About India

Learn more about the country of India including facts about the Indian people & their history, geography & maps of India, and the Indian economy & government. Basic India demographics including population, religion, GDP, topography, languages and more.

India Country Profile


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History of India

The mountain ranges of Europe and Asia

When the great land masses of Africa and India collide with Europe and Asia, about 100 million years ago, they cause the crust of the earth to crumple upwards in a long almost continuous ridge of high ground – from the Alps, through Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan to the Himalayas. This barrier will have a profound influence on human history. To the south and east of the mountain range are various fertile regions, watered by great rivers flowing from the mountains. By contrast, north of the mountain range is a continuous strip of less fertile grasslands – the steppes, on which a horseman can ride almost without interruption from Mongolia to Moscow.

From 8000 BC

Only nomads can live on the steppes north of Asia’s mountain ranges, moving with their flocks of animals to survive together on the meager crop of grass. It is a tough life, and the steppes have bred tough people – pioneers in warfare on horseback. From the Indo-European tribes of ancient times to the Mongols and Turks of more recent history, the people of the steppes descend frequently and with devastating suddenness upon their more civilized neighbors. There are many tempting victims. Beneath the mountain ridges Asia offers ideal locations for civilized life.

On a map showing the fertile plains of Asia, between the mountains and the sea, three such areas stand out: Mesopotamia, watered by the Tigris and the Euphrates; the valley of the Indus; and the plains of north China, from the Hwang Ho (or Yellow River) down to the Yangtze. Other waterways, such as the Ganges or the Mekong, are in areas too heavily forested to make agriculture easy. But in Mesopotamia, western India and northern China, great rivers flow through open plains, providing ample flood water for the nurturing of crops. These regions of Asia become the sites of three of the early civilizations.

5000 BC – 1800 BC

Towns of some sophistication are built from the fifth millennium BC by people practising agriculture on the banks of the Indus. They shelter within protective walls; they have drainage systems, and an oven within each mud-brick house. By 3200 BC there are settlements of this kind along the length of the river. In about 2500 BC the river becomes the lifeline of a much more highly developed civilization, based on two places which are unmistakably cities – Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. These cities, and their civilization, vanish without trace from history until discovered in the 1920’s.

Life in the Indus valley cities seems to have been highly regulated. Streets are laid out on a rectangular grid pattern, and there is a sewage system with household drains leading into main sewers of baked brick. These even have inspection holes for maintenance. The larger houses, of two or occasionally three stories, show blank walls to the outer world but have an inner courtyard – possibly with wooden balconies giving onto it.

The public buildings of these cities also suggest a high degree of social organization. The great granary at Mohenjo-daro is designed with bays to receive carts delivering crops from the countryside, and there are ducts for air to circulate beneath the stored grain to dry it. The granary at Harappa has a series of working platforms close to barrack-like dwellings, suggesting that workers live here (very possibly government slaves) and that they grind corn on the platforms for the city’s supply of bread. At Mohenjo-daro, close to the granary, there is a building similarly civic in nature – a great public bath house, with steps down to a brick-lined pool in a colonnaded courtyard.

2500 BC – 1700 BC

As in the other great early civilizations, the bureaucrats of the Indus valley have the benefit of writing to help them in their administration. The Indus script, which has not yet been deciphered, is known from thousands of seals, carved in steatite or soapstone. Usually the center of each seal is occupied by a realistic depiction of an animal, with above it a short line of formal symbols. The lack of longer inscriptions or texts suggests that this script is probably limited to trading and accountancy purposes, with the signs establishing quantities and ownership of a commodity.

The local produce of the Indus civilization includes three crops of great significance in subsequent history, each of which is possibly first cultivated here. Yarns of spun cotton have been found at Mohenjo-daro. There is evidence of the growing of rice in the region of Lothal. And sesame, the earliest plant to be used as a source of edible oil, also seems to make its first appearance here as an agricultural crop. Engravings of elephants on the Indus valley seals, sometimes with ropes around the body, suggests that this civilization is also the first to tame the world’s most powerful beast of burden.

2000 BC – 1700 BC

The reach of the Indus civilization is extensive. After the discovery of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, further sites have been revealed – as far down the coast as Lothal, making the spread of the Indus civilization greater than that of Egypt and Mesopotamia together. At Lothal there is even a specially designed dockyard, of kiln-baked bricks, from which vessels trade along the coast and possibly up the Persian Gulf as far as Mesopotamia.

The sense of order, so evident in the Indus cities, begins to diminish after about 1900 BC. Less imposing buildings, of more flimsy construction, are inhabited now by a declining population. Many reasons have been suggested – an impoverished agricultural base due to over-exploitation, or a succession of devastating floods. The discovery of several unburied bodies in a street in Harappa has led to suggestions of a sudden and violent end. Certainly the Indus civilization is followed by a violent intrusion into northwest India, that of the Aryans. But they do not arrive until about 1500 BC. The cities of the Indus seem to have declined before then into their long spell of invisibility.

5th century BC – 4th century BC

The Indo-European group known as the Aryans (from their own word for themselves) becomes established in northwest India from about 1500 BC. As a nomadic people of the steppes, fighting with bow and arrow from light and speedy chariots, their advance proves hard to resist on open ground – as proves to be the case with other Indo-European tribes elsewhere. (This has recently become a controversial topic. Some archaeologists claim that the lack of any visible change in the archaeological record disproves Aryan invasion of south Asia. Linguists reply that the Indo-European elements in north Indian languages can have no other explanation.)

Aryan society is divided into three groups – priests, warriors and those who look after the cattle. This division later becomes an important part of India’s Caste system.  Little is known historically about the Aryans, other than what can be gleaned from their holy texts called veda (‘knowledge’). The earliest of these, the Rigveda, is a collection of more than 1000 hymns in Sanskrit, the language of the Aryans. The hymns are for the use of priests in the temple rituals of sacrifice.

The hymns, dating from well before 1000 BC, survive in oral form for hundreds of years (Sanskrit does not acquire a script until about 500 BC). They are the beginning of a religious tradition which will evolve, with much borrowing from the Aryans’ neighbors in the subcontinent, into the complex religion known now as Hinduism.  The region first settled by the Aryans is the Punjab (‘five rivers’, from the five great tributaries of the Indus which make it fertile), an area now on the border between Pakistan and India. From this secure homeland their influence gradually spreads eastwards along the Ganges and south down the coast of west India.

Throughout its history India has seen a succession of small independent kingdoms developing, fighting each other, coalescing into larger groups (occasionally even large enough to deserve the name of empire), then breaking up again into small units for the process to be repeated. The spread of Aryan influence progresses, over the centuries, in just such a manner.  By about 600 BC the two most powerful kingdoms in India are neighbors on the Ganges – Kosala, and downstream from it Magadha. Both are rigid societies, with the Brahman priesthood wielding a great deal of power through their knowledge of the Vedas and their control of the Vedic rites. Impulses for religious reform develop in these regions in the 6th century, resulting in Jainism and Buddhism. By the 4th century Magadha has emerged as the dominant power in the whole of northern India, with a capital city at Pataliputra (modern Patna). But any chance of stability is rudely interrupted by the arrival of Alexander the Great.

330 BC – 321 BC

For two years Alexander moves through his newly acquired empire (which stretches north beyond Samarkand and eastwards through modern Afghanistan) subduing any pockets of opposition and establishing Greek settlements. Then he goes further, in 327, through the mountain passes into India. One of the towns founded by Alexander in India is called Bucephala. It is named to commemorate his famous horse, Bucephalus, which dies here at what turns out to be the furthest point of this astonishing expedition. Alexander’s troops threaten to mutiny in the Indian monsoon. At last, in 325, he turns for home.

