2023: A peek into the year that was

A bit of time spent can be the time earned in terms of experience gained through the best of fleeting minutes and the worst of persistent hours.
In this September 2023 image, security personnel stand guard in Manipur (Photo | PTI)
In this September 2023 image, security personnel stand guard in Manipur (Photo | PTI)

A bit of time spent can be the time earned in terms of experience gained through the best of fleeting minutes and the worst of persistent hours. In putting together a year country-wide, this newspaper not only attempts to jog our memory but also scrape our collective consciousness. So that we make 2024 a better year

Sharp questions and few answers

Thus the Indian story continues — an unbroken thread, unaffected by architects of change. The new Parliament building opened as a grand demonstration of our democracy, adorned with holy mace and other ornaments, but the behaviour of its MPs remained the same.

A heroic rescue in a collapsed tunnel was underscored by many questions — about labour conditions, about our failure to predict and control such tragedies, and about the real value of a one-size-fits-all image of “development”, especially when applied to inhospitable terrains.

The Joshimath subsidence and torrents of floodwaters thwacking and levelling hundreds of homes amid the accompanying landslips demonstrated a deeper climatic malaise. Crime and punishment go together. But the scores of women molested and sexually assaulted, as in the past, saw little justice.

On the scale of infrastructure, Uttar Pradesh, a key political player, accelerated its quest to join the trillion-dollar economy league, launching huge projects and hosting investment meets.The state manoeuvred through a maze of social and legal complexities, concluding the Ram Mandir issue with a grand temple.

Gujarat, racing alongside in the investment chase, revamped its liquor policy to boost the Gujarat International Finance Tec-City. Beyond economics, the state grappled with internal party conflicts.
Punjab, too, was a focal point in the economic sphere but found itself hamstrung in political tussles, particularly between AAP and the Centre. Chhattisgarh witnessed Congress decline amid the ongoing
Maoist insurgencies.

The BJP capitalized on the growing sway of Hindutva in Bastar, even as ethnic tensions exposed deep societal schisms.West Bengal dealt with rural poll violence, corruption, and strained Central government relations. Jharkhand’s year was marked by corruption cases and political turmoil. Bihar saw CM Nitish Kumar’s political moves amid caste politics and speculation about his allegiance. The Maratha quota
movement gained momentum.

The year’s nine state Assembly elections were a watershed moment in Indian politics. The BJP triumphed in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan, and the Congress seized control in Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, and Telangana.

Manipur ethnic violence

Two women walk past our screens; naked, limp, stumbling. Around them a hoard of hands, nails, teeth… and eyes and eyes and eyes; we will follow them into the fields where the internet cannot see. “My heart is filled with rage. The incident has brought shame upon the nation, upon every citizen.The law shall descend, in all its might, upon all those who endanger the honour of our daughters, whether in Rajasthan, in Chhattisgarh, or in Manipur…” “Over hundred such incidents have been reported.” Meanwhile, India witnessed 92 instances of state-ordered suspension of internet services in 2023, a vast majority of them in Manipur with mobile internet disrupted for over 200 days in parts of the state since first shutdown on April 28. The killings began on May 3. Two women disappeared into the fields on May 4, the internet said.

Bipolar politics yet again

Chhattisgarh witnessed bipolar politics yet again, as BJP returned to power after 5 years in the Assembly polls in November bagging 54 seats. Facing a drubbing, the Congress shrunk from 68 MLAs in 2018 to 35. The saffron party’s attempt at political polarisation found few takers in some  seats, with a majoritarian communal view seen as an influential factor in Saja constituency. However, the challenge of Maoist factor persisted. Despite Home Minister Amit Shah’s claim of 77% decline in left-wing extremism-related violence since 2010, right after CM Vishnu Deo Sai and his 2 deputies took oath, the state saw Maoist violence in 4 of the 7 districts in Baster.

Fragile, vulnerable terrain

Two incidents in 2023 brought to fore Uttarakhand’s challenging geographical conditions forcing the government to re-evaluate its future policies for its development. Just few days into the new year,  the city of Joshimath, experienced sudden land subsidence, damaging homes and commercial establishments. On November 12, a portion of Silkyara tunnel in Uttarkashi district collapsed, trapping 41 workers inside for 17 days. The 4.5 km-tunnel was part of the Centre’s ambitious flagship Char Dham project.

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami greets rescued workers coming out of the collapsed Silkyara Tunnel. (Photo | Special Arrangement)
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami greets rescued workers coming out of the collapsed Silkyara Tunnel. (Photo | Special Arrangement)

Maha quota, Sena symbol stir

After the 2019 state Assembly polls, no party secured the required 145 MLAs for a government, necessitating coalitions. Shiv Sena formed the Maha Vikas Aghadi, along with Sharad Pawar’s NCP, Congress etc. Eknath Shinde’s ambitions paved the way for BJP’s rise by splitting Shiv Sena, and Ajit Pawar’s alliance with BJP added to the uncertainty.  The Supreme Court’s order to Speaker Rahul Narwekar, to rule on disqualification petitions, including CM Eknath Shinde, by January 10, will reshape the landscape.

