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A Brief about India

[ This page is maintained by Albert Raj ]



Introduction / Land & Resources
Climate / Natural Resources
Plants & Animals / Population
Northern and Eastern India
Middle India / S outhern India
Population Characteristics
Principal Cities
Religion / Language
Education / Culture

Economy / Agriculture
Forestry & Fishing / Mining
Manufacturing/ Energy
Currency and Banking / Trade
Transportation/ Communications
Government / Judiciary
Health and Welfare / Defense

lndia's Chatroom /

India's Spice 'N Flavor



India, officially Republic of India (Hindi Bharat), country in southern Asia and member of the Commonwealth of Nations, situated in the subcontinent of India and comprising, with Pakistan and Bangladesh, the 17 territories formerly included in British India and the native states of India (see India, Native States of). India consists geographically of the entire Indian Peninsula and portions of the Asian mainland. It is bounded on the north by Afghanistan, China, Nepal, and Bhutan; on the east by Bangladesh, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), and the Bay of Bengal; on the south by Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar (which separate it from Sri Lanka) and the Indian Ocean; and on the west by the Arabian Sea and Pakistan. Including the portion of Jammu and Kashmìr administered by India but disputed by Pakistan, India has an area of 3,165,596 sq km (1,222,243 sq mi). The capital of India is New Delhi, and the country's largest city is Bombay.

 Land and Resources

India may be divided into four main regions: the Himalayas, the northern river-plains region, the Deccan, and the Eastern and Western Ghats).

The Himalayas is a mountain system, about 160 to 320 km (about 100 to 200 mi) wide, which extends about 2400 km (about 1500 mi) along the northern and eastern margins of India. The Himalayas is the highest mountain system in the world. Among its outstanding summits wholly or partly within India is Kanchenjunga (8598 m/28,208 ft), the third highest peak in the world, after Mount Everest and K2 (Mount Godwin Austen). Other prominent Indian peaks, most of which are in Jammu and Kashmìr, include Nanga Parbat (8126 m/26,660 ft), Nanda Devi (7817 m/25,645 ft), Rakaposhi (7788 m/25,550 ft) and Kamet peak (7756 m/25,447 ft).

South and parallel to the Himalayas lies the northern river-plains region, a belt of flat, alluvial lowlands about 280 to 400 km (about 175 to 250 mi) in width. The region comprises the major part of the vast plains area watered by the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra rivers. The plains region of India extends from the border with Pakistan to the border with Bangladesh and continues east into Assam, which is connected with the remainder of the republic by a narrow corridor of land near Darjiling (Darjeeling).

The central and western portions of the Indian plains region are watered by the Ganges River and its tributaries, which drain the southern slopes of the Himalayas; the region is known consequently as the Gangetic Plain. The Assam region is watered by the Brahmaputra River and its affluents, which rise on the northern slopes of the Himalayas. The Brahmaputra River crosses into Bangladesh north of the Khasi Hills. The Indus River rises in Tibet, flows west through Jammu and Kashmìr, and crosses into Pakistan.

Because of the abundance of water and rich alluvial soil, the northern plains region is the most fertile and densely populated area of the republic and was the cradle of Indian civilization.

South of the plains region lies the Deccan, a vast, triangular tableland occupying most of peninsular India. The Deccan is a generally rocky and uneven plateau divided into natural regions by low mountain ranges and deep valleys. Elevations in the plateau region range generally from about 300 to 900 m (about 1000 to 3000 ft), although outcroppings as high as about 1200 m (about 4000 ft) occur. The Deccan Plateau is bordered on the east and west by the mountain systems known, respectively, as the Eastern Ghats and the Western Ghats.

The Western Ghats, a bold escarpment overlooking the Arabian Sea, have a general elevation of about 900 m (about 3000 ft). The fertile Malabar Coast is between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea. Between the Eastern Ghats, which average about 460 m (about 1500 ft) in elevation, and the Bay of Bengal is a narrow coastal plain, the Coromandel Coast. In the southern interior, near Bangalore, are the Nìlgiri Hills.


Because of the peninsularity, unusual topography, and geographical position of India, climatic conditions are widely diversified, on both a seasonal and regional basis. The diversity ranges from tropical to temperate zonal extremes, with the temperature extremes confined largely to the slopes of the Himalayas. Except in the elevated regions, most of the remainder of India has a uniformly tropical climate. Seasonal variations, resulting from the southwestern and northeastern monsoons, profoundly influence such climatic factors as temperature, humidity, and precipitation throughout the subcontinent. For general purposes, the seasons of India may be classified as rainy and dry. The rainy season, which extends from June through September, is the season of the southwestern monsoon, a moisture-laden wind blowing off the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. Beginning early in June on the western coast of the peninsula, the monsoon gradually affects almost the entire country. During the rainy period, precipitation attains great proportions, often more than 3175 mm (125 in), along the slopes of the Western Ghats. In the northeastern section of the country, at Cherrapunji in the Khasi Hills, the yearly rainfall is about 10,800 mm (about 425 in). Mean annual precipitation along the southern slopes of the Himalayas is about 1500 mm (about 60 in). Failure of the winds to deposit sufficient rain occurs occasionally, causing severe droughts and famines; but the rains breed malaria, and contrasting day and night temperatures encourage pulmonary disorders. Normally, the power of the monsoon diminishes in September.

The cool season of the northeastern monsoon, extending from early in December through February, is usually accompanied by extremely dry weather, although severe storms, attended by slight precipitation on the northern plains and heavy snowfalls in the Himalayas, sometimes traverse the country. The hot season, beginning about the middle of March and extending until the onset of the southwestern monsoon, reaches its most oppressive stage during May, when temperatures as high as 49° C (120° F) are commonly recorded in the northern plains. In Calcutta, the average daily temperature range is 13° to 27° C (55° to 80° F) in January and 26° to 32° C (79° to 89° F) in July. The average daily range in Bombay, in the west central coastal region of the peninsula, is 19° to 28° C (67° to 83° F) in January and 25° to 29° C (77° to 85° F) in July. In the vicinity of Madras in the southeast coastlands the range is 19° to 29° C (67° to 85° F) in January and 26° to 36° C (79° to 96° F) in July.

Natural Resources

India contains more than two-thirds of the entire area of the Indian subcontinent, including a major portion of the fertile Indo-Gangetic Plain. Besides extensive cultivable regions, a comprehensive network of irrigation facilities, and valuable stands of timber, India has most of the known mineral deposits of the subcontinent.

Plants and Animals

In the arid areas that adjoin Pakistan, the flora of India is sparse and largely herbaceous. Various thorny species, including representatives of the genera Capparis (caper) and Zizyphus (jujube) are common. Bamboo occurs in some areas, and among the few varieties of trees is the palm. The Gangetic Plain, which has more abundant supplies of moisture, supports many types of plant life. Vegetation is especially luxuriant in the southeastern part of the plains region, where the mangrove and the sal, a hardwood timber tree, flourish. Many varieties of arctic flora are found on the higher slopes of the Himalayas. The lower levels of the chain support numerous families of subtropical plant life, notably the orchidaceae, and are densely forested. Coniferous species, including cedar and pine, predominate in the northwestern portion of the Himalayas region. To the east, slopes of the Himalayas abound with tropical and subtropical types of vegetation. An especially noteworthy genus is the Rhododendron. Among the predominant trees are the oak and magnolia. The Malabar Coast of the southwestern Indian peninsula and the slopes of the Western Ghats, areas of much rainfall, are thickly wooded. Evergreens, bamboo, and several varieties of valuable timber trees, including teak, predominate in this region. Extensive tracts of impenetrable jungle occur in the swampy lowlands and along the lower elevations of the Western Ghats. The vegetation of the peninsular plateau is less luxuriant, but thickets of bamboo, palm, and deciduous trees are found throughout the Deccan.

The forests, plains, hills, and mountains of India are inhabited by a wide variety of animal life. Tigers and panthers are present in some sections, and the Deccan has, in addition, cheetahs. Among other species of the cat family are snow leopards, jungle cats, and clouded leopards. Elephants are found along the northeastern slopes of the Himalayas and in the remote forests of the Deccan. Other large quadrupeds indigenous to India include rhinoceroses, black bears, wolves, jackals, dholes, wild buffalo, wild hogs, and several species of apes, antelope, and deer. Various species of wild goats and sheep abound in the Himalayas and other mountainous areas. Ibexes and serows, which are related to chamois, are also among the mountain fauna. Pygmy hogs, bandicoot rats, and tree mice are typical of the smaller quadrupeds. Venomous reptiles, including cobras, daboias, and saltwater snakes, are especially numerous in India. Pythons are also present, and usefully consume destructive rodents. The reptilian fauna also includes crocodiles. Among noteworthy examples of the tropical birdlife of India are parrots, peacocks, kingfishers, and herons. The rivers and coastal waters of India teem with fish, including many edible varieties.


The diverse racial and cultural origins of the people of India are bound intricately with the other peoples of the Indian subcontinent, including the inhabitants of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka. The exact origins of most Indian people are impossible to determine because of the large variety of races and cultures that have invaded and been assimiliated into the subcontinent. Elements of three major racial groups or subspecies, however-the Caucasoid, the Australoid, and the Mongoloid-can be found in present-day India. The geographical barriers of the Himalayas mountain system have helped in the mingling of the indigenous peoples with the successive waves of migrants from the northwest and the northeast of the subcontinent. But environmental and historical factors have favored the coexistence of many different peoples with distinct physical and cultural characteristics.

Approximately 7 percent of the total population belongs to more than 300 so-called scheduled tribes. These tribal or aboriginal groups are racially and culturally distinct from the mainstream of Indian population and also tend to vary considerably among themselves. In view of the enormously complicated racial and cultural classification of the peoples of India, it is helpful to describe them in the framework of three broad geographical divisions.

Northern and Eastern India

The people of the greater part of this region, which includes the states of Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, and Assam, are predominantly Caucasoid and resemble western Asians and Europeans in different ways and degrees. People with light brown skin are common in the western part of this region, particularly in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmìr. Dark brown skins are common in the eastern part comprising Bihar, West Bengal, and Assam. The people of Punjab and Rajasthan are tall, and their eyes are usually brown; the hair is mostly straight or wavy and glossy black. Two major tribal groups exist, however, whose members differ considerably from the physical type described above. One group of tribes, represented by the Santal, Munda, Ho, Oraon, living in the hilly areas of Bihar and West Bengal, have predominantly Australoid elements in their racial makeup, with a blending of minor Mongoloid elements. Another group of tribes represented by the Khasi, Garo, Mizo, Naga, Dafla, and Apa Tani, living in the hilly areas of Assam, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh, have predominantly Mongoloid features. They are generally of short or medium stature. The Nagas closely resemble some Native North Americans in facial features, particularly in having reddish-brown complexions.

