officially Republic of India, republic (2005 est pop. 1,080,264,000), 1,261,810 sq mi (3,268,090 sq km), S Asia. The second most populous country in the world, it is also sometimes called Bharat, its ancient name. India's land frontier (c.9,500 mi/15,290 km long) stretches from the Arabian Sea on the west to the Bay of Bengal on the east and touches Pakistan (W); China, Nepal, and Bhutan (N); Bangladesh, which forms an enclave in the northeast; and Myanmar (E). New Delhi is India's capital and Mumbai (formerly Bombay) its largest city.
The southern half of India is a largely upland area that thrusts a triangular peninsula (c.1,300 mi/2,090 km wide at the north) into the Indian Ocean between the Bay of Bengal on the east and the Arabian Sea on the west and has a coastline c.3,500 mi (5,630 km) long; at its southern tip is Kanniyakumri (Cape Comorin). In the north, towering above peninsular India, is the Himalayan mountain wall, where rise the three great rivers of the Indian subcontinent—the Indus, the Ganges, and the Brahmaputra.
The Gangetic alluvial plain, which has much of India's arable land, lies between the Himalayas and the dissected plateau occupying most of peninsular India. The Aravalli range, a ragged hill belt, extends from the borders of Gujarat in the southwest to the fringes of Delhi in the northeast. The plain is limited in the west by the Thar (Great Indian) Desert of Rajasthan, which merges with the swampy Rann of Kachchh to the south. The southern boundary of the plain lies close to the Yamuna and Ganges rivers, where the broken hills of the Chambal, Betwa, and Son rivers rise to the low plateaus of Malwa in the west and Chota Nagpur in the east.
The Narmada River, south of the Vindhya hills, marks the beginning of the Deccan. The triangular plateau, scarped by the mountains of the Eastern Ghats and Western Ghats, is drained by the Godavari, Krishna, and Kaveri rivers; they break through the Eastern Ghats and, flowing east into the Bay of Bengal, form broad deltas on the wide Coromandel Coast. Further north, the Mahanadi River drains India into the Bay of Bengal. The much narrower western coast of peninsular India, comprising chiefly the Malabar Coast and the fertile Gujarat plain, bends around the Gulf of Khambat in the north to the Kathiawar and Kachchh peninsulas. The coastal plains of peninsular India have a tropical, humid climate.
The Deccan interior is partly semiarid on the west and wet on the east. The Indo-Gangetic plain is subtropical, with the western interior areas experiencing frost in winter and very hot summers. India's rainfall, which depends upon the monsoon, is variable; it is heavy in Assam and West Bengal and along the southern coasts, moderate in the inland peninsular regions, and scanty in the arid northwest, especially in Rajasthan and Punjab.
The republic is divided into 28 states: Andhra Pradesh; Arunachal Pradesh; Assam; Bihar; Chhattisgarh; Goa; Gujarat; Haryana; Himachal Pradesh; Jammu and Kashmir (see Kashmir); Jharkhand; Karnataka; Kerala; Madhya Pradesh; Maharashtra; Manipur; Meghalaya; Mizoram; Nagaland; Orissa; Punjab; Rajasthan; Sikkim; Tamil Nadu; Tripura; Uttaranchal; Uttar Pradesh; and West Bengal (see Bengal). There are also seven union territories: the Andaman and Nicobar Islands; Chandigarh; Dadra and Nagar Haveli; Daman and Diu; Delhi; Lakshadweep; and Puducherry. Kashmir is disputed with Pakistan.
In 1991, India had 23 cities with urban areas of more than 1 million people: Ahmadabad, Bangalore (Bengaluru), Bhopal, Chennai (Madras), Coimbatore, Delhi, Hyderabad, Indore, Jaipur, Kanpur, Kochi (see under Cochin), Kolkata (Calcutta), Lucknow, Ludhiana, Madurai, Mumbai, Nagpur, Patna, Pune, Surat, Vadodara (see under Baroda), Varanasi, and Vishakhapatnam.
