One-third the area of the United States, the Republic of India occupies most of the subcontinent of India in southern Asia. It borders on China in the northeast. Other neighbors are Pakistan on the west, Nepal and Bhutan on the north, and Burma and Bangladesh on the east.
The country can be divided into three distinct geographic regions: the Himalayan region in the north, which contains some of the highest mountains in the world, the Gangetic Plain, and the plateau region in the south and central part. Its three great river systems—the Ganges, the Indus, and the Brahmaputra—have extensive deltas and all rise in the Himalayas.
One of the earliest civilizations, the Indus Valley civilization flourished on the Indian subcontinent from c. 2600 B.C. to c. 2000 B.C. It is generally accepted that the Aryans entered India c. 1500 B.C. from the northwest, finding a land that was already home to an advanced civilization. They introduced Sanskrit and the Vedic religion, a forerunner of Hinduism. Buddhism was founded in the 6th century B.C. and was spread throughout northern India, most notably by one of the great ancient kings of the Mauryan dynasty, Asoka (c. 269–232 B.C.), who also unified most of the Indian subcontinent for the first time.
In 1526, Muslim invaders founded the great Mogul Empire, centered on Delhi, which lasted, at least in name, until 1857. Akbar the Great (1542–1605) strengthened and consolidated this empire. The long reign of his great-grandson, Aurangzeb (1618–1707), represents both the greatest extent of the Mogul Empire and the beginning of its decay.
British Exert Influence, Suppress Indians
Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer, landed in India in 1498, and for the next 100 years the Portuguese had a virtual monopoly on trade with the subcontinent. Meanwhile, the English founded the East India Company, which set up its first factory at Surat in 1612 and began expanding its influence, fighting the Indian rulers and the French, Dutch, and Portuguese traders simultaneously.
Bombay, taken from the Portuguese, became the seat of English rule in 1687. The defeat of French and Mogul armies by Lord Clive in 1757 laid the foundation of the British Empire in India. The East India Company continued to suppress native uprisings and extend British rule until 1858, when the administration of India was formally transferred to the British Crown following the Sepoy Mutiny of native troops in 1857–1858.
Gandhi Leads Challenge of British Rule
After World War I, in which the Indian states sent more than 6 million troops to fight beside the Allies, Indian nationalist unrest rose to new heights under the leadership of a Hindu lawyer, Mohandas K. Gandhi, called Mahatma Gandhi. His philosophy of civil disobedience called for nonviolent noncooperation against British authority. He soon became the leading spirit of the Indian National Congress Party, which was the spearhead of revolt. In 1919, the British gave added responsibility to Indian officials, and in 1935, India was given a federal form of government and a measure of self-rule.
In 1942, with the Japanese pressing hard on the eastern borders of India, the British War Cabinet tried and failed to reach a political settlement with nationalist leaders. The Congress Party took the position that the British must quit India. Fearing mass civil disobedience, the government of India carried out widespread arrests of Congress Party leaders, including Gandhi.
Independence Soured by Partition of India and Pakistan
Gandhi was released in 1944 and negotiations for a settlement were resumed. Finally, in Aug. 1947, India gained full independence. The victory was soured, however, by the partitioning of the predominantly Muslim regions of the north into the separate nation of Pakistan. The Muslim League, led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, demanded a separate nation for the Muslim minority to prevent Hindu political and social domination. Indian Hindus, however, had hoped for a unified rather than balkanized Indian subcontinent. Lord Mountbatten as viceroy partitioned India along religious lines and split the provinces of Bengal and the Punjab, which both nations claimed. The partition of Pakistan and India led to the largest migration in human history, with 17 million people fleeing across the borders in both directions to escape the bloody riots occurring among sectarian groups. Armed conflict also broke out over rival claims to the princely states of Jammu and Kashmir.