Most of the peoples in northern and eastern India, except the tribal groups, speak Indo-Aryan languages such as Assamese, Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi, and Bengali (see Indian Languages). Although a vast majority of the population is of the Hindu faith, the Muslim influence in architectural style and in some outward forms of living is strong in Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, and Jammu and Kashmìr. Most of the tribal groups in northern and eastern India practice the slash-and-burn method of agriculture, compared to the plow cultivation practiced by the nontribal peoples. The tribes living in the regions bordering Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and Tibet are more isolated from the mainstream of Indian life and still retain a vigorous and colorful culture of their own.

Middle India  

The nontribal population of middle India, which includes Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, part of Andhra Pradesh, and Orissa, have predominantly Caucasoid elements in their racial makeup, with some variations. The tribal groups of this region have mainly Australoid features and are distributed more widely than in the other regions of India. They live in closer contact with Hindu castes than in other regions and share some of their cultural features.

Most of the nontribal groups in this region speak Indo-Aryan languages, except those in Andhra Pradesh, where the common speech is Telugu, a Dravidian language. A majority of the tribes speak languages of the Munda group; the rest speak Dravidian or Indo-Aryan languages. Most of the tribal population in this region also practice the slash-and-burn method of agriculture, and the Chenchu tribe of Andhra Pradesh represents one of the few hunting-gathering tribes. The Muslim influence is most marked in the area covered by the former state of Hyderabad, now part of Andhra Pradesh.

Southern India

The Dravidian-speaking peoples of southern India, comprising the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh, are sometimes wrongly assumed to comprise a Dravidian race. In fact, considerable variations in anthropological and genetic features are apparent, not only between the tribal and nontribal groups but also within the groups themselves. As in the case of middle India, the nontribal groups have predominantly Caucasoid features, and the tribal groups have predominantly Australoid features. The lower castes among the Hindus, however, have many Australoid elements.

The peoples of southern India, both nontribal and tribal, speak one of the following Dravidian languages: Telegu, Tamil, Tulu, Kannara, and Malayalam. The state of Kerala is inhabited by a considerable number of Thomas Christians, who claim apostolic origin from Saint Thomas, one of the 12 apostles. The tribal groups of this region live more simply than those of other regions, most of them practicing the slash-and-burn method of agriculture. Some tribes, such as the Malapantaram of Kerala, are still seminomadic hunters and gatherers.

  Population Characteristics

India ranks second only to China among the world's most populous countries, with a population (1995 estimate) of about 931,044,000; this represents an increase of about 236 million, or 34 percent, over the 1981 census total. The overall population density is about 294 persons per sq km (about 762 per sq mi). About 73 percent of India's population lives in rural areas.

Political Divisions

India is a union of 25 states and seven centrally administered territories. By an election of 1975, the Himalayan area of Sikkim became a state of India; the small nation of Bhutan accepts the guidance of India in its external affairs.

Principal Cities

The largest city of India is Bombay (population, 1991, 9,925,891). Some 18 cities have populations of more than 1 million. These include Ahmadabad and Bangalore, major rail junctions; Calcutta; Delhi; Hyderabad, famous for its handicrafts; the leather manufacturing city of Kanpur; the port of Madras; Pune; Nagpur; Lucknow; and Jaipur.


The major religious groups (followed by their approximate portion of the total population) are Hindus (83 percent), Muslims (11 percent), Christians (2 percent), Sikhs (2 percent), Buddhists (0.7 percent), and Jains (0.5 percent). See Buddhism; Hinduism; Islam; Jainism; Sikhs.


The number of languages or dialects spoken in India is more than 1600, comprising 16 major language groups. The constitution provides that the official language of the country is Hindi. However, it also accepts English as an associate language and approves its use for official purposes. The constitution allows state legislatures to adopt any of 17 other regional languages for official purposes.


Ancient India was a country of considerable educational development, with universities that attracted many foreign students. Asians, notably the Chinese, were especially attracted to Indian universities, because these institutions offered instruction in the teachings of Buddha. India also extended its educational influence by sending its university graduates to the Orient to teach. From the 13th century onward, however, first under Muslim control and later under British rule, the original contribution of the Indians waned, and application of newer educational methods was curtailed.

In the 20th century two Indians, Mohandas Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore, received international recognition for educational contributions to their country. Gandhi instituted basic literacy and community-improvement programs, and Tagore, in an effort to bridge the cultural gap between East and West, in 1921 established an international college (Visva-Bharati) at Bìrbhum.

Since gaining its independence from Great Britain in 1947, India has sought to develop a modern, comprehensive school system; the reports of the All-Indian commissions of 1953 and 1964 advocating educational reform provided impetus for improvement. The problem of educating the vast population, with its many social and religious complexities, has remained difficult, however; funds that might otherwise have been used for education have had to be utilized to combat the perennial problems of poverty, food shortages, and overpopulation. The relics of the ancient caste system, inadequate vocational placement, and religious diversity have also contributed to the difficulty of educational reform. Nevertheless, sweeping structural changes have been undertaken and largely carried through, and the number of schools and size of enrollment have risen greatly since independence.

The school systems of the various states are under the direct control of the state governments, and the federal ministry of education assists the state systems, directs the systems of the centrally administered areas, provides financial help for the nation's institutions of higher learning, and discharges various other responsibilities. In the 1970s the predominant pattern of schooling in India included eight years of elementary education, three years of secondary education with a distinct vocational emphasis (so that completion of this segment might qualify for entry into a trade or profession), and three years of university education leading to a degree. Implementation of a slightly modified pattern, consisting of ten years of elementary and high school, two of higher secondary education, and three of university, began in the 1980s. According to the 1991 census, about 52 percent of the adult population was literate, up from 36 percent in 1981.

Elementary and Secondary Schools

In the early 1990s elementary and middle schools in India had a total annual enrollment of about 144.1 million pupils. Secondary schools enrolled about 20.5 million students.

Universities and Colleges

India had about 180 universities and about 8000 technical, arts, and science colleges in the early 1990s. Total yearly enrollment in institutions of higher education was about 4.6 million. Large institutions included Agra University (1927), the University of Bihar (1952), the University of Bombay (1857), the University of Burdwan (1960), the University of Calcutta (1857), the University of Delhi (1922), Gauhati University (1948), Gorakhpur University (1957), Gujarat University (1950; in Ahmadabad), Kanpur University (1966), the University of Kerala (1937; in Trivandrum), the University of Madras (1857), the University of Mysore (1916), the University of Pune (1949), and the University of Rajasthan (1947; in Jaipur).


Indian culture is primarily Hindu-oriented. Many Hindu institutions, including the rigid caste system and its severe dietary proscriptions, still have wide-ranging effects on secular Indian society. Sanskrit, the ancient language of Hindu scriptures, was also the medium for a vast body of religious and secular writing that constitutes the core of classical Indian literature (see Sanskrit Language; Sanskrit Literature). Large bodies of colloquial literature, however, also exist in the major languages now spoken on the subcontinent.

The bulk of early classical painting and sculpture also belongs to the mainstream of Hindu tradition, even when these artifacts belong to traditions as disparate as the Dravidian of southern India and the Gupta era in the north. Islam, which was first brought to India from Central Asia in the 12th century, provided India with some of its most impressive architectural traditions; famous examples and prototypes include the world-renowned Taj Mahal in Agra and the Sher Shah mausoleum (circa 1540) in Sasaram, Bihar.


Libraries and Museums

India has more than 60,000 libraries, including more than 1000 specialized ones attached to various government departments. The National Library, in Calcutta, is one of three that receive all books and magazines published in India. Outstanding among several hundred public libraries is that of Delhi.

India's more than 460 museums include a number containing important historical and archaeological collections, such as the Government Museum and National Art Gallery, Madras; the National Museum, New Delhi; Sarnath Museum, Varanasi; and the Indian Museum, Calcutta. Vadodra, Madras, Calicut, and New Delhi have museums containing outstanding collections of medieval and modern art.


The Indian government supports a mixed economy, most of which is in the control of private enterprise. Under a policy announced in 1956, the government undertook a plan to nationalize entire segments of the economy, while leaving other sectors subject to varying degrees of government planning and control. Nearly 250 corporations were owned by the state in the early 1990s. Financial strains created in part by the Persian Gulf War, which raised oil prices and sharply reduced remittances by Indians working in Gulf states, were the impetus to economic reforms initiated in 1991. The reforms extended earlier economic liberalizations, reducing government controls on production, trade, and investment. Results by the mid-1990s included a reduction in the inflation rate and growth in export earnings.

Successive five-year plans, in force since 1951, have achieved a steady rate of economic growth, except for periods of severe drought, such as in 1979 and 1987. In 1994 India's annual gross domestic product (GDP) was $291.1 billion. The economy grew in real terms at an annual average of 4.9 percent during the period from 1965 to 1980 and 7.1 percent during the period from 1980 to 1992. The estimated annual budget in 1993 included revenues of about $30.9 billion and expenditures of $48.5 billion.


Agriculture generates about one-third of the value of India's annual GDP. Most farms are very small. In terms of area sown the leading crop is rice, the staple foodstuff of a large section of the Indian population. Wheat ranks next in importance to rice, and India is also among the leading producers in the world of sugarcane, tea, cotton, and jute. Annual production of these commodities in the early 1990s was sugarcane, 230 million metric tons; rice, 72.6 million tons; wheat, 56.8 million tons; tea, 743,000 tons; cotton lint, 2.0 million tons; and jute, 1.4 million tons. Cashews, coffee, and spices are also important cash crops. Other crops include vegetables, melons, sorghum, millet, corn, barley, chickpeas, bananas, mangoes, rubber, and linseed.

The raising of livestock, particularly horned cattle, buffalo, horses, and mules, is a central feature of the agricultural economy of India. In the early 1990s the country had about 192.7 million cattle, substantially more than any other country in the world. These animals, like the buffalo, horses, and mules, are utilized almost exclusively as beasts of burden, mainly because meat consumption, owing to religious or social scruples, is not permitted among the Hindus. As a result of such factors as inadequate pasturage and water supplies, the breeds of cattle of India are generally inferior. The buffalo (78.6 million) are largely employed in the deltaic regions. In the dry regions of Punjab and Rajasthan camels (1.5 million) are the principal beasts of burden. Sheep (44.4 million) and goats (117 million) are raised mainly for wool.