The plains of north India are in a politically unsettled state when Alexander the Great marches into the subcontinent in 327 BC. But it is the dissatisfaction of his own soldiers, rather than any defeat at Indian hands, which turns him back. And for the next twenty years northwest India remains under Greek control. Soon after the conqueror’s departure, one of India’s greatest dynasties is established by Chandragupta Maurya. In about 321 he seizes the throne of Magadha (now Patna). By 305 he is strong enough to force the withdrawal of Alexander’s successor in the region, Seleucus. The Greek retreat through the Khyber Pass is sweetened by a gift from Chandragupta of 500 elephants.

272 BC – 232 BC

The Mauryan kingdom is the first in India’s history to deserve the broader title of empire. It reaches its greatest extent under Chanadragupta’s grandson, Asoka, who defeats his brothers in a battle for the throne in about 272 BC. According to later Buddhist chronicles he murders them all, but this may be a pious legend. A great sinner is the most welcome of converts. More certain is that Asoka brings the eastern coast of India under his control in a campaign of considerable savagery. According to his own inscriptions, disgust at what he sees on this campaign causes him to adopt the Buddhist principle of non-violence. (Asoka’s dates, like the dates of Buddha himself, are uncertain and controversial.)

Asoka puts up pillars and rock inscriptions throughout his empire (and particularly round the borders), referring to himself under the title Piyadassi, meaning ‘of benevolent aspect’. Most of our knowledge of his reign comes from these inscriptions, which emphasize his care for the welfare of his people. Official inscriptions by kings on the subject of their own benevolence should be taken with a pinch of salt. Asoka does, nevertheless, preside over a vast empire largely in a state of peace. But benevolence is perhaps not a valid long-term policy in imperial matters. On his death in about 232 BC, after a reign of nearly half a century, the Mauryan empire begins to crumble.

2nd century BC – 2nd century AD

The Mauryan dynasty ends in about 185 BC. The last king is assassinated by one of his own military commanders, who seizes the throne. During the next four centuries India suffers a series of invasions from the northwest. The first intruders are Greeks from Bactria, a distant outpost of Greek culture ever since Alexander’s conquest of Persia. The Greeks sometimes penetrate as far down the Ganges as  Patna, but for the most part they are confined to the northwest corner of the subcontinent. It is possible that the Greek influence on this region, seen in its sculpture, begins this early. But a more lasting link between India and the west is introduced in the 2nd century AD by the Kushans.

The Kushan dynasty, founded in Bactria by one of the chiefs of a nomadic tribe, presses southeast into India from the end of the first century AD. Its greatest successes are achieved in about AD 120 by the third king in the line, Kanishka. His capital is at Peshawar, roughly at the center of a realm which stretches from Bukhara to beyond Varanasi on the Ganges. This empire straddles the Silk Road,  the trade route from China to the Mediterranean – a fact of great significance for Buddhism. The religion finds favor with Kanishka, and his active support (he is a great patron of architects, sculptors and scholars) contributes largely to the spread of Buddhism from India to China.

4rd century AD – 6th century AD

The first native dynasty of north India since the Mauryas, bringing to an end four centuries of dominance by intruders from the west, is established in the 3rd century. Its central territory is the same as that of the Mauryas, along the lower stretch of the Ganges around Patna. The ruling family is the Guptas. Chandra Gupta – coming to the throne in about AD 320 – extends his territory so successfully, to include most of the plain of the Ganges from Allahabad to its mouth, that he begins calling himself maharajadhiraja, meaning king of kings or emperor.

The Gupta empire is further extended by Chandra’s son, Samudra Gupta, who by the end of his long reign receives homage and tribute from regions as far afield as the Punjab in the west, Assam in the north east and Madras in the south. The coins and inscriptions of Samudra reveal that the India of his time is a culmination of the ancient Aryan traditions, justifying its reputation as India’s classical period. Samudra personally performs the ancient Vedic horse sacrifice, but he is also proud of his skills as musician and poet.

4th century AD – 6th century AD

The final flowering of Sanskrit literature takes place at the courts of the Gupta dynasty. By this time the spoken languages of India have long been evolving in their own separate directions. Sanskrit has become a literary language, known and used only by a small educated minority – much like Latin in medieval Europe. The poems and plays of the Gupta period are correspondingly artificial in style, but at their best they have considerable charm. Shakuntala, a play of about AD 400 by Kalidasa, has been popular far beyond India’s borders ever since its translation into English and German in the 18th century.

Kalidasa is the most distinguished of India’s Sanskrit authors. He is believed to have lived at the court of Chandra Gupta II, son of Samudra Gupta, in the late 4th century. This is a time of peace and prosperity in India, and Kalidasa’s work is sophisticated and courtly. In epic poetry and drama, often with elaborate metrical schemes, he recreates stories from traditional Sanskrit literature. Raghuvamsha celebrates the exploits of Rama, as described in the Ramayana. Kalidasa’s most famous work, Shakuntala, dramatizes in elegantly languid fashion a complex incident from the Mahabharata. A ruler loves a beautiful hermit girl who turns out, happily, to be the daughter of a famous warrior.

8th century AD – 11th century AD

The gradual collapse of the Gupta empire is followed by a period when many small principalities compete for power. The odd one out is a portent of the future – though as yet seemingly insignificant. In 712 the Arabs move along the coast from Persia, through Baluchistan, to occupy Sind. The region becomes Muslim and has remained so ever since. But this area round the mouth of the Indus, separated by desert from the main body of the subcontinent, is a poor stepping stone for further conquest. Three centuries will pass before the Hindu kingdoms of north India, still lacking any unity, face the real thrust of Islam.

During these unsettled centuries many kingdoms, large and small, struggle against each other, merge, grow and decline. The most extensive in northern India is the dynasty known as Gurjara-Pratihara. From their capital at Kannauj, the rulers of this kingdom control a territory stretching across the subcontinent, in the 9th and 10th century, from Gujarat to northern Bengal. In the 10th and 11th century, in southern India, the Tamil kingdom of the Cholas is of equally impressive extent – reaching at its peak from the Deccan down to the southern tip of Sri Lanka.

This same period sees the emergence of tribal groups in northwest India calling themselves Rajput, from the Sanskrit raja-putra (‘son of a king’). Their origin is disputed among scholars, but they see themselves as the descendants of the warrior caste of ancient India. Their fierce commitment to warfare and deeds of honor causes the Rajputs to fight constantly among themselves if no alien enemy is available. This leads to chaos in northern India and makes the Muslim incursion of the 11th century relatively easy. But it also means that the Muslim invaders find it impossible to suppress the Rajputs once they withdraw to their desert fortresses in Rajasthan.


10th century – 11th century

The long-standing threat to India from Muslim invaders is renewed when an aggressive Turkish dynasty wins power in Ghazni, southwest of Kabul. On several occasions Subuktigin, the first of these Ghazni rulers, makes raids on the region around Peshawar. Under his son, Mahmud, expeditions into India become a regular policy. During a 33-year reign, the number of his campaigns in the subcontinent is somewhere between twelve and seventeen. Many of them are sorties for plunder and booty among the riches of India, sometimes as far down the Ganges as Kannauj. But Mahmud’s most famous undertaking, in 1025, is different in kind. It is undertaken in a mood of religious zeal as much as for plunder.