Jawaharlal Nehru, nationalist leader and head of the Congress Party, was made prime minister. In 1949, a constitution was approved, making India a sovereign republic. Under a federal structure the states were organized on linguistic lines. The dominance of the Congress Party contributed to stability. In 1956, the republic absorbed former French settlements. Five years later, the republic forcibly annexed the Portuguese enclaves of Goa, Damao, and Diu.
Nehru died in 1964. His successor, Lal Bahadur Shastri, died on Jan. 10, 1966. Nehru's daughter, Indira Gandhi, became prime minister, and she continued his policy of nonalignment.
India Supports Independence Movement That Leads to the Creation of Bangladesh
In 1971, the Pakistani army moved in to quash the independence movement in East Pakistan that was supported by India, and some 10 million Bengali refugees poured across the border into India, creating social, economic, and health problems. After numerous border incidents, India invaded East Pakistan and in two weeks forced the surrender of the Pakistani army. East Pakistan was established as an independent state and renamed Bangladesh.
In May 1975, the 300-year-old kingdom of Sikkim became a full-fledged Indian state. Situated in the Himalayas, Sikkim was a virtual dependency of Tibet until the early 19th century. Under an 1890 treaty between China and Great Britain, it became a British protectorate and was made an Indian protectorate after Britain quit the subcontinent.
Indira Gandhi's Leadership Is Challenged
In the summer of 1975, the world's largest democracy veered suddenly toward authoritarianism when a judge in Allahabad, Indira Gandhi's home constituency, found Gandhi's landslide victory in the 1971 elections invalid because civil servants had illegally aided her campaign. Amid demands for her resignation, Gandhi decreed a state of emergency on June 26 and ordered mass arrests of her critics, including all opposition party leaders except the Communists.
Despite strong opposition to her repressive measures, particularly resentment against compulsory birth control programs, in 1977 Gandhi announced parliamentary elections for March. At the same time, she freed most political prisoners. The landslide victory of Morarji R. Desai unseated Gandhi, but she staged a spectacular comeback in the elections of Jan. 1980.
In 1984, Gandhi ordered the Indian army to root out a band of Sikh holy men and gunmen who were using the most sacred shrine of the Sikh religion, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, as a base for terrorist raids in a violent campaign for greater political autonomy in the strategic Punjab border state. The perceived sacrilege to the Golden Temple kindled outrage among many of India's 14 million Sikhs and brought a spasm of mutinies and desertions by Sikh officers and soldiers in the army.
Indira and Rajiv Gandhi Are Gunned Down
On Oct. 31, 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two men identified by police as Sikh members of her bodyguard. The ruling Congress Party chose her older son, Rajiv Gandhi, to succeed her as prime minister for four years. While running for reelection, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 22, 1991, by Tamil militants who objected to India's mediation of the civil war in Sri Lanka.
The ruling Congress Party lost the parliamentary elections of May 1996, and its waning resulted in a period of political instability. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) then became the dominant force in politics, with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as prime minister.
India and Pakistan Test Nuclear Weapons
In May 1998, India set off five nuclear tests, surprising the international community, which widely condemned India's pronuclear stance. Despite international urging for restraint, Pakistan responded by conducting several nuclear tests of its own two weeks later. India has resisted signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty for nuclear weapons and has been slapped with sanctions by the U.S. and other countries. Less than a year later, in April 1999, both India and Pakistan tested nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.
Kashmir Continues to Test Relationship Between India and Pakistan
India and Pakistan have held various talks about the disputed territory of Kashmir, which is the issue at the base of their chronic antagonism and their displays of nuclear strength. India controls two-thirds of this Himalayan region, which is the only Indian state that is predominantly Muslim.
The Indian Air Force launched air strikes on May 26, 1999, and later sent in ground troops against Islamic guerrilla forces in Kashmir. India blamed Pakistan for orchestrating violence in Kashmir by sending soldiers and mercenaries across the so-called Line of Control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Pakistan countered that the guerrillas were independent Kashmiri freedom fighters struggling for India's ouster from the region. Most international sources agreed with India's assumption that Pakistan was arming the soldiers. In Aug. 1999, Pakistan was forced to withdraw, but fighting continued sporadically during the coming year.