Forestry and Fishing

The forestlands in India cover about 23 percent of the total land area. Commercial forestry is largely restricted to the northern highlands, Assam, and the regions bordering on the Himalayas. By-products such as charcoal, fruits and nuts, fibers, oils, gums, and resins are among the most valuable commodities. The annual timber harvest was 279.8 million cu m (9.9 billion cu ft) in the early 1990s.

Although largely undeveloped on a national scale, fishing remains vital in certain regions, such as the Ganges delta in Bengal and along the southwestern coast. In recent years the government has been encouraging deep-sea fishing by constructing processing plants and underwriting oceangoing fleets and vessels. In the early 1990s the country's annual catch totaled some 4.2 million metric tons, about 59 percent of which was made up of marine species.


India ranks among the world leaders in the production of iron ore, coal, and bauxite and produces significant amounts of manganese, mica, dolomite, copper, petroleum, chromium, lead, limestone, phosphate rock, zinc, gold, and silver. Annual production figures in the early 1990s included iron ore (53.7 million metric tons), coal (247.3 million), bauxite (5 million), manganese (1.8 million), and zinc concentrates (181,000). Annual petroleum production amounted to 201.9 million barrels, or about three-fifths of India's petroleum needs; the output of natural gas was 13.7 billion cu m (485 billion cu ft).


The manufacture of textiles, particularly the weaving of cotton fabrics, most used domestically, is the leading manufacturing industry of India. The yearly output of cotton cloth was about 12.8 billion m (about 42 billion ft). The manufacture of jute products (1.1 million metric tons) ranks next in importance to cotton weaving. The iron-and-steel industry was greatly expanded in the 1950s, and by the early 1990s finished steel production had climbed to about 12.3 million metric tons annually. The output of the steel industry, although hampered by a shortage of power and coal, is competitive in world markets. Other important sectors of manufacturing include processing of agricultural products, including sugar refining, tea, rice, and vegetable oil processing, flour milling, and tobacco production; machinery, including electrical and electronic equipment; transportation equipment, primarily road vehicles and railroad equipment; nonferrous metals, particularly aluminum and brass; fertilizer; refined petroleum; chemicals; and computer software. Renowned high-quality handmade products include wood carvings, pottery, and brass, copper, and silver objects.


About 74 percent of India's electricity is produced in thermal facilities using coal or petroleum products. In addition, about 23 percent is generated by hydroelectric facilities, and 3 percent is produced in nine nuclear power plants, including ones at Kota and near Bombay. In the early 1990s India had an electricity-generating capacity of approximately 82 million kilowatts, and annual output was about 310 billion kilowatt-hours.

Currency and Banking

The rupee, India's basic monetary unit, is divided into 100 paisa (34.75 rupees equal U.S.$1; 1996). The Reserve Bank of India, founded in 1935 and nationalized in 1949, operates as the central bank and sole bank of issue. Moneylending practices in rural India have led to widespread indebtedness. Credit societies and cooperative banks have thus become increasingly important.


Because India is largely dependent on foreign purchases for various commodities, including manufactured goods, raw materials, and foodstuffs, its import trade is extensive. Exports of indigenous products also are considerable, but an unfavorable annual balance of trade is a traditional feature of the Indian economy, although the gap was being narrowed in the early 1990s. The United States was India's leading trading partner in the early 1990s, receiving about 16 percent of India's yearly exports and supplying about 10 percent of its imports. Other countries maintaining large-scale purchasing relations with India include Japan, the Commonwealth of Independent States, Germany, Great Britain, United Arab Emirates, Belgium and Luxembourg, Hong Kong, and Italy. Principal suppliers of imports, in addition to the United States, are Germany, Saudi Arabia, Belgium and Luxembourg, Japan, United Arab Emirates, Great Britain, and Commonwealth of Independent States. Ranked by value, the principal exports in the early 1990s were gems and jewelry, engineering goods, garments, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, cotton yarn and fabrics, leather and leather goods, marine products, iron ore, tea, vegetables and fruit, petroleum products, and handmade carpets. Leading imports were petroleum and petroleum products, nonelectric machinery, precious and semiprecious stones, inorganic chemicals, iron and steel, fertilizers, electrical machinery, and resins and plastics. In the early 1990s the country's annual imports cost some $22 billion, and its yearly exports earned about $21.4 billion.


India has a broad network of railroad lines, the largest in Asia and the fourth largest in the world. All are publicly controlled. The total length of operated railroad track was about 62,458 km (about 38,811 mi) in the early 1990s. Four different gauges (widths) of track are in use. The road system comprised about 2.1 million km (about 1.3 million mi) of routes, including 34,058 km (21,164 mi) of national highway. The major Indian ports, including Calcutta, Bombay, Madras, and Vishakhapatnam, are reached by cargo carriers and passenger liners operating to all parts of the world. A comprehensive network of Indian-operated air routes connects the major cities and towns of the country. International connections are maintained by Air India, Indian Airlines, and foreign air-transport services.


India has a telephone system that in the early 1990s served approximately 5.8 million telephones. The government-owned All India Radio broadcasts to about 68.5 million radio sets. Programs are broadcast in 24 principal languages and many dialects. Television serves some 27.8 million receivers. More than 3800 daily newspapers have a combined circulation of 27.5 million. The Times of India and the Indian Express are among the influential English-language dailies, maintaining dominance through their appeal to an educated middle-class urban readership.


The Republic of India is governed according to the provisions of a constitution adopted in 1949, which incorporates various features of the constitutional systems of Great Britain, the United States, and other Western democracies.

By the terms of the Indian organic law, which proclaims the state a sovereign democratic republic, the government is federal in its structure and republican in character. Like the United States, India is a union of states, but its government is more highly centralized than the U.S. government, and the rights of the states and territories are rigidly limited.


The chief executive and head of state of India is the president. The role of president in government is largely nominal and ceremonial, however, for actual executive power resides in a council of ministers responsible to the parliament, which is composed of the Rajya Sabha (Council of States) and the Lok Sabha (House of the People). The president is elected for a five-year term by an electoral college consisting of the elected members of the national and state legislatures and is eligible for successive terms. Balloting in the electoral college is a highly complicated process, members having a voting strength that is proportional to the population of their constituencies.

The council of ministers, or cabinet, is headed by a prime minister, who is appointed by the president. Each of its members is the head of an administrative department of the central government. In most important respects the Indian cabinet system is identical with that of Great Britain.


The constitution vests national legislative power in India in a bicameral parliament consisting of the Lok Sabha (House of the People) and the Rajya Sabha (Council of States). The House of the People consists of 545 members directly elected by universal adult suffrage, except for a few members who are appointed by the president to represent the Anglo-Indian community. Members of the House of the People normally serve for five years, the statutory limit for the duration of the house, but the house may be dissolved upon defeat of major legislation proposed by the executive branch of the government. Members of the Council of States are elected by the elected members of the state legislative assemblies except for 12 who are appointed by the president. The council is a permanent body; the terms of one-third of the members of the council expire biennially.

Political Parties

The Indian National Congress, founded in 1885, led India in the struggle for independence and provided the country's prime ministers until 1977. In 1969 a group of Congress members left the party to form the small Indian National Congress-Organization (or O), the nation's first officially recognized opposition party. In early 1977 the Congress-Organization joined with three other parties, Bharatiya Jana Sangh, Bharatiya Lok Dal, and the Socialist Party, to form the Janata Party, which won about half of the seats in the House of the People in elections in March 1977. In May the Janata Party achieved a solid majority by merging with the Congress for Democracy. In 1978 the Congress Party split again, as Indira Gandhi founded the Indian National Congress-Indira (or I), which swept to victory in parliamentary elections in 1980 and 1984, but lost its majority in 1989, although retaining the largest share of seats. Its major competitors in the 1991 elections included Janata Dal (the largest party in National Front coalition) and the Bharatiya Janata Party, a right-wing Hindu group. In the 1996 elections the Congress-I Party lost its majority in the parliament. The Bharatiya Janata Party received the most votes, but not enough to form a government; a coalition government was formed between the leftist coalition United Front, the Congress-I Party, and several regional parties.

Local Government

The form of the state governments of India is generally modeled after that of the central government. Each state is headed by a governor who is appointed to a five-year term by the national president. Five states elect bicameral legislatures, and the remainder elect unicameral governing bodies. States are divided into districts, districts into subdivisions, and subdivisions into basic units called taluks or teksils. Large cities are governed by corporations led by a mayor.


Judicial authority in India is exercised through a system of national courts administering the laws of the republic and the states. All judges are appointees of the executive branch of the government, but their independence is guaranteed by a variety of safeguards. Noteworthy among the latter is a provision requiring a two-thirds vote of the national legislature to effect removal from office. At the apex of the judicial system is a Supreme Court, consisting of up to 26 members. Next in authority are the high courts and subordinate courts in each state.

Health and Welfare

Since independence, the government has been highly attentive to the endemic health problems of the nation. But despite vigorous efforts in areas of preventive medicine, sanitation, and nutrition, health conditions remain marginal, although epidemics of smallpox, cholera, dysentery, and elephantiasis no longer are common. Much of the population continues to suffer from malnutrition; starvation is a frequent result of drought. Progress has been made, however, in combating malaria and plague and in controlling tuberculosis. Overall life expectancy at birth was about 60 years in the mid-1990s, compared with 32 years in 1941. The infant mortality rate declined from 151 to an estimated 88 per 1000 live births between 1965 and 1995.

In the early 1990s some 394,100 physicians were functioning in addition to herb doctors and unregistered practitioners. The country was served by about 642,100 hospital beds. Much of the rural population lacks ready access to professional services. Social-welfare programs have been particularly in evidence in such areas as family planning, various kinds of emergency relief, and the care for the Harijan, or untouchable, caste, protected by law but still subject to much harassment. Workers' compensation has for some time been provided by law.


All branches of the armed services of India are made up solely of volunteers. In the early 1990s the strength of the regular army was 1,265,000 people. The navy comprised 55,000 personnel. Air force strength was 110,000, with more than 700 combat aircraft.