India is the first place where invading Muslims are confronted with a highly developed cult of idolatry. The Hindu profusion of sculpted gods and goddesses, often provocative or weird in the disposition of their limbs, is well calculated to outrage any attentive reader of the Qur’an – with its prohibitions against idols and graven images. Mahmud’s strenuous effort in marching an army across the desert south from Multan, in 1025, has a holy purpose. His destination is the great temple at Somnath, where Shiva’s linga is washed daily in water brought by runners from the Ganges.

The temple has 1000 Brahmin priests and 600 musicians, dancers and other attendants. Countless pilgrims bring it vast wealth (the removal of which adds to the pleasure of pious indignation). When Mahmud arrives to destroy the place, it is said that 50,000 Hindus die in defense of it. No trace is allowed to remain of the building or its sacred contents. In the annals of Muslim India, Mahmud acquires a heroic status for this act of destruction. It is the first in the long series of sectarian outrages which have marred the 1000-year relationship between Muslims and Hindus.

Since most of Mahmud’s expeditions have been in the nature of raids, he and his heirs never extend their control beyond the Punjab – the territory closest to Afghanistan. But this foothold beyond the Khyber Pass gives easy access to the rich north Indian plain. In leaving the door ajar, Mahmud creates an opening for countless Muslim adventurers from central Asia. This northwest region of the subcontinent will never again be Hindu. For the next five centuries, Muslim marauders push eastwards through the Punjab to find their fortunes in India. Some of them (in particular the Moghuls) settle down as the most spectacular of India’s rulers.

13th century – 16th century

The descendants of Mahmud are expelled first from Ghazni and then from the Punjab by another Afghan dynasty, from Ghor. With their Turkish slave army, this second wave of Muslim invaders presses further east and captures Delhi in 1193. In 1211 a member of the Turkish army sets himself up as an independent sultan. His dynasty, known as the Slave kings, lasts only until 1290. But the sultanate of Delhi survives much longer, in four successive dynasties (Khalji 1290-1320, Tughluq 1320-1413, Sayyid 1414-51, Lodi 1451-1526), until replaced in the 16th century by the Moghul emperors.

The power of the Delhi sultanate grows during the Khalji period and reaches its greatest extent under the Tughluqs, when most of the rulers in the subcontinent accept the sultan as their overlord. Delhi itself is devastated by the violent arrival of Timur in 1398. Thereafter the sultanate is little more than one power among many in the north Indian plain – a situation which makes possible the surprisingly rapid success of Babur in 1526.

14th century – 16th century

During the declining years of the Delhi sultanate, a great Hindu empire is established in the south. Founded in about 1336 with its capital at Vijayanagara (meaning ‘city of victory’), it is a worthy successor to the empire of the Cholas and controls much the same area (the whole of India south of the Krishna and Tungabhadra rivers). The site of Vijayanagara is at Hampi – now just a village surrounded by a ruined city of temples and palaces. Deserted in 1565, after a catastrophic defeat by a coalition of neighboring Muslim rulers in the Deccan, the full extent of this great Hindu city has only been rediscovered in the 20th century.



By the early 16th century the Muslim sultans of Delhi (an Afghan dynasty known as Lodi) are much weakened by threats from rebel Muslim principalities and from a Hindu coalition of Rajput rulers. When Babur leads an army through the mountain passes, from his stronghold at Kabul, he at first meets little opposition in the plains of north India. The decisive battle against Ibrahim, the Lodi sultan, comes on the plain of Panipat in April 1526. Babur is heavily outnumbered (with perhaps 25,000 troops in the field against 100,000 men and 1000 elephants), but his tactics win the day. Babur digs into a prepared position, copied (he says) from the Turks – from whom the use of guns has spread to the Persians and now to Babur. As yet the Indians of Delhi have no artillery or muskets. Babur has only a few, but he uses them to great advantage. He collects 700 carts to form a barricade (a device pioneered by the Hussites of Bohemia a century earlier).

Sheltered behind the carts, Babur’s gunners can go through the laborious business of firing their matchlocks – but only at an enemy charging their position. It takes Babur some days to tempt the Indians into doing this. When they do so, they succumb to slow gunfire from the front and to a hail of arrows from Babur’s cavalry charging on each flank. Victory at Panipat brings Babur the cities of Delhi and Agra, with much booty in treasure and jewels. But he faces a stronger challenge from the confederation of Rajputs who had themselves been on the verge of attacking Ibrahim Lodi. The armies meet at Khanua in March 1527 and again, using similar tactics, Babur wins. For the next three years Babur roams around with his army, extending his territory to cover most of north India – and all the while recording in his diary his fascination with this exotic world which he has conquered.


Babur’s control is still superficial when he dies in 1530, after just three years in India. His son Humayun keeps a tentative hold on the family’s new possessions. But in 1543 he is driven west into Afghanistan by a forceful Muslim rebel, Sher Shah. Twelve years later, renewed civil war within India gives Humayun a chance to slip back almost unopposed. One victory, at Sirhind in 1555, is enough to recover him his throne. But six months later Humayun is killed in an accidental fall down a stone staircase. His 13-year-old son Akbar, inheriting in 1556, would seem to have little chance of holding on to India. Yet it is he who establishes the mighty Moghul empire.


In the early years of Akbar’s reign, his fragile inheritance skillfully held together by an able chief minister, Bairam Khan. But from 1561 the 19-year-old emperor is very much his own man. An early act demonstrates that he intends to rule the two religious communities of India, Muslim and Hindu, in a new way – by consensus and cooperation, rather than alienation of the Hindu majority. In 1562 he marries a Rajput princess, daughter of the Raja of Amber (now Jaipur). She becomes one of his senior wives and the mother of his heir, Jahangir. Her male relations in Amber join Akbar’s council and merge their armies with his.

This policy is very far from conventional Muslim hostility to worshipers of idols. And Akbar carries it further, down to a level affecting every Hindu. In 1563 he abolishes a tax levied on pilgrims to Hindu shrines. In 1564 he puts an end to a much more hallowed source of revenue – the jizya, or annual tax on unbelievers which the Qur’an stipulates shall be levied in return for Muslim protection. At the same time Akbar steadily extends the boundaries of the territory which he has inherited.

Akbar’s normal way of life is to move around with a large army, holding court in a splendid camp laid out like a capital city but composed entirely of tents. His biographer, Abul Fazl, describes this royal progress as being ‘for political reasons, and for subduing oppressors, under the veil of indulging in hunting’. A great deal of hunting does occur (a favorite version uses trained cheetahs to pursue deer) while the underlying political purpose – of warfare, treaties, marriages – is carried on.

Warfare brings its own booty. Signing a treaty with Akbar, or presenting a wife to his harem (his collection eventually numbers about 300 – see Harems), involves a contribution to the exchequer. As his realm increases, so does his revenue. And Akbar proves himself an inspired administrator. The empire’s growing number of provinces are governed by officials appointed only for a limited term, thus avoiding the emergence of regional warlords. And steps are taken to ensure that the tax on peasants varies with local circumstances, instead of a fixed proportion of their produce being automatically levied.

