When the world changed
Some dates will forever remain etched in memory.
It was around 6.30 p.m. on September 9, 2001, when the first pictures came in of a burning World Trade Centre tower, followed soon after by the image of an airliner crashing into the second tower. Some two hours later, the first of the towers collapsed and then the second came down. In the frenzy that a newsroom is in during such tumult, the total focus is on reporting the event and related issues.
It was only past midnight, comfortably ensconced in my sofa at home, a stiff drink in hand and watching the rerun on TV did the reality sink in: The world had changed. And how!
A little over a month later, a US-led military coalition swept into Afghanistan, where it still remains. A new expression was coined: Homeland Security. What till then had been FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) in the US transformed into the Department of Homeland Security.
The world quickly played catch-up and expositions focussed on homeland security quickly blossomed along with the sundry DefExpos that had almost become blasé. India, in no way, lagged behind.
Cut to May 13, 2004. The ruling BJP had called general elections a tad early, hoping to cash in on its “India Shining” media blitz. Just the opposite happened. The Congress stormed back to power after eight years in the wilderness and cobbled together an alliance of 335 of the 543 elected members of the Lok Sabha.
Once again, the import of the moment sank in only at home. The world had changed. And how! The true benefits of the economic reforms initiated by Manmohan Singh as the finance minister in 1991 began to be felt by the burgeoning middle class. For once, one felt proud to be an Indian – forget the fact that the global economic slowdown began just four years later in 2008.
Now, come to May 16, 2014. For close to two years, it had been widely believed that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance had little chance of being returned in the 16th general elections. Would the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance return? The answer was extremely iffy and the general feeling was that the verdict would be fractured. In fact, there was even talk that Pranab Mukherjee, then the government’s principal trouble-shooter and the effective No.2 in the cabinet, was elevated to the presidency as the services of an astute politician, acceptable across the spectrum, would be required after the election verdict.
Then came the December 4, 2013, elections to the Delhi assembly and the Aam Aadmi Party, whom no one gave a chance, emerged with 28 seats in the 70-member house, just eight short of a majority. Not surprisingly, its government lasted a mere 49 days, but not before it declared its intention of contesting over 300 Lok Sabha seats.
This seemingly upset the apple cart – but for just about a month. Till polling began April 7 in the 10-phased general election, the situation remained unclear – remember the talk of a Third Front or a Federral Front – though it was widely believed that the BJP could somehow pull it off.
Thus, the exit polls on the evening of May 12, when balloting ended, did little to remove the suspense as the numbers differed widely. Only one got it right.
When the verdict came on May 16, giving the BJP 282 of the Lok Sabha’s 543 elected seats, it was clear that the world had changed – due to the sheer scale of the victory and the implications this would have for the Congress dynasty.
For the first time since 1984, when the Congress, riding a sympathy wave under Rajiv Gandhi, following the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi, won a huge 414-seat majority in the Lok Sabha, India is looking at a stable government that could govern on its own without having to look over its shoulder due to the compulsions of coalition politics.
Does the BJP victory also mean that India, which set the trend of dynastic rule in South Asia, would be one to buck this? What delightful possibilities this raises!
Do I detect a skeptical note that there were only three defining moments for me in the 21st century? I never said that. There have been any number of moments when my world changed but that was my world.
All too often, as journalists, we tend to take a limited view of things. We tend to forget that we have a larger role to play – that of social scientists chronicling the times.
The job of a journalist is not to merely report but record events for posterity. By that yardstick and from the Indian perspective, those were the three days that changed the world.