In Oct. 2001, violence again broke out in the region when a suicide bombing by a Pakistan-based militant organization killed 38 in India-controlled Kashmir. India retaliated with heavy shelling across the Line of Control. India, angered by Washington's sudden coziness with Pakistan following the Sept. 11 attacks, took the opportunity to point out that, while Pakistan might be helping the U.S. fight terrorism on the Afghan front, it was simultaneously supporting terrorism on its own borders with India. On Dec. 13, 2001, suicide bombers attacked the Indian parliament, killing 14 people. Indian officials blamed the deadly attack on Islamic militants supported by Pakistan.
Hope for a peaceful solution to the conflict in Kashmir was raised in Nov. 2002, when a newly elected coalition government in India-controlled Jammu and Kashmir vowed to reach out to separatists and to improve conditions in the state. But hopes were dashed in March 2003, following the slaughter of 24 Hindus in Kashmir. Officials blamed the massacre on Islamic militants. Days after the violence, both India and Pakistan test-fired short-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Two bombs exploded in Mumbai (Bombay) in August, killing more than 50 people and injuring about 150. Indian officials blamed Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based militant Islamic group. But in Nov. 2003, India and Pakistan declared their first formal cease-fire in 14 years. The cease-fire applied to the entire Line of Control dividing Kashmir. Relations between the two countries have continued to thaw, though no real progress has been made.
Electoral Upset Brings Congress Party to Power
In one of the most dramatic political upsets in modern Indian history, the Indian National Congress Party, led by Sonia Gandhi, prevailed in parliamentary elections in May 2004, prompting Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to resign. Although the country prospered economically under Vajpayee's rule, a substantial number of India's poor felt they had not benefitted from India's economic growth. Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born widow of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, dealt a further shock to the country when she refused to become prime minister. The BJP had vociferously protested Gandhi's expected elevation to prime minister because of her foreign birth. The Congress Party instead chose former finance minister Manmohan Singh, who became India's first Sikh prime minister.
On Dec. 26, 2004, a tremendously powerful tsunami ravaged 12 Asian countries. Nearly 11,000 people perished in India.
President Bush announced in March 2005 that he would allow American companies to provide India with several types of modern combat weapons, including F-16 and F-18 fighter jets. The announcement was seen as an attempt to balance Bush's offer to sell Pakistan about two dozen F-16s.
India and the U.S. Reach Deal on Nuclear Technology
In March 2006, President Bush and Prime Minister Singh agreed to a controversial civil nuclear power deal that permitted the sale of nuclear technology to India despite the fact that India has never signed the international Nuclear Nonproliferation agreement. Since 1998, the U.S. has imposed sanctions on India for undertaking nuclear tests. Critics of the deal contend that allowing India to circumvent the international treaty will make it more difficult to negotiate with Iran and North Korea and their nuclear ambitions. In September 2008, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, comprised of representatives from 45 countries, voted in favor of the deal, bringing it a step away from implementation. The U.S. Congress approved the deal in Oct. 2008; it was the last hurdle for the implementation of the controversial agreement. India's Bharatiya Janata Party, which opposes the deal, called it a "nonproliferation trap." The deal could be scrapped if India uses the fuel for its weapons program.
Pratibha Patil, of the governing Congress party, was elected president in July 2007, becoming the country's first woman to hold the post. She defeated Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.
Prime Minister Singh survived a confidence vote in July 2008, taking 275 votes to the opposition's 256. Eleven members of Parliament abstained. He had lost the support of Communist parties as he sought to seal the deal that has the U.S. providing India with nuclear technology and fuel for civilian purposes.