Because the Indians of remote antiquity left no written records of their social, cultural, and political activities, historians are obliged to rely almost exclusively on archaeological discoveries for an understanding of the earliest civilization on the subcontinent. Evidence indicates that, possibly during the Neolithic period of the Stone Age, the aboriginal inhabitants of the subcontinent were dispersed and partially assimilated by invading Dravidian tribes, who probably came from the west. On the basis of archaeological discoveries in the Indus Valley, the civilization subsequently developed by the Dravidians equaled and possibly surpassed in splendor the civilizations of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. About the middle of the 3rd millennium BC, Dravidian India was subjected to the first of a sustained series of invasions by tribes of the Indo-European linguistic stock. These tribes, of uncertain racial origin but usually referred to as Indo-Aryans, entered the subcontinent through the mountain passes along the northwestern frontier and gradually occupied most of the territory north of the Vindhya Range and west of the Yamuna River. Many Dravidians fled to the north and into the Indian Peninsula, regions where the Dravidian linguistic stock is still numerous. The remnants of the Dravidian people and, in the view of some authorities, much of their culture, were absorbed by the Indo-Aryans.

Vedic Period

Obscurity surrounds Indo-Aryan political history for many centuries after the conquest of the Dravidians, but the Vedas, a collection of sacred writings dating from about 1200 BC, contains considerable information on Indo-Aryan social practices, religious beliefs, and cultural attainments (see Veda). As depicted in some Vedic hymns, the civilization that emerged during the early centuries of Indo-Aryan dominance on the subcontinent was notable in several respects. Tribal political organs functioned according to democratic principles, the social status of women compared favorably with that of men, and the institution of marriage was regarded as sacred. The Indo-Aryans had attained advanced skills in various arts and sciences, including livestock raising, metal handicrafts, carpentry, boatbuilding, and military science.

The Vedic hymns composed during this and later periods also depict the emergence and crystallization of the great socioreligious system known as Hinduism. Virtually all that is known with certainty of their political attainments is that the Indo-Aryans, in the course of the 1st millennium BC, established 16 autonomous states in the region bounded by the Himalayas, the southern reaches of the Ganges, the Vindhya Range, and the Indus Valley. Of these states, comprising both republics and kingdoms, the most important was Kosala, a kingdom situated in the region occupied by modern Oudh. Other important kingdoms were Avanti, Vamsas, and Magadha. The last-named kingdom, which occupied the territory of modern Bihar, became, about the middle of the 6th century BC, the dominant state of India. During the reign of its first great king Bimbisara (reigned about 543-491 BC), Buddha and Vardhamana Jnatiputra or Nataputta Mahavira, the respective founders of Buddhism and Jainism, preached and taught in Magadha.

In 326 BC Alexander the Great led an expedition across the Hindu Kush into northern India. He won several victories during his march into India, climaxing the first phase of his campaign by defeating the native King Porus near the Hydaspes River (now the Jhelum). In the course of the next two years Alexander achieved sovereignty over a large section of northwestern and central India. The political effects of the invasion were relatively insignificant, mainly because of the internal strife that arose in the Macedonian Empire after Alexander's death in 323 BC, but the art, sculpture, and science of the Greeks figured with increasing importance thereafter in the development of Indian culture.

The Maurya Dynasty

Macedonian overlordship in India was destroyed in about 321 BC when a native leader named Chandragupta, who became known to the Greeks as Sandrocottus, fomented a successful rebellion and seized control of Magadha. Within the next decade Chandragupta, founder of the Maurya dynasty of Indian kings, extended his sovereignty over most of the subcontinental mainland. He was assisted by Kautilya (or Chanakya), a Brahman chief minister who may have been the main contributor to the Arthasastra, a textbook on politics akin to the Italian historian Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince. The military power of the Indian Empire caused Seleucus I, one of Alexander's generals and the founder of the Seleucid Empire, to arrange an alliance with the Maurya ruler. Concluded in 305 BC, the treaty was consolidated by some kind of marriage arrangement between Chandragupta and a daughter of the Seleucid ruler.

As one result of the close relations between the two empires, Greek cultural influence became ever more widespread in northern India. The Maurya dynasty endured until 184 BC. During the reign (circa 273?-232? BC) of Asoka, its greatest sovereign, Buddhism became the dominant religion of the empire. Of the dynasties that appeared in the period immediately following the downfall of the Mauryas, the Sunga endured longest, ruling more than a century. The chief event of this period (184?-72? BC) was the persecution and decline of Buddhism in India and the triumph of Brahmanism. In consequence of this victory of the Brahman priests of Hinduism, the caste system became deeply ingrained in the Indian social structure, creating great obstacles to national unification.

An extensive section of western India was occupied in about 100 BC by invading Sakas (Scythians), then in retreat before the Yue-chi of Central Asia. Pushing southward, the Yue-chi subsequently settled in northwestern India, where Kadphises, one of their kings, founded the Kushan dynasty about AD 40. A large part of northern India shortly fell under the sway of the Kushan kings. One of the early Yue-chi monarchs established diplomatic and commercial relations with the Roman Empire. The rulers of the native Andhra dynasty, which came into control of the former Sunga dominions about 27 BC and endured for about 460 years, made repeated attempts to expel the Sakas. These attempts ended in failure, and about AD 236 the Sakas attained complete sovereignty over western India. In AD 225, shortly before the fall of the Andhra dynasty, the Yue-chi realm also disintegrated. The ensuing century was a period of political confusion throughout most of India.

Gupta Empire

In 320 a Magadha raja named Chandragupta I (reigned 320-330?), who had completed the conquest of neighboring territories, founded a new imperial regime and the Gupta dynasty. His grandson Chandragupta II (reigned 375?-413) vastly expanded the realm, subjugating all of the subcontinent north of the Narmada River. Under the rulers of the Gupta dynasty, which reigned for 160 years, Indian culture reached new heights. The period was one of sustained peace, steady economic advance, and intellectual accomplishment, particularly in art, music, and literature. Equally important, Hinduism, which had long been in a state of decline, experienced a robust renaissance through absorption of some features of Buddhism.

Toward the close of the 5th century, Hunnish invaders, often referred to as the White Huns, pushed into India from Central Asia. The Gupta Empire broke up under the blows of these marauders, whose supremacy went unchallenged for nearly a century. Foreign military reverses, notably at the hands of the Turks about 565, finally undermined the Hunnish power in India. Among the contemporary descendants of the Huns who remained on the subcontinent are certain tribal groups of modern Rajasthan. Another powerful kingdom was founded in northern India, in 606, by Harsha, the last Hindu monarch of consequence in Indian national history. During his reign, Harsha secured control of almost the entire mainland and attempted, without success, to conquer the Deccan. The dominions of Harsha disintegrated into a multiplicity of warring petty states and principalities following his death. This anarchic state of affairs, which had also been generally characteristic of the situation on the peninsula, prevailed throughout India until the beginning of the 11th century.

Muslim and Mongol Invasions

As the prolonged period of internal strife in India drew to a close, a new power, solidly united under Islam, had arisen in western Asia. The new power was Khorasan, previously a Samanid province, which had been transformed into an independent kingdom by Mahmud of Ghaznì (reigned 999-1030). A capable warrior whose sovereignty over Khorasan had been recognized by the caliph of Baghdad, Mahmud in 1000 launched the first of 17 consecutive expeditions across the Afghan frontier into India. These incursions were marked by frequent victories over the disunited Indians, and by 1025 Mahmud had sacked many western Indian cities, including the fabulously wealthy port of Somnath, and had annexed the Punjab to his empire. The most successful of the Muslim rulers after Mahmud was Muhammad of Ghur, whose reign began in 1173. Regarded by most historians as the real founder of Muslim power in India, he initiated his campaigns of conquest in 1175 and, in the course of the next three decades, subjugated all of the Indo-Gangetic plain west of Benares (now Varanasi). On the death of Muhammad of Ghur, Qutb-ud-Din Aybak, his viceroy of Delhi and a former slave, proclaimed himself sultan. The Slave dynasty founded by Qutb-ud-Din, its only outstanding ruler, endured until 1288.

Another capable Muslim, Ala-ud-Din (reigned 1296-1316), second of the succeeding Khalji dynasty, consolidated the Indian realm by conquering the Deccan. Before the end of his reign, the Mongols began to infiltrate the northern frontiers of the Muslim dominions in India. Muhammad Tughluq, the last Delhi sultan of importance, completely alienated both the Muslims and the subject Hindus by his cruelty and religious fanaticism. As the empire was torn by revolutionary strife, some provinces, notably Bengal, seceded.

The internal turmoil increased after Tughluq's death; in 1398, when the Mongol conqueror Tamerlane led his armies into India, he met little organized resistance. Climaxing his victorious invasion, Tamerlane sacked and destroyed Delhi and massacred its inhabitants. The Mongol conqueror withdrew from India shortly after the sack of Delhi, leaving the remnants of the empire to Mahmud (reigned 1399-1413), the last of the Tughluqs. Mahmud was succeeded, in 1414, by the first of the Sayyids, a dynasty that was later driven from power by Bahlol (reigned 1451-1489), founder of the Lodi line of kings. The Lodi dynasty, generally weak and ineffectual, was terminated in 1526. In that year Babur, a descendant of Tamerlane and the founder of the great Mughal dynasty, climaxed a series of raids into India by defeating the Lodi army. Babur soon occupied Agra, the Lodi capital, and proclaimed himself emperor of the Muslim dominions. Within four years of his initial victory, Babur controlled a large part of the Indian mainland.

The Mughal Empire

Akbar, the grandson of Babur, was the greatest sovereign of the Mughal Empire. During his reign, which extended from 1556 to 1605, he subdued rebellious princes in various regions, including Punjab, Rajputana (modern Rajasthan), and Gujarat. He added Bengal to his realm in 1576, conquered Kashmìr between 1586 and 1592, and annexed Sind in 1592. Between 1598 and 1601 he subjugated a number of the Muslim kingdoms of the Deccan. In the administration of his vast dominions, Akbar revealed remarkable organizational ability. He secured the allegiance of hundreds of feudatory rulers, promoted trade, introduced an equable system of taxation, and encouraged religious tolerance. The Mughal Empire attained its peak of cultural splendor under the rule of Shah Jahan, grandson of Akbar. His reign (1628-1658) coincided with the golden age of Indian Saracenic architecture, best exemplified by the Taj Mahal.

Shah Jahan was driven from the throne in 1658 by his son Aurangzeb, who took the title of Alamgir ("Conqueror of the World"). Treacherous and aggressive, Aurangzeb murdered his three brothers and waged a series of wars against the autonomous kingdoms of India, sapping the moral and material strength of the empire. During his campaigns in the Deccan, the Marathas, a Scytho-Dravidian people, inflicted numerous defeats on the imperial armies. The stability of the regime of Aurangzeb was further undermined as a result of popular antagonism to the religious bigotry he fostered. In the course of his reign, which ended in 1707 with his death in exile, the Sikhist faith obtained a strong foothold in India.

