From the quick-witted sardarni who shielded me from a furious SHO (and a possible bullet) in Amritsar to the CRPF commandant who rescued me when I was bitten by dim-dam flies in Aizawl, the people and their enduring stories from the year that shook India.
There will always be argument over which might be the most important or newsy year in India’s history and if you asked old reporters, each would name a favourite year, decided purely on the basis of when she broke a famous story. We reporters are like that only. Self-centred, competitive, take no prisoners, vain and a little bit crazed. I could be accused of having been all of these, particularly by those beaten on a story or two over these decades. But perhaps not even they would contest my claim that 1984 has been by far the newsiest year in India’s post-Independence history.
It had multiple turning points: Operation Blue Star, mutinies by Sikhs in some army units, Indira Gandhi’s assassination, the massacres of Sikhs, the rise of Rajiv Gandhi with his majority of 415 and, as if that wasn’t enough, the Bhopal gas tragedy and the Indian army’s historic ascent of the Siachen glacier. Each was a turning point and many still fester: the riots, Siachen, Bhopal.
It was the kind of year when newsrooms would feel a paucity of reporters and TV channels of OB vans. No, reporter’s vanity notwithstanding, I can’t claim that I covered each of these history-changers. I did not cover Bhopal at all, and can’t say that a transit halt on way to Jabalpur to cover the court martial of alleged Sikh mutineers would give me the right to claim the dateline. Many other stories, the elections, the anti-Sikh massacres, the assassination, consumed entire teams of reporters and all I can lay claim to is a reasonable slice of each. But a footnote: I did break the story of India’s move up to Siachen. Of course, three decades ago, the term “breaking news” wasn’t in vogue yet. I got my first opportunity to cover a big election too in 1984, and it was a trial by fire that I failed.
I was covering the Gwalior constituency where the young maharaja, Madhavrao Scindia, challenged Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whom we all so loved and believed he could never lose to an upstart. It was a genuinely sexy story. Vajpayee had gone to college on a scholarship given by Scindia’s father, his native home was just a couple of semi-pucca rooms with a kutcha courtyard and a hand-pump. In continued…