Squirmishing along Kashmir's Line of Control broke out over the summer of 2008, after more than four years of relative calm. The problems arose after authorities in Indian-controlled Kashmir transferred 99 acres of land to a trust that runs a Hindu shrine, called Amarnath. Muslims launched a series of protests. The government rescinded the order, which outraged Hindus. About 40 people were killed in the protests and counterdemonstrations, which involved several hundred thousand people. Despite the hostilities, a trade route between India and Pakistan across the line of control opened in October for the first time in 60 years.
Terrorists Attack Landmarks in Mumbai
Religious and ethnic clashes that pitted Muslims against Hindus and Hindus against Christians broke out throughout India in the summer and fall of 2008. The violence was exacerbated by a series of terrorist attacks largely blamed on Islamic militants, including one in the northern state of Assam that killed at least 64 people and wounded hundreds in October. In total, well over 200 people died in the attacks.
India launched its first unmanned spacecraft in October 2008 for a two-year mission to map a three-dimensional atlas of the Moon and search for natural resources on the Moon's surface.
About 170 people were killed and about 300 wounded in a series of attacks that began on Nov. 26 on several of Mumbai's landmarks and commercial hubs that are popular with foreign tourists, including two five-star hotels, a hospital, a train station, and a cinema. Indian officials said ten gunmen carried out the attack, which was stunning in its brutality and duration; it took Indian forces three days to end the siege. India's police and security forces were ill-prepared for such an attack, which many inside India are calling their own September 11. In fact, Indian sharpshooters were not equipped with telescopic sights, and therefore withheld firing in fear of killing hostages rather than terrorists. In addition, a 2007 report to Parliament warned that India's shores were particularly vulnerable. (The perpetrators reportedly arrived in Mumbai by boat.)
Indian and U.S. officials said they have evidence that the Pakistan-based militant Islamic group Lashkar-e-Taiba was involved in the attack. Lashkar-e-Taiba, which translates to Army of the Pure, was established in the late 1980s with the assistance of Pakistan's spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, to fight Indian control of the Muslim section of Kashmir. The accusation further strained an already tense relationship between the two countries. India's home minister in charge of security, Shivraj Patil, resigned after the tragedy. While Pakistani president Zardari first denied that Pakistani citizens were involved in the attack, in December, Pakistan officials raided a camp run by Lashkar-e-Taiba in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, and arrested several militants. Muhammad Ajmal Qasab, a Pakistani and the only attacker who survived the Mumbai attack, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death in May 2010 by an Indian court.
Between April 16 and May 13, 2009, India held general elections. The Indian National Congress won 206 seats and will lead a governing coalition called the United Progressive Alliance. The Bharatiya Janata Party came in second with 116 seats. Analysts attributed Congress's repeat victory to the party's ability to balance the concerns of poor farmers in the rural provinces and the urban middle class. Manmohan Singh remains the prime minister.
New Delhi's highest court overturned the ban on homosexuality in India in July 2009. Homosexuality was illegal in India since 1861. Court justices declared the old law to be a violation of human rights and equality outlined in India's constitution. On Dec. 11, 2013, the Indian Supreme Court reinstated the 1861 law. The ruling came after the court determined that the law had been improperly ruled unconstitutional by a lower court in 2009. The Supreme Court ruled that only Parliament had the power to change the 1861 law, which includes a decade long jail sentence for "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with man, woman or animal."
In 2011, Anna Hazare, a 74-year-old Indian activist went on two hunger strikes in his quest to force India's parliament to adopt legislation instituting an independent anticorruption agency called a Jan Lokpal, or ombudsman. The first strike, which garnered a great public following, ended after 13 days and an invitation to help draft a Lokpal bill. Mr. Hazare decided the legislation was too weak, which led to his second hunger strike in December, aborted after three days due to health concerns. On Dec. 27, a bill--still deemed unsatisfactory by Anna Hazare--was passesd in the lower house before being indefinately stalled in the upper house.
On July 13, 2011, Indian cities were put on high alert after three bombs exploded in Mumbai's business district during rush hour, killing 18 people and injuring more than 100. It was the worst terrorist incident in India's financial capital since a coordinated attack by gunmen in 2008.