At the end of Akbar’s reign of nearly half a century, his empire is larger than any in India since the time of Asoka. Its outer limits are Kandahar in the west, Kashmir in the north, Bengal in the east and in the south a line across the subcontinent at the level of Aurangabad. Yet this ruler who achieves so much is illiterate. An idle schoolboy, Akbar finds in later life no need for reading. He prefers to listen to the arguments before taking his decisions (perhaps a factor in his skill as a leader). Akbar is original, quirky, wilful. His complex character is vividly suggested in the strange palace which he builds, and almost immediately abandons, at Fatehpur Sikri.


Akbar is succeeded in 1605 by his eldest and only surviving son, Jahangir. Two other sons have died of drink, and Jahangir’s effectiveness as a ruler is limited by his own addiction to both alcohol and opium. But the empire is now stable enough for him to preside over it for twenty-two years without much danger of upheaval. Instead he is able to indulge his curiosity about the natural world (which he records in a diary as vivid as that of his great-grandfather Babur) and his love of painting. Under his keen eye the imperial studio brings the Moghul miniature to a peak of perfection, maintained also during the reign of his son Shah Jahan.


During the reigns of Shah Jahan and his son Aurangzeb, the policy of religious toleration introduced by Akbar is gradually abandoned. It has been largely followed by Shah Jahan’s father, Jahangir – though at the very start of his reign he provides the Sikhs with their first martyr when the guru Arjan is arrested, in 1606, and dies under torture. In 1632 Shah Jahan signals an abrupt return to a stricter interpretation of Islam when he orders that all recently built Hindu temples shall be destroyed. A Muslim tradition states that unbelievers may keep the shrines which they have when Islam arrives, but not add to their number.

Direct provocation of this kind is untypical of Shah Jahan, but it becomes standard policy during the reign of his son Aurangzeb. His determination to impose strict Islamic rule on India undoes much of what was achieved by Akbar. An attack on Rajput territories in 1679 makes enemies of the Hindu princes; the re-imposition of the jizya in the same year ensures resentment among Hindu merchants and peasants. At the same time Aurangzeb is obsessed with extending Moghul rule into the difficult terrain of southern India. He leaves the empire larger but weaker than he finds it. In his eighties he is still engaged in permanent and futile warfare to hold what he has seized.

In the decades after the death of Aurangzeb, in 1707, the Moghul empire fragments into numerous semi-independent territories – seized by local officials or landowners whose descendants become the rajas and nawabs of more recent times. Moghul emperors continue to rule in name for another century and more, but their prestige is hollow. Real power has declined gradually and imperceptibly throughout the 17th century, ever since the expansive days of Akbar’s empire. Yet it is in the 17th century that news of the wealth, splendor, architectural brilliance and dynastic violence of the Moghul dynasty first impresses the rest of the world.

Europeans become a significant presence in India for the first time during the 17th century. They take home descriptions of the ruler’s fabulous wealth, causing him to become known as the Great Moghul. They have a touching tale to tell of Shah Jahan’s love for his wife and of the extraordinary building, the Taj Mahal, which he provides for her tomb. And as Shah Jahan’s reign merges into Aurangzeb’s, they can astonish their hearers with an oriental melodrama of a kind more often associated with Turkey, telling of how Aurangzeb kills two of his brothers and imprisons his ageing father, Shah Jahan, in the Red Fort at Agra – with the Taj Mahal in his view across the Jumna, from the marble pavilions of his castle prison.

16th century – 17th century

By a coincidence of history some of the most spectacular castles of the world date from the same period in India and Japan. These buildings of the 16th and 17th century are fortified palaces, with superbly decorated pavilions rising above secure walls. The Indian tradition develops from the example of Hindu princes and is brought to a peak by the Moghul emperors. The Japanese castles evolve from the small fortresses of local feudal chieftains, which are a practical necessity during the civil wars of the Ashikaga shogunate.

The best early example of an Indian castle is the fortress of Gwalior, built in the early 16th century. The entrance road, climbing a steep hill, makes its way through heavy walls to an elevated plateau and an exquisite palace of carved sandstone and decorative tile work. The great 17th-century forts of Rajasthan, such as Amber and Jodhpur, follow the same pattern of delicacy within massively strong defenses. The theme is taken to its most famous conclusion in the Red Forts of Delhi and Agra, where the Moghul emperors and their harems dwell in white marble pavilions surmounting vast red sandstone walls.

During the first century of the Moghul dynasty three European nations – Portugal, Netherlands, England – gradually establish a strong presence (that of aggressively armed traders) around the coasts of India. The Portuguese are by far the first in the field, with safe ports of call down the west coast of India in the early 16th century and (from 1537) a factory at Hooghly for trading in the Ganges delta. The Dutch and the English begin to challenge this Portuguese monopoly in the early 17th century. Success depends on maritime strength, and the decisive issue is control of the Indian Ocean.

Until the arrival of the Portuguese the Indian Ocean has been the preserve of Arab ships. Apart from the usual problems of piracy, the Arabs pose no threat to Indian Muslims sailing on pilgrimage to Arabia. But from 1514 the Portuguese control these waters, after seizing and fortifying the island of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf.These new masters even have the effrontery to make Muslim pilgrims carry passports printed with images of Jesus and Mary.

Portuguese sea power goes unchallenged for a century – until, in 1612 and again in 1615, English ships defeat the Portuguese in engagements off the west coast of India. The English victory of 1615 coincides with the arrival of Thomas Roe, England’s first official ambassador to India, at the court of Jahangir. He warns the emperor, with some justification, that ‘the King my master would be lord of all these seas and ports to the prejudice of his subjects’.

Jahangir’s powerful neighbor in Persia, Shah Abbas, uses to his advantage this perceptible change in sea power. With English help, in 1622, he drives the Portuguese from their fortified island of Hormuz. He builds on the mainland a new port named after himself (Bandar Abbas), where he grants special trading privileges to the English East India Company.

Persia, with its relatively short coastline, resists further intrusion by seafaring Europeans. India proves more vulnerable. The English are established in Surat by 1613. They are joined there by the Dutch in 1616 and by the French in 1668 – after the founding of the French East India Company in 1664. By 1690 the French have six settlements round the coast of India, including Pondicherry in the southeast and Chandernagore in the Ganges delta. The Dutch also have a settlement on the Ganges (at Chinsura, founded in 1653), but their interests are mainly focussed on southeast Asia. By the end of the 17th century the main European rivalry round India’s coasts is between the French and English East India Companies.

Surat remains the English headquarters on the west coast until it is gradually replaced, between 1672 and 1687, by Bombay (given to Charles II in 1661 as part of the dowry of his Portuguese bride, Catherine of Braganza, and leased by him to the company in 1668). Meanwhile the English are establishing secure footholds on the east coast. Fort St George is begun at Madras in 1640 and is completed in 1644. Calcutta is eventually selected, in 1690, as the best site for a trading station in the Ganges delta; it is fortified, as Fort William, in 1696. By the end of the 17th century the three English presidencies of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta are securely established.

17th century – 18th century

When Bombay becomes the seat of government of the East India Company in western India, complete religious toleration is declared to be the policy of the new territory. This immediately attracts the Parsee community of Gujarat, eager to adapt their talents to the entrepreneurial skills of commerce, trade and shipbuilding. They become the leading partners of the British in the development of Bombay. The city has remained the center of modern Zoroastrianism. The Zoroastrian rituals of sacred fire are maintained, and until recently the dead have been exposed to vultures in Bombay’s famous ‘towers of silence’.

When the Moghul emperor Aurangzeb is in his eighties, and the empire in disarray, an Italian living in India (Niccolao Manucci) Predicts appalling bloodshed on the old man’s death, worse even than that which disfigured the start of Aurangzeb’s reign. The Italian is right. In the war of succession which begins in 1707, two of Aurangzeb’s sons and three of his grandsons are killed.