In the half-century following the death of Aurangzeb, the Mughal Empire ceased to exist as an effective state. The political chaos of the period was marked by a rapid decline of centralized authority, by the creation of numerous petty kingdoms and principalities by Muslim and Hindu adventurers, and by the formation of large independent states by the governors of the imperial provinces. Among the first of the large independent states to emerge was Hyderabad, established in 1712. The tottering Mughal regime suffered a disastrous blow in 1739 when the Persian king Nadir Shah led an army into India and plundered Delhi. Among the loot seized by the invaders, the sixth Muslim force to overrun India, was the mammoth Koh-i-noor diamond and the fabulous Peacock Throne, of solid gold inlaid with precious stones. The Persian king soon withdrew from India, But in 1756 Delhi was again captured-this time by Ahmad Shah, emir of Afghanistan, who had previously seized Punjab. In 1760 the Marathas and the Sikhs joined forces against the armies of Ahmad Shah. The ensuing battle, fought at Panìpat on January 7, 1761, resulted in complete victory for the invaders. In 1764, following the withdrawal of the invaders from India, the Mughal emperor regained his throne. His authority, like that of his successors, was purely nominal, however. With the defeat of the Marathas and the Sikhs, the possibility of reunification of the Indian peoples into a strong national state had vanished. India, long the arena of bitter colonial rivalry among the maritime powers of Europe, thereafter fell increasingly under the domination of Great Britain.

Portuguese and Dutch Colonialism

Because of Muslim control of the trade arteries between the Mediterranean and India, various European monarchs had begun to dream of a new route to the Far East long before Babur founded the Mughal Empire. The Portuguese devoted remarkable zeal and initiative to the search for such a route, and in 1497 and 1498 Vasco da Gama, one of the royal navigators, led an expedition around the Cape of Good Hope and across the Indian Ocean. On May 19, 1498, da Gama sailed into the harbor of Calicut, on the Malabar Coast, opening a new era of Indian history. Establishing friendly relations with the dominant kingdom of the Deccan, the Portuguese secured a monopoly of Indian maritime trade and maintained it for a century. The Portuguese monopoly was broken early in the 17th century by the Dutch East India Company, an amalgamation of private Dutch commercial firms brought together under the auspices of the Dutch government. During the initial period of Dutch activity in the Far East, the English entered the race for Far Eastern markets, functioning, like the Dutch, through a private firm known subsequently as the English East India Company. Company negotiations with the Mughal ruler, Emperor Jahangir, were successful, and in December 1612 the English founded their first trading post at Surat, on the Gulf of Khambhat. On November 29 a Portuguese fleet had attacked a number of English vessels in the Gulf of Khambhat and the English had triumphed in the ensuing battle. During the next decade the Portuguese were defeated in several additional naval engagements by the English, who thereafter encountered little opposition in India from that quarter. The Dutch, already entrenched in the Malay Archipelago, also endeavored to drive the English out of India, but were themselves eliminated as a serious competitive force before the end of the 17th century. Meanwhile the English steadily expanded their sphere of influence and operations. They secured a foothold in Orissa in 1633, founded the city of Madras in 1639, obtained trading privileges in Bengal in 1651, acquired Bombay from Portugal in 1661, arranged a commercial treaty with the Maratha ruler Shivaji Bhonsle in 1674, and established Calcutta in 1690. Native opposition to the last-named move, begun in 1686, was forcibly suppressed.

Growing French and British Rivalry

During the first half of the 18th century the French, who had begun to operate in India about 1675, emerged as a serious threat to the growing power and prosperity of the English East India Company. The friction between France and Great Britain reached an acute stage in 1746, when a French fleet seized Madras. This action, a phase of the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), and the subsequent fighting in India ended in a stalemate; in 1748 the French returned Madras to the British. Within three years the smoldering feud between the European rivals again flared into armed conflict. Robert Clive, an employee of the English East India Company, won distinction and victory in this phase of the struggle, essentially a fight for control of Hyderabad and the Carnatic. The final stage of the contest between the French and British for dominance in India developed as an extension of the Seven Years' War in Europe. In the course of the hostilities from 1756 to 1763, which involved large contingents of native partisans, the British won several decisive victories, effectively demolishing French plans for political control of the subcontinent. The most important event of the war was Clive's victory at Plassey, which made the British virtual masters of Bengal. By the terms of the general peace settlement following the Seven Years' War, French territory in India was reduced to a few trading posts. See also Carnatic Wars.

East India Company

As a result of its victories, the East India Company had acquired strategic political and territorial positions in Bengal, the most populous province of India, and in important areas of the Deccan. Consolidation and extension of these gains characterized the subsequent policy of the company, which retained its status as a private commercial firm until 1773. In that year the East India Company became, under the provisions of parliamentary legislation, a semiofficial agency of the British government. The application of British policy in India was facilitated by the power vacuum that followed the Battle of Panìpat (1761), when neither the Mughal Empire nor the Maratha confederacy was strong enough to exercise authority.

Armed Resistance

In the pursuit of their objectives, the British relied primarily on superior military power, but bribery, extortion, and political manipulation of the native chieftains were frequently and successfully employed. Disunity among the various Indian kingdoms and principalities paved the way for eventual British subjugation of the entire subcontinent and contiguous regions, notably Burma (now known as Myanmar). At sporadic intervals, individual Indian states and groups of states fiercely, but vainly, resisted the exploitation, brutality, and territorial seizures by the company. The chief centers of armed resistance to British rule included, at various times, the Maratha confederacy, Mysore, Sind, and Punjab. In 1845 the Sikhs of Punjab attacked British positions, starting a war that proved costly to both sides. The Sikhs were defeated in 1846 but two years later they again engaged the British in sanguinary fighting. In one battle, fought at Chilianwala, the Sikhs inflicted nearly 2500 casualties on the British. The latter won a decisive victory on February 21, 1849, however, and the Sikhs capitulated.

Dalhousie's Impact

Annexation of Punjab by the East India Company followed. During the next few years James Andrew Broun Ramsay, 10th Earl of Dalhousie, then governor-general of the company in India, annexed, on the death of the native rulers, Satara, Jaipur, Sambalpur, Jhansi, and Nagpur. He was able to do this without war because of a British doctrine that declared Great Britain's right to govern any Indian state where there was no natural heir to the throne; the British government had to give Hindu princes special permission to adopt a male heir. Dalhousie's annexationist policy engendered profound hostility among the Indian nobility and peoples. In many material respects India benefited from various improvements and reforms introduced by Dalhousie's administration. Railroads, bridges, roads, and irrigation systems were constructed; telegraph and postal services were established; and restrictions were imposed on suttee, slave trading, and other ancient practices. These innovations and reforms, however, aroused little enthusiasm among the Indian people, many of whom regarded the modernization of their country with both fear and distrust. In 1856 Dalhousie annexed Oudh, an act that added immeasurably to the widespread discontent.

Sepoy Mutiny

As the unrest in India mounted, a large-scale conspiratorial movement spread among the sepoys, the native troops employed by the English East India Company. A general uprising, known as the Sepoy Mutiny, began at Meerut, a town near Delhi, on May 10, 1857. Rallying around the banner of Bahadur Shah II, titular emperor of the moribund Mughal Empire, the mutineers quickly occupied Delhi and other strategic centers, massacred hundreds of Europeans, and, on June 30, laid siege to the British residency at Lucknow. The city was relieved in November and reinforcements of British troops and loyal sepoys were rushed to the disaffected areas. Fighting continued throughout the remainder of 1857 and into 1859 but by June 1858 the chief rebel strongholds had fallen. In the same year, the judicial authorities of the East India Company convicted Bahadur Shah II on charges of rebellion and sentenced him to life imprisonment, thus closing the final chapter of Mughal history. As one major result of the Sepoy Mutiny, the British Parliament in 1858 enacted legislation, termed the Act for the Better Government of India, which transferred the administration of India from the East India Company to the British crown.

British India and Rising Nationalism

Many of the abuses prevalent in India during the rule of the East India Company were eradicated or modified after the British government assumed control of Indian affairs. Important fiscal, governmental, juridical, educational, and social reforms were instituted and the system of public works inaugurated by Dalhousie was vastly extended. The British government had inherited numerous difficult problems, including the impoverished condition of the masses of the Indian people, popular resentment over the country's colonial status, and a growing spirit of nationalism. Frequent disastrous famines, beginning with the Orissa famine of 1866, which took the lives of 1.5 million people, contributed substantially to political unrest. In 1876 the British government, then headed by Benjamin Disraeli, proclaimed Queen Victoria empress of India.

Political Ferment

In the closing years of the 19th century and during the first decade of the 20th century, the social and political ferment in India spread widely. Occidental political doctrines and methods were introduced by Hindus who had studied in British and American universities. Under the stimulus of vigorous propaganda campaigns in the native press, mass meetings, and secret political organizations, Indian nationalism began to threaten seriously the British position in India. A number of associations, dedicated to the struggle against British rule, had been created in the decades following the Sepoy Mutiny. Of these, the most influential was the Indian National Congress, founded in 1885. This organization, which enlisted the support of many prominent Hindus and Muslims, gradually heightened the political consciousness of the masses and accelerated the trend toward national unification. On the cultural level, the celebrated poet and educator Rabindranath Tagore made enduring contributions to the cause of Indian unity.

The Indian National Congress drew inspiration and encouragement from the Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 and 1905, a practical demonstration of the latent power of the Asian peoples. Hostile manifestations against British rule became more and more frequent, particularly in Bengal. The more radical nationalists resorted to assassination, bombings, and other acts of terrorism. Retaliatory measures by the colonial authorities were countered by a popular boycott of British goods.

Repressive Measures

Condemning most of the nationalist activities as seditious, the British government adopted a special criminal code to deal with the situation. Among other measures, this code provided for trial without jury for people accused of treason and for deportation or summary imprisonment for agitators. These repressive steps were followed in 1909 by the India Councils Act, which introduced a limited degree of self-government in India. Dissatisfied with this concession to Indian demands for independence, the nationalist movement continued to gain headway.

A new and disruptive current had meanwhile been introduced into the movement for national unification with the formation in 1906 of the Muslim League. Established with the encouragement of the British government and supported primarily by those Muslims who, for reasons of self-interest, loyalty to Great Britain, or Muslim nationalism, were hostile to the objectives of the Indian National Congress, the league succeeded in diverting significant numbers of the Indian Muslim youth and intelligentsia from the independence struggle. Many outstanding Muslims, however, including the influential journalist Abul Kalam Azad, registered disapproval of league policy, resigned from the organization, and joined the Indian National Congress.