Promises & perilious journeys

The sound and the fury of Assembly elections; “The government will ensure Rs 1,250 to all our sisters. And this, is my guarantee...”. The panelists will dissect the Congress defeat. “The BJP has injected fresh blood into state politics; brought a new face rather than the old; Yadav votes...” “ representation, a tribal women for our President, ensured sweep in tribal seats”  “The Ladli Behna did it for the BJP...” “Our sisters have kept faith in us...” Somewhere in Ujjain, a 12-year-old girl shambles down a road; she has walked for days. We have perched ourselves on lampposts, close-circuit eyes looking down on her. Is she a Dalit? “82% of the population is Hindu after all...” Meanwhile, a man shall sit on a pavement in Sidi, under a streetlamp amid gathering darkness, a person urinating on his face, while Mamaji washes his feet.

Punjab on Amritpal’s trail

Punjab found itself whirling around issues of Sikhism as SAD head Sukhbir Singh Badal tendered a public apology over sacrilege incident during his party’s tenure in 2015, while separatist and Khalistan sympathiser Amritpal Singh, charged of instigating violence, surrendered before police. Moreover, Sikh preacher Harpreet Singh stepped down from the SGPC ‘jathedar’ post over a controversy arising from attending the engagement ceremony of AAP RS MP Raghav Chadda. The state also lost veteran politician SAD patron and former CM Prakash Singh Badal. Also, the tussle between CM Bhagwant Mann and Governor Banwarilal Purohit intensified over issues, including calling for special session where Gurbani, telecast by PTV, was made free to air. The politics of populist promises and freebies have already damaged the economy of the state.

West Bengal

A bang, then silence

A fireworks factory in Egra, Purba Medinipur, was blown off in a ball of fire. We shall wait until the rubble settles and then identify the bodies. “Charred remains of at least seven, some dismembered, have been identified.” Two children, playing beside their kitchen, pick up a ball lying on the ground. Now, a shrapnel stuck in their shoulders, we are taking them to hospital. An uncle of theirs is on the run. “Is it the duty of the State Election Commission to ensure law and order during the panchayat polls?” 

On July 8, twelve people were killed across Bengal in political violence. In a period of 40 days, over 45 would have been killed under similar pretexts, sources said. Face-off between Mamata and the governor peaked over the issue of the role being played by the SEC and its head ahead of the panchayat polls.


Return of Mandal politics

Bihar etched its name in the country’s post-Independent history by emerging as the first state to conduct caste census and release its report. Eighty-four per cent of the state population consists of backward classes. Subsequently,  the state increased the reservation for OBCs, EBCs, SCs and STs from 50 to 65 per cent. Reigniting the “Mandal politics”, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar projected himself as the torch-bearer of “adequate representation”. The Opposition parties demanded a similar nationwide exercise turning it into a poll pitch. Bihar also hosted a meeting of various opposition parties that later joined hands as I.N.D.I.A alliance to take on the ruling NDA in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Before the year-end, government-organised global investors meet to attract domestic and foreign investments.


Run-ins with ED, I-T

Jharkhand found itself in a “troubled spot” with Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax frequenting it over mining and land “scams” and the unearthing of a massive Rs 354 crore allegedly from the premises linked to Congress Rajya Sabha MP Dheeraj Sahu. Moreover, Chief Minister Hemant Soren skipped the ED summons in the land scam case for six times. However, it was not only a year of upheavals as Ulihatu, the birthplace of tribal hero and freedom fighter Birsa Munda, played host to Narendra Modi- the first prime minister ever to visit it. Moreover, Soren became the first chief minister to tour Budha Pahar, the last bastion of Left Wing Extremism in the tribal state. After freeing the area from rebels, for the first time, CRPF and Jharkhand police had jointly hoisted the Tricolour on October 23, 2022.

Uttar Pradesh

Ram temple, eco drive

The state ushered in the year with global investors summit, securing MoUs worth Rs 39 lakh crore from nearly 20,000 investors from across the world. Murder of advocate Umesh Pal by gangster-turned-politician Atiq Ahmad’s son Asad and nine of his aides on February 24 rocked the state. Six of the nine, including Asad were eliminated in police encounters. Later, encounter of Ahmad and his brother Ashraf in the presence of cops and media created ripples. The public spectacle was followed by another one when jailed gangster Sanjeev Maheshwari, Jeeva’, an associate of don-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari, was shot dead outside a courtroom in Lucknow. The court-battles on Gyanvapi complex in Varanasi and
Krishna Janmabhoomi in Mathura, also hogged the limelight.

Special Investigation Team (SIT) and the forensic team recreate the crime scene, where three assailants shot dead gangster-turned-politician Atiq Ahmed (File photo | PTI)
Special Investigation Team (SIT) and the forensic team recreate the crime scene, where three assailants shot dead gangster-turned-politician Atiq Ahmed (File photo | PTI)


Militancy on the wane?

Heavy boots have marched through your home late last night. A day before, military vehicles were ambushed near the village, killing four soldiers. Now, a searchlight stares you in the face. “Custodial death”, an FIR alleged after three youths from Poonch reportedly died after being detained by the Inidan Army on December 22. In Srinagar, four deceased uniforms are lifted, to be returned to their native haunts. “Amendment to Article 370 ‘ultra vires’ (beyond the authority of the government)...” “Kashmir surrendered its sovereignty with accession to the State of India” The Supreme Court upheld the abrogation of Article 370, refusing to discuss the validity of Presidential rule in the state.  “Militancy in Jammu and Kashmir has reduced significantly; only 43 militancy incidents, 48 encounters in 2023.”

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