Violence and disruption is the pattern of the future. The first six Moghul emperors have ruled for a span of nearly 200 years. In the 58 years after Aurangzeb’s death, there are eight emperors – four of whom are murdered and one deposed. This degree of chaos has a disastrous effect on the empire built up by Akbar. The stability of Moghul India depends on the loyalty of those ruling its many regions. Some are administered on the emperor’s behalf by governors, who are members of the military hierarchy. Others are ruled by princely families, who through treaty or marriage have become allies of the emperor.

In the 18th century rulers of each kind continue to profess loyalty to the Moghul emperor in Delhi, but in practice they behave with increasing independence. The empire fragments into the many small principalities whose existence will greatly help the British in India to gain control, by playing rival neighbors off against each other. In the short term, though, there is a more immediate danger. During the 1730’s a conqueror in the classic mold of Genghis Khan or Timur emerges in Persia. He seizes the Persian throne in 1736, taking the title Nadir Shah.

Later that year he captures the stronghold of Kandahar. The next major fortress on the route east, that of Kabul, is still in Moghul hands – a treasured possession since the time of Babur. Nadir Shah takes it in 1738, giving him control of the territory up to the Khyber Pass. Beyond the Khyber lies the fabulous wealth of India. Like Genghis Khan in 1221, and Timur in 1398, Nadir Shah moves on.

In December 1738 Nadir Shah crosses the Indus at Attock. Two months later he defeats the army of the Moghul emperor, Mohammed Shah. In March he enters Delhi. The conqueror has iron control over his troops and at first the city is calm. It is broken when an argument between citizens and some Persian soldiers escalates into a riot in which 900 Persians are killed. Even now Nadir Shah forbids reprisals until he has inspected the scene. But when he rides through the city, stones are thrown at him. Someone fires a musket which kills an officer close to the shah. In reprisal he orders a massacre. The killing lasts for a day. The number of the dead is more than 30,000.

Amazingly, when the Moghul emperor begs for mercy for his people, the Persian conqueror is able to grant it. The killing stops, for the collection of Delhi’s valuables to begin. Untold wealth travels west with the Persians. The booty includes the two most spectacular possessions of the Moghul emperors – the Peacock Throne, commissioned by Shah Jahan, and the Koh-i-Nur diamond. Nadir Shah is able to send a decree home from Delhi remitting all taxes in Persia for three years. In addition to the jewels and the gold, he takes with him 1000 elephants, 100 masons and 200 carpenters. The parallel with the visit of Timur, 341 years previously, is almost exact.

The raid by Nadir Shah is the greatest single disaster to have struck the Moghul empire, but a more serious long-term threat soon becomes evident. In 1746 open warfare breaks out between European nations on Indian soil, when a French force seizes Madras from the British.

In the south, where Aurangzeb spent his last years trying to impose imperial control, French and British armies now march against each other in shifting alliances with local potentates. India begins a new role as a place of importance to the European powers, and in particular to Britain. The development does not bode well for the Moghul emperors in Delhi. Both the French and the English East India Companies, to advance their commercial interests, offer military support in dynastic struggles within powerful Indian states. Helping a candidate to the throne opens a new region of influence, a new market.

The death in 1748 of the Moghul viceroy in Hyderabad is followed by French and English assistance for rival sons of the dead ruler. Soon the two European nations are also fighting on opposite sides in a war of succession in the Carnatic (the coastal strip north and south of Madras). The French candidate succeeds in Hyderabad, and the English favorite prevails in the Carnatic. But the most striking event in either campaign is a dramatic intervention by Robert Clive in 1751. With 200 British and 300 Indian soldiers he seizes Arcot (the capital of the Carnatic) and holds it through a seven-week siege.

His action, and his subsequent defeat of a French and Indian force in battle, wins the throne for his candidate. It also has the effect of diminishing the prestige in Indian eyes of the French army. Until now the French have had the better of the British in India (most notably in their capture of Madras in 1746).

France and Britain remain rivals in southern India for the rest of the century. It is in the north that the balance changes significantly in Britain’s favor, after a disaster of 1756. In that year the nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-Daula, overwhelms the British settlement in Calcutta and locks some of his captives overnight in a room of the fort. The details of precisely what happened that night are obscure, but the event becomes known to the British as the Black Hole of Calcutta. To recover Calcutta, Clive sails north from Madras in October 1756. The fort is back in British hands by January 1757. But Clive now decides to intervene further in the politics of Bengal.

He aims to place a more compliant nawab, Mir Jafar, on the throne of Bengal, and he achieves his purpose after defeating Siraj-ud-Daula at Plassey in June 1757. For the next three years Clive virtually rules the rich province of Bengal, using Mir Jafar as his political puppet. In doing so he establishes the pattern by which British control will gradually spread through India, in a patchwork of separate alliances with local rulers. In 1760 Clive returns to England, the possessor of vast and rapidly acquired wealth. Here too he sets a pattern, this time an unmistakably bad one. He is the first of the ‘nabobs’, whose fortunes derive from bribes while administering Indian affairs.

The main threat to British interests in India in the late 18th century remains in the south. It centers on Mysore where two rulers, father and son, use to their advantage the rivalry between the intruding European powers, France and Britain. The British East India Company fights four wars against Mysore between 1767 and 1799.

The Company’s first opponent is Hyder Ali, a Muslim officer in the Mysore army. In about 1761 Hyder seizes the Hindu raja and makes himself ruler in his place. In subsequent years he overwhelms several neighboring states. A campaign against him in 1767-9, by British troops in alliance with the ruler of Hyderabad, results in a peace treaty and a promise of British aid if Mysore is attacked. In 1771 the British fail to live up to this promise, and by the end of the decade Hyder Ali is making efforts to secure French support. In a second and much more destructive war (1780-84), there is considerable French involvement on Hyder’s side. But when Hyder dies, in December 1782, the advantage of the campaign is with the British.

Hyder’s son Tipu makes peace with the East India Company in 1784 and is rewarded with recognition of his title as Tipu Sultan. In subsequent years he becomes as uneasy as his father with a British alliance and makes unsuccessful attempts to win French support. But in 1789 he provokes a third war with the Company when he attacks their ally the raja of Travancore. For two years Tipu proves himself a match for the British, keeping them at bay in a brilliant campaign. But in March 1792 he is forced to come to terms. In his main fort, Seringapatam, he agrees to the terms of a treaty by which he surrenders half his territories.

This humiliation intensifies Tipu’s search for foreign allies. Emissaries go to Afghanistan (a major power in the region since the time of Nadir Shah), to Istanbul, to Paris and to Mauritius. They achieve little success except with the revolutionary authorities in the French colony of Mauritius. A small French force arrives from Mauritius early in 1799. To greet his allies Tipu throws himself into the spirit of French revolutionary symbolism. A tree of liberty is planted and Tipu, now styling himself Citoyen Tipou, exchanges his turban for a cap of liberty when receiving French representatives.

The French find themselves in a highly flamboyant court. Tipu sees himself as the tiger prince, fearless in the cause of Islam (and on one occasion responsible for the forced circumcision of several thousand Indian Christians), and this self-perception is reflected in an obsession with the tiger. Images of the animal feature on a wide range of objects at his court, and there is a living menagerie of tigers in Seringapatam.