Joint Campaign

Following the outbreak of World War I (1914-1918), large numbers of the Indian people, including both Hindus and Muslims, rallied to the British cause. More than 1.2 million Indians participated in the British war effort, giving valiant and loyal service in all theaters of the conflict. The nationalist movement, generally quiescent during the first two years of the war, resumed the campaign for fundamental political reforms in the fall of 1916. The campaign was initiated by a joint declaration of minimum demands by the Indian National Congress and by the Muslim League, which had been forced to abandon its pro-British policy after Turkey, a Muslim country, entered the war on the side of the Central Powers. There followed a policy of pronouncement from the British government in August 1917, promising an increase of "… the association of Indians in every branch of the administration and the gradual development of self-governing institutions … in India…."

Gandhi's Protest Movement

Political strife became intense in India after World War I. In reply to the upsurge of nationalist activity, the British government obtained passage of legislation, known as the Rowlatt Acts, which suspended civil rights and provided for martial law in areas disturbed by riots and uprisings. Passage of the Rowlatt Acts precipitated a wave of violence and disorder in many parts of India. In this period of turmoil, Mohandas K. Gandhi, a Hindu social and religious reformer, called on the Indian people to meet British repression with passive resistance (Satyagraha). The protest movement reached insurrectionary proportions on April 13, 1919, proclaimed by Gandhi as a day of national mourning. In Amritsar, Punjab, city authorities, unable to cope with the aroused citizenry, appealed to the military for aid. The troops dispersed a huge assembly of people, freely using their firearms and causing more than 400 casualties.

In consequence of the Amritsar Massacre, the anti-British movement in India reached new levels of intensity. The outstanding feature of this stage of the struggle was the Gandhian policy of noncooperation instituted in 1920. Among other things, the policy called for the boycott of British commodities, courts, and educational institutions; for noncooperation in political life; and for the renunciation of British titles held by Indians. The noncooperation movement was often attended by violence, despite admonitions by Gandhi against the use of force. Combined with parliamentary methods of struggle, the movement proved to be a remarkably effective weapon in the fight for Indian freedom. In the view of British officialdom, the activities engaged in by Gandhi constituted sedition, and the Indian leader was periodically imprisoned or interned in the course of the next two decades. Gandhi, known among the Indian people as Mahatma (Sanskrit for "great soul"), figured decisively in Indian political history.

Increasing Internal Dissension

Between 1922, the year of the initial imprisonment of Gandhi for sedition, and 1942, when he was placed in custody for the last time, the fight for Indian independence was marked by serious setbacks, including the renewal of dissension between Muslims and Hindus, and by many victories.

Civil Disobedience

The tide of Indian nationalism, having acquired momentum steadily since Gandhi was first arrested, attained a climactic stage in the spring of 1930. On March 12 of that year, following British rejection of demands for dominion status for India, Gandhi announced that he would lead a mass violation of the government salt monopoly. The violation was accomplished, after a long march to the Gulf of Khambhat, by boiling seawater to produce salt. Similar actions occurred throughout India, and on May 5 Gandhi was again jailed by the British authorities. Riots and demonstrations developed immediately in Calcutta, Delhi, and other centers. Trains were stoned, telegraph wires were cut, and various government officials were assassinated. Striving to cope with these and later disorders, the government carried out wholesale arrests, and by November about 27,000 Indian nationalists had been sentenced to prison terms.

Hindu-Muslim Schism

Finally, in March 1931, the British government arranged a truce with Gandhi, who had been released in the preceding January along with Jawaharlal Nehru, his closest associate and the secretary of the Indian National Congress, and other political prisoners. Meanwhile the Muslim League, professing fears of Hindu domination, had advanced demands for special privileges in the proposed dominion government. In the course of the resultant controversy, bitter Hindu-Muslim rioting ravaged many communities of India. Adding to the misery and suffering occasioned by these outbursts, the world economic crisis, which had begun in 1929, completely disrupted the economy of India during the early 1930s.

Government of India Act

In 1935, following a series of conferences in London between British and Indian leaders, legislation known as the Government of India Act received the approval of the British Parliament. The legislation provided for the establishment of autonomous legislative bodies in the provinces of British India, for the creation of a central government representative of the provinces and princely states, and for the protection of Muslim minorities. In addition, the act provided for a bicameral national legislature and an executive arm under the control of the British government. Largely influenced by Gandhi, the Indian people approved the measure, which became operative on April 1, 1937, although many members of the Indian National Congress continued to insist on full independence for India.

On the provincial level few difficulties developed in the application of the Government of India Act. The plan for federation proved unworkable for a variety of reasons, however, including the reluctance of the Indian princes to cooperate with the radicals of the Indian National Congress, reciprocal hostility on the part of the latter, and Muslim claims that the Hindus would have excessive influence in the national legislature. As an alternative, the Muslim League, then headed by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, advocated the creation of an independent Muslim state (Pakistan). This proposal met violent Hindu opposition. Further complicating the Indian political situation, Subhas Chandra Bose, an extreme nationalist, was elected president of the Indian National Congress early in 1939. Within a few months, however, the Congress rejected his policies and he resigned.

Wartime Agitation

On the outbreak of World War II (1939-1945) the viceroy of India, Victor Alexander John Hope, Marquess of Linlithgow, declared war on Germany in the name of India. This step, taken in accordance with the constitution of 1937 but without consulting Indian leaders, alienated Gandhi and important sections of the Indian National Congress. Influential groups of the National Congress, supporting Gandhi's position, intensified the campaign for immediate self-government, naming self-government as their price for cooperation in the war effort. At the end of October 1939 the ministries of eight provinces resigned in protest against the adamant attitude of the British. The civil disobedience campaign was resumed by the National Congress in October 1940. Meanwhile the Muslim League, many of the princely states, and certain members of the Indian National Congress had endorsed the British war effort. The subsequent contributions of India to the struggle against the Axis powers were extensive. Indian troops at home and on the fronts numbered about 1.5 million before the termination of hostilities and Indian expenditures totaled approximately $12 billion.

In December 1941 the British authorities in India released the various Congress leaders who had been placed under arrest in 1940. A new wave of anti-British agitation followed, and in March 1942 the government of Great Britain dispatched Sir Stafford Cripps, then lord privy seal, to India with proposals designed to satisfy nationalist demands. These proposals contained the promise of full independence for India after World War II and called for the establishment of an interim Indian government in which Great Britain would retain control of national defense and foreign affairs. Because the leaders of both the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League had basic objections to various sections of the proposed program, the Cripps mission ended in failure.

The civil disobedience movement was again resumed in August 1942. Gandhi, Nehru, and thousands of their supporters were rounded up and imprisoned, and the National Congress was outlawed. Encouraged by Indian disunity and with the help of Bose, who had organized a "provisional Indian government" in Burma (Myanmar), the Japanese promptly intensified military operations along the Burmese-Indian frontier. The Japanese invasion of India began along a 322-km (200-mi) front in March 1944. After a number of initial successes, the invaders were gradually forced back into Burma by Anglo-Indian troops.

The British government released Gandhi from jail on May 6, 1944. In the meantime the Indian leader had modified most of his views regarding the nature of the war and the Cripps program, and in September 1944 he and the Muslim leader Jinnah began discussions on mutual differences. Primarily because of Jinnah's insistence on demarcation of the Pakistani frontiers prior to the formation of an interim government, the discussions ended in failure.

Interim Government

In June 1945 India became a charter member of the United Nations (UN). In the same month Nehru was released from jail, and shortly thereafter the British government issued a white paper on the Indian question. The proposals closely resembled those of the Cripps program. Another deadlock developed and during the second half of 1945 a new wave of anti-British riots and outbursts swept over India. Three representatives of the British government, including Cripps, made another attempt to negotiate an agreement with Indian leaders in the spring of 1946. Although the Muslim League temporarily withdrew its demands for the partition of India along religious lines, insuperable differences developed with respect to the character of an interim government. The negotiations were fruitless, and in June the British viceroy Archibald Wavell announced the formation of an emergency "caretaker" government. An interim executive council, headed by Nehru and representative of all major political groups except the Muslim League, replaced this government in September. In the next month the Muslim League agreed to participate in the new government. Nonetheless, communal strife between Muslims and Hindus increased in various parts of India.

By the end of 1946 the Indian political situation verged on anarchy. The British prime minister Clement R. Attlee announced in February 1947 that his government would relinquish power in India not later than June 30, 1948. According to the announcement, the move would be made whether or not the political factions of India agreed on a constitution before that time. Political tension mounted in India following the announcement, creating grave possibilities of a disastrous Hindu-Muslim civil war. After consultations with Indian leaders, Louis Mountbatten, who succeeded Wavell as viceroy in March 1947, recommended immediate partition of India to the British government as the only means of averting catastrophe. A bill incorporating Mountbatten's recommendations was introduced into the British Parliament on July 4; it obtained speedy and unanimous approval in both houses of Parliament.

Indian Independence Act

Under the provisions of this enactment, termed the Indian Independence Act, which became effective on August 15, 1947, India and Pakistan were established as independent dominions of the Commonwealth of Nations, with the right to withdraw from or remain within the Commonwealth. The Indian government, by the terms of a declaration issued jointly by the then eight members of the Commonwealth on April 28, 1949, elected to retain its membership. For the subsequent history of Pakistan, see Pakistan: History.

The new states of India and Pakistan were created along religious lines. Areas inhabited predominantly by Hindus were allocated to India and those with a predominantly Muslim population were allocated to Pakistan. Because the overwhelming majority of the people of the Indian subcontinent are Hindus, partition resulted in the inclusion within the Union of India, as the country was then named, of most of the 562 princely states in existence prior to August 15, 1947, as well as the majority of the British provinces and parts of 3 of the remaining provinces.

By the terms of the Indian Independence Act, governmental authority in the Union was vested in the Constituent Assembly, originally an all-India body created for the purpose of drafting a constitution for the entire nation. The All-India Constituent Assembly, which held its first session in December 1946, was boycotted by the delegates of the Muslim League, the major political organization of Muslim nationalists; the remaining delegates, who were chiefly representative of the Indian National Congress, the corresponding Hindu organization, formed the Constituent Assembly of the Indian Union.

After the transfer of power from the British government, the Constituent Assembly assigned executive responsibility to a cabinet, with Nehru as prime minister. Mountbatten became governor-general of the new dominion.