India Tests a Long-Range Ballistic Missile
In April 2012, India successfully launched the Agni 5, a long-range ballistic missile that can reach Beijing and Shanghai, China, and can deliver a nuclear warhead. The exercise was seen as a response to China's recent investment in its military and its growing assertiveness on the military front. Some observers questioned if the move would spark an arms race in Asia. A week later, fuel was added to that speculation when Pakistan tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile that can also carry a nuclear warhead. While India and Pakistan are archrivals, both denied the tests were an act of brinkmanship, with Pakistan saying its exercise would "further strengthen and consolidate Pakistan's deterrence capabilities."
India was hit by the largest blackout in history in July 2012. More than half of India's population —700 million people living in 22 out of the country's 28 states—lost power for two days. Authorities think residents in the northern states exceeded their allotment of electricity during a drought. For the most part, Indians took the blackout in stride, as such events are not unusual in a country whose power grid is still in development.
Gang Rape Case Ignites National Protests
Protests spread throughout India in late Dec. 2012 when a 23-year-old woman died after being gang raped by several men in a moving bus in Delhi. The woman had to be flown to Singapore after three abdominal operations at a Delhi hospital, where her intestines were removed due to damage done by a metal rod during the attack. Police said the attackers would be charged with murder. Sonia Gandhi, president of the Congress Party, said in a rare television appearance, "As a woman, and mother, I understand how protestors feel. Today we pledge that the victim will get justice."
The trial for the five men accused of the gang rape began in late January 2013. The men were charged with robbery, gang rape, and murder. Lawyers for the men said they would all plead not guilty.
In early Feb. 2013, India's government approved new, stiffer laws for sexual violence against women. The new laws included the death penalty in certain cases. The laws were a direct response to the nationwide outrage over the gang rape case. Parliament also created a special court that would hear rape cases much more quickly than India's regular justice system. Reports of sexual assault and rape skyrocketed in 2013 which suggested more willingness to come forward about these crimes since the country's new laws.
Ram Singh, the apparent driver of the bus, was found hanging in his jail cell on March 11, 2013. Officials ruled his death as suicide, but Singh's family said he was killed. On Aug. 31, a 17-year-old participant was convicted for his part in the gang rape; he was sentenced to three years in a special juvenile correctional facility. On Sept. 13, Judge Yogesh Khanna had this to say: "In these times when crimes against women are on the rise, the court cannot turn a blind eye to this gruesome act," as he handed down a sentence of death by hanging for each of the four convicted men.
Opposition Dominates 2014 Election
In May 2014's general election, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party trounced the governing Indian National Congress Party, taking about 60% of the seats in parliament. The decisive victory gave the party an outright majority in parliament. Narendra Modi is set to become prime minister. The Congress party, headed by the Gandhi family, has prevailed over Indian politics since the country gained independence in 1947. The results reflected the country's dissatisfaction with lackluster economic growth, high inflation, and a series of corruption scandals. The election took place in nine phases from April 7 through May 12, making it the longest election in the country's history. Some 550 million votes were cast, and voter turnout was about 66%.
Modi assumed office on May 26, 2014. A Hindu nationalist, Modi was previously chief minister of Gujarat, a state in northwest India, where his administration had been praised for its economic policies, which have created rapid economic growth. However, Modi is a controversial figure, mainly for his administration's role in the 2002 Gujarat riots where the death toll was estimated between 900 to over 2000, with several thousand more injured. Most of the victims of the riots were Muslim. To curb the violence, Modi's government enforced curfews and asked for the army to intervene, but human rights organizations, the media, and the opposition argued that Modi's administration didn't do enough to stop the riots and, in some instances, even condoned it.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif accepted an invitation to attend Modi's inauguration. The invite was one of Modi's first decisions as prime minister. The two shook hands and exchanged pleasantries at the ceremony, a sign that there may be a thaw in relations between India and Pakistan.
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