No doubt one tiger is shown with particular delight to Tipu’s French guests. It is a life size toy in which the animal stands over a prostrate officer of the British East India Company. The victim’s arm rises and falls in his terror, while his groans are imitated by a hidden mechanical organ. Tipu’s flirtation with the French gives the East India Company good reason for a fourth attack on his kingdom. This time, after a campaign of just three months, Seringapatam is stormed, in May 1799, and Tipu is killed in the fighting. One of the Company’s spoils is ‘Tippoo’s Tiger’, which is still today in working order (in the Victoria and Albert Museum).


20th Century

The East India Company opened permanent trading stations at Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta, each under the protection of native rulers. The British expanded their influence from these footholds until, by the 1850’s, they controlled most of present-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. In 1857, a rebellion in north India led by mutinous Indian soldiers caused the British parliament to transfer all political power from the East India Company to the Crown. Great Britain began administering most of India directly while controlling the rest through treaties with local rulers.

In the late 1800’s, the first steps were taken toward self-government in British India with the appointment of Indian councilors to advise the British Viceroy and the establishment of Provincial Councils with Indian members; the British subsequently widened participation in Legislative Councils. Beginning in 1920, Indian leader Mohandas K. Gandhi transformed the Indian National Congress political party into a mass movement to campaign against British colonial rule. The party used both parliamentary and nonviolent resistance and non-cooperation to agitate for independence. During this period, however, millions of Indians served with honor and distinction in the British armed forces, including service in both World Wars and countless other overseas actions in service of the Empire. With Indians increasingly united in their quest for independence, a war-weary Britain led by Labor Prime Minister Clement Attlee began in earnest to plan for the end of its suzerainty in India.

On August 15, 1947, India became a dominion within the Commonwealth, with Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime Minister. Strategic colonial considerations, as well as political tensions between Hindus and Muslims, led the British to partition British India into two separate states: India, with a Hindu majority; and Pakistan, which consisted of two “wings,” East and West Pakistan–currently Bangladesh and Pakistan–with Muslim majorities. India became a republic within the Commonwealth after promulgating its Constitution on January 26, 1950. After independence, the Indian National Congress, the party of Mohandas K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, ruled India under the leadership first of Nehru and then his daughter (Indira Gandhi) and grandson (Rajiv Gandhi), with the exception of brief periods in the 1970s and 1980s, during a short period in 1996, and the period from 1998-2004, when a coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party governed. Prime Minister Nehru governed the nation until his death in 1964.

Nehru was succeeded by Lal Bahadur Shastri, who also died in office. In 1966, power passed to Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister from 1966 to 1977. In 1975, beset with deepening political and economic problems, Mrs. Gandhi declared a state of emergency and suspended many civil liberties. Seeking a mandate at the polls for her policies, she called for elections in 1977, only to be defeated by Morarji Desai, who headed the Janata Party, an amalgam of five opposition parties. In 1979, Desai’s Government crumbled. Charan Singh formed an interim government, which was followed by Mrs. Gandhi’s return to power in January 1980. On October 31, 1984, Mrs. Gandhi was assassinated, and her son, Rajiv, was chosen by the Congress (I)–for “Indira”–Party to take her place. His Congress government was plagued with allegations of corruption resulting in an early call for national elections in 1989. Although Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress Party won more seats than any other single party in the 1989 elections, he was unable to form a government with a clear majority.

The Janata Dal, a union of opposition parties, then joined with the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the right and the Communists on the left to form the government. This loose coalition collapsed in November 1990, and the Janata Dal, supported by the Congress (I), came to power for a short period, with Chandra Shekhar as Prime Minister. That alliance also collapsed, resulting in national elections in June 1991. While campaigning in Tamil Nadu on behalf of Congress (I), Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 27, 1991, apparently by Tamil extremists from Sri Lanka, unhappy with India’s armed intervention to try to stop the civil war there. In the elections, Congress (I) won 213 parliamentary seats and returned to power at the head of a coalition, under the leadership of P.V. Narasimha Rao. This Congress-led government, which served a full 5-year term, initiated a gradual process of economic liberalization and reform, which opened the Indian economy to global trade and investment. India’s domestic politics also took new shape, as the nationalist appeal of the Congress Party gave way to traditional caste, creed, regional, and ethnic alignments, leading to the founding of a plethora of small, regionally based political parties. The final months of the Rao-led government in the spring of 1996 were marred by several major corruption scandals, which contributed to the worst electoral performance by the Congress Party in its history.

The Hindu-nationalist BJP emerged from the May 1996 national elections as the single-largest party in the Lok Sabha but without a parliamentary majority. Under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the subsequent BJP coalition lasted only 13 days. With all political parties wishing to avoid another round of elections, a 14-party coalition led by the Janata Dal formed a government known as the United Front, under the former Chief Minister of Karnataka, H.D. Deve Gowda. His government collapsed after less than a year, when the Congress Party withdrew its support in March 1997. Inder Kumar Gujral replaced Deve Gowda as the consensus choice for Prime Minister at the head of a 16-party United Front coalition. In November 1997, the Congress Party again withdrew support from the United Front. In new elections in February 1998, the BJP won the largest number of seats in Parliament–182–but fell far short of a majority. On March 20, 1998, the President approved a BJP-led coalition government with Vajpayee again serving as Prime Minister. On May 11 and 13, 1998, this government conducted a series of underground nuclear tests, spurring U.S. President Clinton to impose economic sanctions on India pursuant to the 1994 Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act.

In April 1999, the BJP-led coalition government fell apart, leading to fresh elections in September. The National Democratic Alliance–a new coalition led by the BJP–won a majority to form the government with Vajpayee as Prime Minister in October 1999. The NDA government was the first in many years to serve a full five year term, providing much-needed political stability. The Kargil conflict in 1999 and an attack by terrorists on the Indian Parliament in December 2001 led to increased tensions with Pakistan. Hindu nationalists supportive of the BJP agitated to build a temple on a disputed site in Ayodhya, destroying a 17th century mosque there in December 1992, and sparking widespread religious riots in which thousands, mostly Muslims, were killed. In February 2002, 57 Hindu volunteers returning from Ayodhya were burnt alive when their train caught fire. Alleging that the fire was caused by Muslim attackers, anti-Muslim rioters throughout the state of Gujarat killed over 900 people and left 100,000 homeless. This led to accusations that the BJP-led Gujarat state government had not done enough to contain the riots, or arrest and prosecute the rioters. The ruling BJP-led coalition was defeated in a five-stage election held in April and May of 2004, and a Congress-led coalition, known as the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), took power on May 22 with Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister. The UPA’s victory was attributed to dissatisfaction among poorer rural voters that the prosperity of the cities had not filtered down to them, and rejection of the BJP’s Hindu nationalist agenda. The Congress-led UPA government has continued many of the BJP’s foreign policies, particularly improving relations with the U.S. Prime Minister Singh and President Bush concluded a landmark U.S.-India strategic partnership framework agreement on July 18, 2005. In March 2006, President Bush visited India to further the many initiatives that underlie the new agreement. The strategic partnership is anchored by a historic civil nuclear cooperation initiative and includes cooperation in the fields of space, high-technology commerce, health issues, democracy promotion, agriculture, and trade and investment.).