Continued Hindu-Muslim-Sikh Antagonisms

The termination of British rule in India was greeted enthusiastically by Indians of every religious faith and political persuasion. On August 15, 1947, officially designated Indian Independence Day, celebration ceremonies were held in all parts of the subcontinent and in Indian communities abroad. These ceremonies took place, however, against an ominous background of Hindu-Muslim and Sikh-Muslim antagonisms, which were particularly acute in regions equally or almost equally shared by members of the different faiths.

Population Shifts

In anticipation of border disputes in such regions, notably Bengal and Punjab, a boundary commission with a neutral (British) chairperson was established prior to partition. The recommendations of this commission occasioned little active disagreement with respect to the division of Bengal. In that region, largely because of Gandhi's moderating influence, little communal strife developed. In the Punjab, however, where the line of demarcation brought nearly 2 million Sikhs, traditionally anti-Muslim, under the jurisdiction of Pakistan, the decisions of the boundary commission precipitated bitter fighting. A mass exodus of Muslims from Union territory into Pakistan and of Sikhs and Hindus from Pakistan into Union territory took place. In the course of the initial migrations, which involved more than 4 million people in the month of September 1947 alone, convoys of refugees were frequently attacked and massacred by fanatical partisans. Coreligionists of the victims resorted to reprisals against minorities in other sections of the Union and Pakistan. Indian and Pakistani authorities brought the strife under control during October, but the shift of populations in the Punjab and other border areas continued until the end of the year. Relations between the two states grew worse in October when the Indian armed forces surrounded Junagadh, a princely state on the Kathiawar Peninsula. This action was taken because the nawab of the state, which had a large majority of Hindus, had previously announced that he would affiliate with Pakistan. The Indian military authorities subsequently assumed control of the state, pending a plebiscite.

War in Kashmìr

Kashmìr, a princely state inhabited predominantly by Muslims, became the next major source of friction between India and Pakistan. Here, the situation was the exact opposite of that in Junagadh. On October 24, 1947, Muslim insurgents, supported by invading coreligionists from the North-West Frontier Province, proclaimed establishment of a "Provisional Government of Kashmìr." Three days later the Hindu leader Hari Singh, Maharaja of Kashmìr, announced the accession of Kashmìr to the Union of India. Approving the maharaja's decision and promising a plebiscite after the restoration of peace, the Indian government immediately dispatched troops to Srìnagar, the capital of Kashmìr and the major objective of the insurgents. Hostilities quickly attained serious proportions, and at New Year 1948 the Indian government filed a formal complaint with the UN Security Council, accusing Pakistan of giving help to the Muslim insurgents.

Despite repeated attempts by the Security Council to obtain a truce in the troubled area, fighting continued throughout 1948. The peacemaking efforts of the Security Council finally met with success at New Year 1949, when both India and Pakistan accepted proposals for a plebiscite, under the auspices of the UN, on the political future of Kashmìr. Cease-fire orders were issued by the two governments on the same day. Among other things, the UN plan provided for the withdrawal of combat troops from the state, for the return of refugees desirous of participating in the plebiscite, and for a free and impartial vote under the direction of a "personality of high international standing." In March UN Secretary-General Trygve Lie appointed U.S. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz administrator of the Kashmìr plebiscite, scheduled for later in 1949.

Meanwhile both the Union of India and Pakistan had suffered the loss of outstanding leaders and the Indian government had become embroiled in a dispute with the nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Osman Ali Khan Bahadur. Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu fanatic on January 30, 1948, and Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, died the following September. The tension between the Indian government and Hyderabad, inhabited preponderantly by Hindus, resulted from the reluctance of the nizam, a Muslim, to bring his state into the Union. Protracted negotiations for a peaceful solution of the dispute ended in failure and on September 17 Indian forces occupied Hyderabad, the capital city, ending the nizam's resistance. The ruler subsequently signed instruments of accession making Hyderabad part of the Union of India.

Although India and Pakistan agreed (July 1949) on a line demarcating their respective zones of occupation in Kashmìr, the two nations were unable to reconcile basic differences on the terms of the proposed plebiscite. The deadlock was primarily due to Indian insistence that Pakistani troops be withdrawn from the disputed territory before the plebiscite and to Pakistan's refusal to withdraw its troops unless the Indians also withdrew theirs.

First Years as a Republic

The Indian Constituent Assembly approved a republican constitution for the Union on November 26, 1949. Comprising a preamble, 395 articles, and 8 schedules, the document proved to be more voluminous than any body of organic law in existence. One of the constitution's features is a clause outlawing untouchability, the ancient practice of caste that condemned about 40 million Hindus to social and economic degradation. The Gandhi disciple and All-India Congress leader Rajendra Prasad was elected first president of the republic in January 1950. As provided by the constitution, the republic was formally proclaimed on January 26. The Constituent Assembly then reconstituted itself as a provisional parliament and Jawaharlal Nehru was elected prime minister.


During its first year as a republic India figured increasingly in international affairs, especially in deliberations and activities of the United Nations. Nehru's government, adhering to policies developed in the prerepublican period, maintained a generally neutral position with respect to the so-called Cold War, the mounting ideological and political struggle between the Soviet bloc of states and the Western democracies. Indian determination to avoid entanglement with either of these powers became increasingly apparent following the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950. Subsequently the Indian government approved the UN Security Council resolution invoking military sanctions against North Korea. No Indian troops were committed to the UN cause, however, and beginning in July, when Nehru dispatched notes on the Korean situation to the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), India sought repeatedly to restore peace in the Far East. In its initial attempts at mediation the Indian government suggested that admission of the Chinese People's Republic to the United Nations was prerequisite to a solution of the Far Eastern crisis. Even after the Chinese intervention in the Korean War and despite Indian-Chinese differences over Tibet, India adhered to this view but it was rejected by a majority of the Security Council. In October 1950, after a Chinese army invaded Tibet, the Indian government dispatched a note to China expressing "surprise and regret."

Foreign Aid

Outstanding among domestic events during the first year of republican rule was a series of natural disasters, notably an extended drought in southern India and severe earthquakes and floods in Assam. About 6 million tons of grain and other foodstuffs were lost, according to an official estimate made in November. During the resultant famine, large sections of the population were forced to subsist on a daily ration of 57 g (2 oz) of rice. India appealed to the United States in December 1950 for $200 million worth of food. In February 1951 U.S. President Harry S. Truman asked Congress to enact legislation providing 2 million tons of grain for Indian relief. Considerable opposition to the request developed in Congress, primarily because of Indian policy on the Korean War. Indian restrictions on the export of certain strategic materials also provoked congressional opposition to the relief measure. Nehru declared that India would refuse to accept relief "with political strings attached," and in June 1951 the U.S. Congress finally approved a $190-million relief loan to be repaid on terms that were acceptable to the Indian government.

Domestic Policies

The following month Nehru announced that the government must encourage birth control in order to cope with the problem of a rapidly growing population and a food supply rendered inadequate by rudimentary agricultural methods and frequent natural disasters. Shortly afterward the government promulgated a five-year national development plan providing for expenditures of $3.8 billion, largely on irrigation and hydroelectric projects.

The results of the first general elections in the Indian Republic were announced March 1, 1952. Based on universal suffrage, the balloting had begun in October 1951 and ended in February 1952. The Indian National Congress, the party in power, won 364 of 489 contested seats in the national legislature and was victorious in all but 2 of the constituent states. In May the newly constituted electoral college elected President Rajendra Prasad to the presidency for a full five-year term.

International Affairs

In June 1952 India, which had boycotted the 1951 Japanese peace conference, signed a bilateral peace treaty with Japan. Among the provisions was a waiver of all reparations claims. During September the Indian government accepted famine-relief food shipments from the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union but only after both countries agreed to Indian stipulations against possible "political strings."

Korea and Kashmìr

India figures significantly in international developments during 1953. An Indian general was named to chair the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission provided for by the Korean armistice agreement of July 27. In this position, he perpetuated the Indian policy of neutrality, provoking accusations of partiality from both the UN and Communist commands. The issue of Indian participation in the projected Korean peace conference was decided in August when the UN General Assembly voted down a British-backed resolution inviting India to the conference. Subsequently, the U.S. secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, termed Indian exclusion from the proposed peace parley the "price" of neutrality. Indian-Pakistani talks on plebiscite arrangements for Kashmìr were terminated in December 1953 over disagreement on the number and composition of troops to be stationed there during the voting. The Kashmìr Constituent Assembly unanimously approved accession to the Indian Republic early in February 1954.


The prime ministers of India, Pakistan, Burma, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka conferred in Sri Lanka from April 28 to May 2, 1954. Among other actions, the leaders adopted a declaration of support for the Geneva Conference on Far Eastern Affairs, then about to convene. (The conference was called, in the face of an imminent French defeat, to discuss an end to the war in Indochina.) Nehru held a series of meetings late in June with Premier Zhou Enlai of China, who was a delegate to the Geneva Conference; they issued a joint statement urging a political settlement. Under the provisions of the Indochinese cease-fire agreements in July of that year, India chaired the three-power International Commission established to supervise application of the agreements.

Bandung Conference

India participated in the Asian-African Conference, a meeting in April 1955 of 22 Asian and 7 African states, held in Bandung, Indonesia. In June Nehru spent two weeks in the USSR. At the conclusion of the visit he and Soviet Premier Nikolay A. Bulganin issued a joint statement appealing for a ban on nuclear weapons, for disarmament, for "wider application" of the principles of coexistence, and for recognition of the "legitimate rights" of Taiwan of the People's Republic of China.

Indian-Portuguese relations had worsened steadily in 1954 because of insistent demands by Indian nationalists that Portugal vacate Goa and the rest of Portuguese India. In August 1955 Portuguese security forces fired on a group of Indian demonstrators that crossed the Goan border. India then severed diplomatic ties with Portugal.

Suez and Hungary

In July 1956 Nehru conferred with President Tito of Yugoslavia and President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt. The three leaders later issued a joint communqué affirming their opposition to colonialism and their belief in a worldwide system of collective security. During the crises following Egypt's seizure of the Suez Canal on July 26 and the subsequent invasion of Egypt by Israel, France, and Great Britain, India made numerous attempts to reconcile the various disaffected nations. Throughout both crises the Indian minister without portfolio V. K. Krishna Menon conferred frequently with representatives of both sides. At the same time India was widely criticized for its failure to support a UN resolution of November 5, 1956, condemning the USSR for its use of force against anti-Soviet rebels in Hungary. Later that month, however, Nehru, who previously had characterized the anti-Soviet uprising as a civil war, reversed himself by denouncing the Soviet occupation of Hungary.

