to the month’s political dynamics, the Congress party faced a significant setback with the disqualification of senior leader Rahul Gandhi from the Lok Sabha. This development followed his conviction in a defamation case by a Surat court. A notice issued by the Lok Sabha Secretariat confirmed his disqualification from the House, effective from March 23, the day of his conviction. This dual narrative of electoral triumphs and political setbacks characterised the headlines, shaping the political discourse throughout the month.
April marked a significant demographic milestone for India as it officially surpassed China, becoming the world’s most populous country. Projections indicated that India’s population would reach 142.86 crore by mid-year, slightly ahead of China’s 142.57 crore. According to United Nations estimates, India’s population is anticipated to continue growing for the next three decades before entering a phase of decline. Amidst this demographic shift, the month witnessed notable events, including the encounter of a gangster-turned-politician in Uttar Pradesh and the apprehension of a Khalistani separatist. In Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, on April 15, Atiq Ahmed and his brother Ashraf met a fatal end in a confrontation, unfolding in the presence of police personnel and media witnesses. The incident underscored the complex intersection of crime and politics. Meanwhile, in Punjab, the arrest of Waris Punjab De chief Amritpal Singh, a radical Sikh self-styled preacher, unfolded after a month-long chase by the Punjab police. These events added layers to the multifaceted narrative of April, combining demographic shifts with incidents that echoed the complexities within the political and social fabric of the country.
May witnessed a dichotomy of events that underscored the diverse facets of India’s socio-political landscape. The month commenced with the eruption of violent clashes across various locations in Manipur during the ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ initiated by the All Tribal Students’ Union on May 3. These incidents reignited historical tensions between the plain-dwelling Meitei community and the hill tribes, exposing the enduring fault lines within the state. Contrastingly, later in May, India celebrated the inauguration of its new Parliament building, described as an embodiment of the nation’s culture, pride, and spirit. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pivotal speech during the inauguration on May 28 aimed to contextualise this moment within a broader national narrative. The new Parliament building, constructed at an estimated cost of Rs 971 crore, stands adjacent to the existing Parliament House. Notably, it boasts an increased capacity, accommodating 888 parliamentarians in the Lok Sabha and 300 in the Rajya Sabha, up from the previous capacities of 543 and 250, respectively. This architectural feat signifies a blend of tradition and modernity, symbolising the evolving identity and aspirations of the nation.
June brought sorrow and mourning to India as a devastating collision unfolded near Bahanaga Bazar station on June 2. The incident involved the Chennai-bound Coromandel Express, the SMVT Bengaluru-Howrah Express, and a goods train, resulting in the tragic loss of over 280 lives and leaving more than 850 people injured. The collision occurred when the Coromandel Express, instead of proceeding along the main line, entered the loop and collided with the goods train from the rear. Disturbing images from the scene depicted the Coromandel’s locomotive perched atop the goods train, encapsulating the severity of the tragedy.
July brought forth continued tragedy for India as a distressing video surfaced, revealing the horrifying ordeal of two women from the Kuki-Zomi community. The footage depicted the women being paraded naked by a mob of men and subjected to sexual assault. This incident, which occurred in Manipur over two months prior, gained public attention, leading to the filing of a police complaint. Simultaneously, another zero FIR was registered at the same police station, addressing the alleged abduction, rape, and murder of two Kuki-Zomi women. In addition to these distressing events, Himachal Pradesh grappled with extreme weather conditions, facing devastating landslides, extensive damage, and the collapse of numerous buildings. Three spells of excessive rain triggered havoc in Himachal, unleashing flash floods, cloudbursts, landslides, subsidence, and sinking of land. The repercussions were particularly severe in Mandi, Kullu, Manali, Shimla, and certain parts of Kangra. The government’s assessment indicated a staggering loss of Rs 12,000 crore for the state. Despite the challenges and upheavals in July, a glimmer of hope emerged with the successful launch of India’s moon mission, Chandrayaan-3, on July 14.
August witnessed a momentous occasion for India as Chandrayaan-3, its Moon mission, made history with a successful landing on the lunar surface on August 23. The Lander’s soft landing at the Moon’s South Pole marked a significant achievement, making India the sole country to accomplish this feat. On the political front, the Congress found relief as senior leader Rahul Gandhi returned to Parliament following the Supreme Court’s stay on his 2019 criminal defamation case related to his remarks on the ‘Modi’ surname. The restoration of Rahul’s membership by the Lok Sabha Secretariat, about four months after its revocation, brought a notable development in the political landscape.
September marked the pinnacle of India’s year-long presidency of the G20 with the highly anticipated summit held in New Delhi. Leaders from the world’s most influential nations gathered in the capital, culminating in the adoption of a G20 Leaders’ Declaration. Against the backdrop of a global geopolitical shift, exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine war and the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, India assumed leadership during a critical period. The economic reverberations of these twin events disproportionately affected developing and underdeveloped countries, hindering their efforts toward post-pandemic recovery. Despite nearly five months passing since the initiation of clashes during a tribal solidarity march in Manipur, the state remained ensnared in tension. Ethnic conflict between the Meitei and Kuki communities fueled intermittent violence, claiming over 175 lives and leaving more than 1,000 injured, sustaining a simmering crisis.
October unfolded with tragedy as over 70 lives, including Army personnel, were lost in Sikkim following the catastrophic burst of the South Lhonak Lake — a glacial reservoir perched at 17,000 ft in the state’s northwest. The deluge, triggered by incessant rains, unleashed a torrent downstream, elevating water levels in the Teesta river and inundating four districts, including Mangan, Gangtok, Pakyong, and Namchi on October 4. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, refrained from recognising same-sex marriages, emphasising that such a determination falls within the purview of the legislature. Any judicial interference in this matter, the court asserted, would constitute an encroachment on the legislative domain. Additionally, the month witnessed a tragic series of explosions during a Sunday prayer convention hosted by the Christian denomination Jehovah’s Witnesses near Kochi in Kerala. The blasts claimed the lives of at least seven individuals and left over 30 others injured, casting a somber shadow over the month.
November saw the resurgence of election fervour as Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, and Mizoram headed to the polls, setting the stage for the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Despite a formidable campaign, India experienced collective heartbreak as it narrowly missed securing victory in the ODI World Cup after an impressive 40-night streak of invincibility, stumbling on the 41st night to a subdued defeat. The month’s highlight, however, centered on a monumental rescue mission to extract 41 workers trapped in the aftermath of a tunnel collapse in Uttarakhand. Spanning over 400 hours, the operation tested resolve, grit, and perseverance on both sides of the 57 meters of debris. Overcoming setbacks, the final lap saw 14 “rat-hole miners” break through the last 12 meters, reaching the trapped individuals, and eliciting a nationwide sigh of relief.
December unfolded with the announcement of new governments in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, and Mizoram following the Assembly polls on December 3 and 4. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance secured a resounding victory in Madhya Pradesh, overturning Congress governments in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, solidifying its authority in 17 states and Union Territories. Despite a consolation win for the Congress in Telangana, where it secured 64 seats and a 39.4 per cent vote share, the party’s robust performance reinforces its presence in the South. On the 22nd anniversary of the Parliament attacks, December 13 witnessed a significant security breach as two individuals leaped into the Lok Sabha chamber from the visitors’ gallery, raising slogans and releasing yellow smoke from canisters. The incident sparked panic among those present, prompting reflections on potential consequences. The two men, apprehended in the Lok Sabha, had concealed canisters in their shoes and navigated desks in an apparent attempt to reach the well of the House.
(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)