People of India

Nationality: Noun and adjective–Indian(s).
Population (2009): 1.17 billion; urban 29%.
Annual growth rate: 1.55%.
Density: 324/sq. km.
Ethnic groups: Indo-Aryan 72%, Dravidian 25%, others 3%. While the national census does not recognize racial or ethnic groups, it is estimated that there are more than 2,000 ethnic groups in India.
Religions: Hindu 81.4%, Muslim 12.4%, Christian 2.3%, Sikh 1.9%, other groups including Buddhist, Jain, Parsi within 1%.
Languages: Hindi, English, and 16 other official languages.
Education: Years compulsory–none. Literacy–61%.
Health: Infant mortality rate–30.15/1,000. Life expectancy–70 years (2009 est.).
Work force (est.): 450 million. Agriculture–60%; industry and commerce–12%; services and government–28%.

Although India occupies only 2.4% of the world’s land area, it supports over 15% of the world’s population. Only China has a larger population. India’s median age is 25, one of the youngest among large economies. About 70% live in more than 550,000 villages, and the remainder in more than 200 towns and cities. Over the thousands of years of its history, India has been invaded from the Iranian plateau, Central Asia, Arabia, Afghanistan, and the West; Indian people and culture have absorbed and modified these influences to produce a remarkable racial and cultural synthesis. Religion, caste, and language are major determinants of social and political organization in India today. However, with more job opportunities in the private sector and better chances of upward social mobility, India has begun a quiet social transformation in this area.

The government has recognized 18 official languages; Hindi, the national language, is the most widely spoken, although English is a national lingua franca. Although 81% of its people are Hindu, India also is the home of more than 138 million Muslims–one of the world’s largest Muslim populations. The population also includes Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, and Parsis. The Hindu caste system reflects Indian occupational and socially defined hierarchies. Ancient Sanskrit sources divide society into four major categories, priests (Brahmin), warriors (Kshatriya), traders/artisans (Vaishya) and farmers/laborers (Shudra). Although these categories are understood throughout India, they describe reality only in the most general terms. They omit, for example, the tribal people and those outside the caste system formerly known as “untouchables”, or dalits.

In reality, Indian society is divided into thousands of jatis–local, endogamous groups based on occupation–and organized hierarchically according to complex ideas of purity and pollution. Discrimination based on caste is officially illegal, but remains prevalent, especially in rural areas. Nevertheless, the government has made strong efforts to minimize the importance of caste through active affirmative action and social policies. Moreover, caste is often diluted if not subsumed in the economically prosperous and heterogeneous cities, where an increasing percentage of India’s population lives. In the countryside, expanding education, land reform and economic opportunity through access to information, communication, transport, and credit are helping to lessen the harshest elements of the caste system.

Government of India

Type: Federal republic.
Country name: conventional long form: Republic of India
Capital: New Delhi
Independence: August 15, 1947 (from UK)
National holiday: Republic Day, January 26 (1950)
Constitution: January 26, 1950
Legal system: based on English common law; limited judicial review of legislative acts; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with reservations
Branches: Executive–president (chief of state), prime minister (head of government), Council of Ministers (cabinet). Legislative–bicameral parliament (Rajya Sabha or Council of States, and Lok Sabha or House of the People). Judicial –Supreme Court.
Political parties: Indian National Congress (INC), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Communist Party of India-Marxist, and numerous regional and small national parties.
Suffrage: Universal over 18.
Administrative divisions: 28 states and 7 union territories :Andaman and Nicobar Islands*, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chandigarh*, Chhattisgarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli*, Daman and Diu*, Delhi*, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Lakshadweep*, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Orissa, Pondicherry*, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttaranchal, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal.

According to its constitution, India is a “sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic.” Like the United States, India has a federal form of government. However, the central government in India has greater power in relation to its states, and has adopted a British-style parliamentary system. The government exercises its broad administrative powers in the name of the president, whose duties are largely ceremonial. A special electoral college elects the president and vice president indirectly for 5-year terms. Their terms are staggered, and the vice president does not automatically become president following the death or removal from office of the president. Real national executive power is centered in the Cabinet (senior members of the Council of Ministers), led by the prime minister. The president appoints the prime minister, who is designated by legislators of the political party or coalition commanding a parliamentary majority in the Lok Sabha (lower house). The president then appoints subordinate ministers on the advice of the prime minister. India’s bicameral Parliament consists of the Rajya Sabha (Council of States) and the Lok Sabha (House of the People). The Council of Ministers is responsible to the Lok Sabha. The legislatures of the states and union territories elect 233 members to the Rajya Sabha, and the president appoints another 12. The members of the Rajya Sabha serve 6-year terms, with one-third up for election every 2 years. The Lok Sabha consists of 545 members, who serve 5-year terms; 543 are directly elected, and two are appointed. India’s independent judicial system began under the British, and its concepts and procedures resemble those of Anglo-Saxon countries. The Supreme Court consists of a chief justice and 25 other justices, all appointed by the president on the advice of the prime minister. India has 28 states* and 7 union territories. At the state level, some legislatures are bicameral, patterned after the two houses of the national parliament. The states’ chief ministers are responsible to the legislatures in the same way the prime minister is responsible to Parliament. Each state also has a presidentially appointed governor, who may assume certain broad powers when directed by the central government. The central government exerts greater control over the union territories than over the states, although some territories have gained more power to administer their own affairs. Local governments in India have less autonomy than their counterparts in the United States. Some states are trying to revitalize the traditional village councils, or Panchayats, to promote popular democratic participation at the village level, where much of the population still lives. Over half a million Panchayats exist throughout India.

POLITICAL CONDITIONS Emerging as the nation’s single largest party in the May 2009 Lok Sabha election, Congress currently leads a coalition UPA government under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Party President Sonia Gandhi was re-elected by the Party National Executive in May 2005. Also a Member of Parliament, she heads the Congress Lok Sabha delegation. Congress prides itself as being a secular, left of center party, with a long history of political dominance. Although its performance in national elections had steadily declined during the previous 12 years, its surprise victory in 2004 was a result of recruiting strong allies into the UPA, the anti-incumbency factor among voters, and its courtship of India’s many poor, rural and Muslim voters. Congress political fortunes suffered badly in the 1990s, as many traditional supporters were lost to emerging regional and caste-based parties, such as the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party, but have rebounded since its May 2004 ascension to power. It currently rules either directly or in coalition with its allies in 10 states. In November 2005, the Congress regained the Chief Ministership of Jammu and Kashmir state, under a power-sharing agreement. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Rajnath Singh, holds the second-largest number of seats in the Lok Sabha. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee serves as Chairman of the BJP Parliamentary Party, and former Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani is Leader of the Opposition. The Hindu-nationalist BJP draws its political strength mainly from the “Hindi Belt” in the northern and western regions of India. Former Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh was expelled from the party in August 2009 after authoring a book which portrayed the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali-Jinnah, in a positive light. The party holds power without outside support in the states of Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh; it is part of ruling coalitions in few other states including Bihar, Orissa and Punjab. Popularly viewed as the party of the northern upper caste and trading communities, the BJP made strong inroads into lower castes in recent national and state assembly elections. The party must balance the competing interests of Hindu nationalists, (who advocate construction of a temple on a disputed site in Ayodhya, and other primarily religious issues including the propagation of anti-conversion laws and violence against religious minorities), and center-right modernizers who see the BJP as a party of economic and political reform. Four Communist and Marxist parties are united in a bloc called the “Left Front,” which controls 59 parliamentary seats. The Left Front rules the states of West Bengal and Kerala. The Left Front provided external support to the UPA government until a July 2008 confidence vote. It advocates a secular and Communist ideology and opposes many aspects of economic liberalization and globalization, resulting in dissonance with Prime Minister Singh’s liberal economic approach. The Maoist-inspired Naxalite insurgency continues to be a major internal security threat, affecting large parts of eastern India.