Internal Affairs

On January 26, 1957, India declared the state of Kashmìr to be an integral part of the Indian Republic, following decisions to that effect by the Kashmìr Constituent Assembly. Protest riots and burnings of effigies of Nehru subsequently took place in Pakistan, which lodged a vigorous complaint in the UN. In national elections held in February and March 1957 the Congress Party won 366 of 494 seats in the lower house of parliament; the Communists won 29 seats to become the largest opposition party and also gained control of the state of Kerala. Prime Minister Nehru and President Prasad retained their positions. In March a decimal system of currency was introduced.

In Kerala efforts to increase government control of private schools aroused mass opposition, manifested by frequent antigovernment demonstrations during 1958. To uphold law and order, Prasad took over the functions of the Kerala government in July 1959. Legislative elections in the state in February 1960 resulted in substantial gains for the anti-Communist parties.

In May 1960 the state of Bombay was divided into the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat. To placate rebellious Naga tribes, Nehru announced that a new state of Nagaland, populated predominantly by the tribes, would be created out of the state of Assam. Subsequently elements of the Sikh population agitated for creation of a separate Sikh state out of part of the Punjab. The matter was settled in 1966 by the formation of the new state of Haryana.

The third Indian five-year plan of economic development was inaugurated in April 1961; its cost was estimated at $24.36 billion and its objective was to increase the average annual per-capita income from $69.30 to $80.85. A long-range goal was to make India independent of foreign aid by 1976. In August the United States disclosed that to date it had committed $4 billion to India.

Clashes with Neighbors

During the Tibetan revolt in March 1959 some 9000 Tibetan refugees sought political asylum in India; thereafter several border clashes occurred between Chinese and Indian troops and in August Indian territory was penetrated by Chinese troops. A conference to settle the dispute, in April 1960, attended by Nehru and Zhou Enlai, ended in a deadlock.

Following charges of Portuguese aggression, Indian forces on December 18, 1961, invaded and annexed the remaining Portuguese enclaves on the subcontinent: Goa, Daman, and Diu. The next day a resolution was brought before the UN Security Council condemning India as an aggressor; it failed to be adopted because of a Soviet veto.

During 1962 the border dispute between China and India grew increasingly tense. Early in the year both countries added outposts along the contested frontier territory in the high Himalayas, and in October the Chinese attacked and overran Indian outposts on both western and eastern parts of the border. The Indians, ill-prepared and particularly ill-equipped for high-elevation fighting, were unable to halt the Chinese advance, which ended when Beijing unilaterally announced a cease-fire in late November. The crisis precipitated a drastic overhaul of Indian defenses, and Defense Minister V. K. Krishna Menon, a powerful neutralist, was ousted from the government at the end of October.

On May 27, 1964, Nehru, who had served as prime minister since India attained its independence, died. He was succeeded by Lal Bahadur Shastri, formerly home minister. Pakistan continued to challenge India's claim to the predominantly Muslim state of Kashmìr, where in August 1965 incidents involving Pakistani guerrillas and Indian troops precipitated an undeclared war between Pakistan and India. Hostilities continued through a UN-arranged cease-fire and the situation remained tense until Soviet-mediated negotiations between Shastri and Pakistani President Muhammad Ayub Khan, resulted on January 10, 1966, in a troop-withdrawal agreement.

New Leadership

A few hours after signing the agreement in Toshkent, USSR, Shastri died of a heart attack. Nehru's daughter Indira Gandhi, a former minister of information, was chosen to be the new prime minister.

In 1969 Prime Minister Gandhi faced a revolt by the conservative wing of the Congress Party but won an impressive victory when, with her support, the former vice president, Varahagiri Venkata Giri, defeated the official Congress candidate for president. Consolidating her strength, Gandhi and her faction, from that time called the New Congress Party, won a major victory in the elections of March 1971.

Later that month, civil war erupted in Pakistan, as the national government, dominated by West Pakistanis, moved to suppress Bengali efforts to achieve autonomy for East Pakistan. As millions of Bengali refugees streamed across the border into India, relations between India and Pakistan worsened. In December India invaded East Pakistan, compelled the surrender of Pakistani forces there, and recognized the new nation of Bangladesh. Most of the Bengali refugees were subsequently repatriated.

Economic conditions in India worsened during the mid-1970s. As unemployment mounted, food riots broke out, and accusations of government corruption intensified. To world surprise, India exploded its first nuclear device on May 18, 1974. A parliamentary effort to topple the Gandhi government was turned back in July, and in the following month a candidate backed by Gandhi, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, was elected as president. Early in 1975 India annexed Sikkim, which then became the 22nd state of the republic.

Gandhi was convicted in June 1975 of corrupt practices during the 1971 election campaign. Faced with the loss of her parliamentary seat, she had a national state of emergency declared. She centralized power in her own hands and implemented strong measures to foster economic development and lower the national birth rate. Increasingly, she relied on her son, Sanjay Gandhi. Political opposition was quelled by mass imprisonment and press censorship.

Janata Government

In early 1977, however, Gandhi called a general election, hoping to be able to demonstrate popular support. Instead, she lost her seat in parliament and the Congress Party failed to win a majority in the legislature for the first time since 1952. The Janata Party, a coalition formed to oppose her regime, won about half the seats in parliament and its head, Morarji R. Desai, was named prime minister. The emergency was ended, and repressive actions of the Gandhi government were reversed. In January 1978 Gandhi formed Congress-I (I for "Indira") to rival the Congress Party. It soon won elections in the south and in Maharashtra, and in April it was named the main opposition party in the House of the People.

Gandhi Returns

In 1979, after more than two years in power, the Janata government had lost its parliamentary majority and Desai resigned. Elections in January 1980 resulted in a major victory for Gandhi and her Congress-I Party; she resumed the office of prime minister on January 14. On June 23 Sanjay, who had emerged from the elections as a major political force, was killed in a plane crash. His seat in parliament was taken by his brother, Rajiv Gandhi, Gandhi's chosen successor.

To appease Sikhs demanding autonomy for Punjab, where they are a majority, Indira Gandhi supported the presidential candidacy of Zail Singh, who in July 1982 became India's first Sikh chief of state. Autonomist agitation continued, however, and in October 1983 Gandhi brought Punjab under president's rule, giving police emergency powers.

The center of Sikh resistance was also the religion's holiest shrine, the Golden Temple at Amritsar. On June 2, 1984, the temple was sealed off by Indian troops, who then occupied the shrine, killing hundreds of Sikhs and seizing caches of ammunition. The troops withdrew by the end of the month, but outrage among Sikh nationalists persisted. On October 31 Indira Gandhi was shot and killed by Sikh members of her personal guard. In the days of rioting that followed, at least 1000 Sikhs were killed by Hindu mobs. Rajiv Gandhi was sworn in as prime minister hours after his mother's death.

Rajiv Gandhi faced another crisis on December 3, when a leak of methyl isocyanate gas from a Union Carbide pesticide plant at Bhopal, in central India, resulted in the deaths of at least 3300 people and in the illness of more than 20,000 others. With his leadership reaffirmed by the parliamentary elections in December 1984, Gandhi responded to unrest among the Sikhs by agreeing to expand the boundaries of Punjab.

Early in 1987 Indian troops were sent to Sri Lanka to help suppress a rebellion by Tamil guerrillas. A peace agreement was signed in July, but violent clashes continued. Also in July the election of Ramaswami Venkataraman as president seemed to consolidate Gandhi's position. Allegations of corruption and mismanagement weakened the Congress-I Party, however, as did Gandhi's inability to deal effectively with autonomist pressures in Punjab and Kashmìr. In the elections of November 1989, Congress-I lost its parliamentary majority, and Vishwanath Pratap Singh, leader of the Janata Dal Party, became prime minister. In 1990, a split within Singh's own party led to the collapse of his minority government; he was succeeded by his chief rival, Chandra Shekhar, whose government stepped down in March 1991, paving the way for new elections. During the election campaign, Rajiv Gandhi was killed by a Tamil suicide bomber. Outraged voters gave Congress-I a plurality in parliament, and P. V. Narasimha Rao, former foreign minister and a Gandhi supporter, became prime minister.

Recent Developments

In January 1993 Rao's authority was undermined by nationwide riots that followed the destruction of a 16th-century mosque by Hindu militants, who claimed the site originally belonged to a Hindu temple. Nearly 3000 people throughout India died in the ensuing six weeks of sectarian violence. In September 1993 a devastating earthquake shook central India about 320 km (about 200 mi) west of Hyderabad. It killed about 10,000 people and destroyed dozens of villages.

During the early 1990s tensions between India and Pakistan increased over control of the Jammu and Kashmìr region. Since 1989 the Indian-controlled portion has been the site of sporadic armed conflict between the Indian army and militant Muslim separatists, who either want to form an independent state, or unite with predominantly Muslim Pakistan. In January 1994 India and Pakistan held talks concerning the disputed region, but no real progress was made. Pakistan closed its consulate in Bombay in March and had the Indian consulate in Karachi closed in December. In January 1995 India rejected Pakistan's preconditions for the resumption of bilateral talks, which included a reduction in the number of Indian troops stationed in Kashmìr. Since Pakistan was pursuing a nuclear weapons development program, many countries feared that the dispute over Kashmìr could escalate into a nuclear conflict. In July 1995 a pro-separatist group called Al Faran kidnapped six tourists who were traveling in Kashmìr. One tourist escaped within a few days, and another was killed by Al Faran; an American, a German, and two British men remained in captivity, their fates unknown, nearly a year later.


The 1996 elections brought unrest to India and concern on the part of foreign investors. The Indian government had to force the people of Jammu and Kashmìr to vote because of boycotting on the part of pro-separatist groups. In protest of the elections in Jammu and Kashmìr, terrorist incidents such as the bombing of city buses occurred in New Delhi. In the rest of the country the elections took the majority of seats from the Congress-I Party and forced Rao to resign as prime minister. The Hindu national party, Bharatiya Janata, won the most seats in parliament, but failed to win the majority. Still Bharatiya Janata, with the invitation of the president, formed a government under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. After 13 days Vajpayee resigned when it became clear that he would not pass a confidence vote by the parliament. The leftist coalition United Front, which had the second highest number of parliamentary seats, formed a government under Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda with the help of the Congress-I Party and several smaller regional parties. Gowda won a parliamentary vote of confidence in June 1996. Speculation about India's stability was reduced with the news that Gowda planned to continue market reforms and resume talks with Pakistan concerning the control of Jammu and Kashmìr. 

Courtesy : Microsoft(R) Encarta(R) 97 Encyclopedia. (c) 1993-1996 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.