The beginning of an end yet to come
In a world increasingly given to hyperbole, the adjective ‘historic’ is used and prefixed over-generously. It is necessary to separate the truly historic from what appears to be momentous but is only a passing fancy. Yet, by any reckoning, November 1989 – exactly 25 years – would count as historic, and as one of the most eventful and influential months in human history.
9th November that year was particularly important, in hindsight but also in real time, for those who lived through it. The final phase of the Cold War and the slow crumbling of the East Bloc gathered pace in 1989 and by November had reached an irreversible, unstoppable velocity. On 9th November, just days after the communist Government in the then East Germany resigned, a panicky successor administration threw open the Berlin Wall and allowed East Berliners (and East Germans) to cross to the West at will. It was only a matter of time before German reunification was announced. The Cold War was over; it had been lost – and it had been won.
One-by-one, the dominos fell that November. Governments changed in Bulgaria and the then Czechoslovakia. In the same month, Lech Walesa, the dockyard electrician who had become the face of the democratic revolution in Poland, was invited to address the United States Houses of the Congress. Newspapers reported he was the first foreign non-head of Government/state to do so since Marquis de Lafayette, the French General who had fought alongside George Washington, addressed the House of Representatives in 1824.
It was a moment of change in India as well. A pulsating election campaign was afoot and Rajiv Gandhi seemed set to lose his large majority. Eventually, the Congress halved its strength in the Lok Sabha. Before that, on 9th November, the shilanyas (foundation stone ceremony) had taken place in Ayodhya of the proposed Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir. This was done at a distance from the shrine that was at the centre of the dispute and was the culmination of a massive religious, social and political mobilisation. The first stone was put in place by Kameshwar Chaupal, a Dalit activist of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad who had travelled from southern Bihar (now Jharkhand).
A quarter-century on, how does one look back at those twin events of 9th November, 1989? Are they forgotten and is that energy spent? Will they recur, if so in what form? Did they represent struggles of the immediate or were they sending a broader message? What does history whisper in our ears, if it whispers anything at all?
To be honest, there are no easy answers. Certainly there is no obvious connection between how Germany and the erstwhile East Bloc have evolved and how India and the Hindu current of 1989 have. What one is looking at then is two separate and largely unrelated pieces of analysis, the first about Europe and Eurasia and the second to do with India.
Begin with the reunification of Germany and the dissolution of the Soviet Empire. When a monolith collapses, its aftermath and aftershocks, the consequences, the hidden treasures and pitfalls in its debris, are not possible to decipher at once. The end of the Soviet Union released many forces, from Islamic extremism in Central Asia to robber-baron plutocrats in Russia. For Europe itself, it proved a mixed blessing.