Economy of India

GDP: $2.966 trillion (2007 est.)
GDP growth rate: 7.6%
GDP per capita: $2,600, GDP composition by sector: agriculture: 18.6%, industry: 27.6%, services: 53.8%
Inflation rate: 4.2%
Labor force: 496.4 million
Labor force – by occupation: agriculture 60%, services 23%, industry 17%
Unemployment: 8.9%
Budget: revenues: $111.2 billion, expenditures: $135.8 billion
Electricity production by source: fossil fuel: 81.7%, hydro: 14.5%, other: 0.3%, nuclear: 3.4%
Services and transportation: 54% of GDP.
Industries (29% of GDP): textiles, chemicals, food processing, steel, transportation equipment, cement, mining, petroleum, machinery, software
Agriculture (18% of GDP): rice, wheat, oilseed, cotton, jute, tea, sugarcane, potatoes; cattle, water buffalo, sheep, goats, poultry; fish
Exports ($176.4 billion): textile goods, gems and jewelry, engineering goods, chemicals, leather manufactures
Export partners: US 22.4%, UK 5.1%, Hong Kong 4.5%, Germany 4.3%, China 4.1%
Imports ($306 billion): crude oil, machinery, gems, fertilizer, chemicals
Import partners: US 18.1%, China 8.9%, UAE 7.9%, UK 4.6%, Hong Kong 4.2%
Natural resources: Coal, iron ore, manganese, mica, bauxite, chromite, thorium, limestone, barite, titanium ore, diamonds, crude oil.
Currency: Indian rupee (INR)
Currency Exchange Rate: 1 Indian Rupee equals 0.014 United States Dollar (2018)

India’s population is estimated at more than 1.1 billion and is growing at 1.55% a year. It has the world’s 12th largest economy–and the third largest in Asia behind Japan and China–with total GDP in 2008 of around $1.21 trillion ($1,210 billion). Services, industry, and agriculture account for 54%, 29%, and 18% of GDP respectively. India is capitalizing on its large numbers of well-educated people skilled in the English language to become a major exporter of software services and software workers, but more than half of the population depends on agriculture for its livelihood. 700 million Indians live on $2 per day or less, but there is a large and growing middle class of more than 50 million Indians with disposable income ranging from 200,000 to 1,000,000 rupees per year ($4,166-$20,833). Estimates are that the middle class will grow ten-fold by 2025.

India continues to move forward, albeit haltingly, with market-oriented economic reforms that began in 1991. Reforms include increasingly liberal foreign investment and exchange regimes, industrial decontrol, reductions in tariffs and other trade barriers, opening and modernization of the financial sector, significant adjustments in government monetary and fiscal policies, and more safeguards for intellectual property rights. The economy has posted an average growth rate of more than 7% in the decade since 1997, reducing poverty by about 10 percentage points. India achieved 9.6% GDP growth in 2006, 9.0% in 2007, and 6.6% in 2008, significantly expanding manufactures through late 2008. Growth for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2009 was initially expected to be between 8.5-9.0%, but has been revised downward by a number of economists to 7.0% or less because of the financial crisis and resulting global economic slowdown. Foreign portfolio and direct investment inflows have risen significantly in recent years. They contributed to $255 billion in foreign exchange reserves by June 2007. Government receipts from privatization were about $3 billion in fiscal year 2003-2004, but the privatization program has stalled since then. Economic growth is constrained by inadequate infrastructure, a cumbersome bureaucracy, corruption, labor market rigidities, regulatory and foreign investment controls, the “reservation” of key products for small-scale industries, and high fiscal deficits.

The outlook for further trade liberalization is mixed, and a key World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha Ministerial in July 2008 was unsuccessful due to differences between the U.S. and India (as well as China) over market access. India eliminated quotas on 1,420 consumer imports in 2002 and has incrementally lowered non-agricultural customs duties in recent successive budgets. However, the tax structure is complex, with compounding effects of various taxes. The United States is India’s largest trading partner. Bilateral merchandise trade in 2008 topped nearly $50 billion.

Principal U.S. exports are diagnostic or lab reagents, aircraft and parts, advanced machinery, cotton, fertilizers, ferrous waste/scrap metal, and computer hardware. Major U.S. imports from India include textiles and ready-made garments, Internet-enabled services, agricultural and related products, gems and jewelry, leather products, and chemicals. The rapidly growing software sector is boosting service exports and modernizing India’s economy. Software exports crossed $28 billion in FY 2006-2007, while business process outsourcing (BPO) revenues hit $8.3 billion in 2006-2007. Personal computer penetration is 14 per 1,000 persons. The number of cell phone users is expected to rise to nearly 300 million by 2010.

The United States is India’s largest investment partner, with a 13% share. India’s total inflow of U.S. direct investment was estimated at more than $16 billion through 2008. Proposals for direct foreign investment are considered by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board and generally receive government approval. Automatic approvals are available for investments involving up to 100% foreign equity, depending on the kind of industry. Foreign investment is particularly sought after in power generation, telecommunications, ports, roads, petroleum exploration/processing, and mining. India’s external debt was nearly $230 billion by the end of 2008, up from $126 billion in 2005-2006. Foreign assistance was approximately $3 billion in 2006-2007, with the United States providing about $126 million in development assistance. The World Bank plans to double aid to India to almost $3 billion a year, with focus on infrastructure, education, health, and rural livelihoods.

Geography of India

Area: 3.3 million sq. km. (1.3 million sq. mi.); land: 2,973,190 sq km; water: 314,400 sq km; about one-third the size of the U.S.
Cities: Capital–New Delhi (pop. 11 million). Other major cities–Mumbai, formerly Bombay (15 million); Calcutta (12 million); Chennai, formerly Madras (6 million); Bangalore (5 million); Hyderabad (5 million); Ahmedabad (3.7 million).
Terrain:Varies from Himalayas to flat river valleys.
Location: Southern Asia, bordering the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, between Burma and Pakistan; dominates South Asian subcontinent; near important Indian Ocean trade routes.
Coordinates: 20 00 N, 77 00 E
Land boundaries: total: 14,103 km
Border countries: Bangladesh 4,053 km, Bhutan 605 km, Burma 1,463 km, China 3,380 km, Nepal 1,690 km, Pakistan 2,912 km
Coastline: 7,000 km
Maritime claims: contiguous zone: 24 NM, territorial sea: 12 NM, continental shelf: 200 NM or to the edge of the continental margin, exclusive economic zone: 200 NM
Climate: Temperate to subtropical monsoon.
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m highest point: Kanchenjunga 8,598 m
Natural resources: coal (fourth-largest reserves in the world), iron ore, manganese, mica, bauxite, titanium ore, chromite, natural gas, diamonds, petroleum, limestone, arable land
Land use: arable land: 56% permanent crops: 1% permanent pastures: 4% forests and woodland: 23% other: 16% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 535,100 sq km (1995/96 est.)
Natural hazards: droughts, flash floods, severe thunderstorms common; earthquakes
Environment – current issues: deforestation; soil erosion; overgrazing; desertification; air pollution from industrial effluents and vehicle emissions; water pollution from raw sewage and runoff of agricultural pesticides; tap water is not potable throughout the country; huge and growing population is overstraining natural resources
Environment – international agreements: party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling.

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