India is the world's second most populous nation (after China). Its ethnic composition is complex, but two major strains predominate: the Aryan, in the north, and the Dravidian, in the south. India is a land of great cultural diversity, as is evidenced by the enormous number of different languages spoken throughout the country. Although Hindi (spoken in the north) and English (the language of politics and commerce) are used officially, more than 1,500 languages and dialects are spoken. The Indian constitution recognizes 15 regional languages (Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu). Ten of the major states of India are generally organized along linguistic lines.
Although the constitution forbids the practice of untouchability, and legislation has been used to reserve quotas for former untouchables (and also for tribal peoples) in the legislatures, in education, and in the public services, the caste system continues to be influential. About 80% of the population is Hindu, and 14% is Muslim. Other significant religions include Christians, Sikhs, and Buddhists. There is no state religion. The holy cities of India attract pilgrims from throughout the East: Varanasi (formerly Benares), Allahabad, Puri, and Nashik are religious centers for the Hindus; Amritsar is the holy city of the Sikhs; and Satrunjaya Hill near Palitana is sacred to the Jains.
With its long and rich history, India retains many outstanding archaeological landmarks; preeminent of these are the Buddhist remains at Sarnath, Sanchi, and Bodh Gaya; the cave temples at Ajanta, Ellora, and Elephanta; and the temple sites at Madurai, Thanjavur, Abu, Bhubaneswar, Konarak, and Mahabalipuram. For other aspects of Indian culture, see Hindu music; Indian art and architecture; Indian literature; Mughal art and architecture; Pali canon; Prakrit literature; Sanskrit literature.
Economically, India often seems like two separate countries: village India, supported by primitive agriculture, where tens of millions—one fourth of population—live below the poverty line; and urban India, one of the most heavily industrialized areas in the world, with an increasingly middle-class population. Agriculture (about 55% of the land is arable) makes up some 25% of the gross domestic product (GDP) and employs almost 70% of the Indian people. Vast quantities of rice are grown wherever the land is level and water plentiful; other crops are wheat, pulses, sugarcane, jowar (sorghum), bajra (a cereal), and corn. Cotton, tobacco, oilseeds, and jute are the principal nonfood crops. There are large tea plantations in Assam, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. The opium poppy is also grown, both for the legal pharmaceutical market and the illegal drug trade; cannabis is produced as well.
Fragmentation of holdings, outmoded methods of crop production, and delays in acceptance of newer, high-yielding grains were characteristic of Indian agriculture in the past, but since the Green Revolution of the 1970s, significant progress has been made in these areas. Improved irrigation, the introduction of chemical fertilizers, and the use of high-yield strains of rice and wheat have led to record harvests, and India became an net exporter of grain in the early 1980s. The subsistence-level existence of village India, ever threatened by drought, flood, famine, and disease, has been somewhat alleviated by government agricultural modernization efforts, but although India's gross food output has been generally sufficient for the the needs of its enormous population, government price supports and an inadequate distribution system still threaten many impoverished Indians with hunger and starvation. An estimated 40% of the population is too poor to afford adequate nourishment regularly.
India has perhaps more cattle per capita than any other country, but their economic value is severely limited by the Hindu prohibition against their slaughter. Goats and sheep are raised in the arid regions of the west and northwest. Water buffalo are raised and there is a large fish catch.
India has forested mountain slopes, with stands of oak, pine, sal, teak, ebony, palms, and bamboo, and the cutting of timber is a major rural occupation. Aside from coal, iron, mica, manganese, and ilmenite, in which the country ranks high, India's mineral resources, although large, are not as yet fully exploited. The Chota Nagpur Plateau of S Jharkhand and the hill lands of SW West Bengal, N Orissa, and Chhattisgarh are the most important mining areas; they are the source of coal, iron, mica, and copper. There are workings of magnesite, bauxite, chromite, salt, and gypsum. Despite oil fields in Assam and Gujarat states and the output (since the 1970s) of Bombay High offshore oil fields, India is deficient in petroleum.
Industry in India, traditionally limited to agricultural processing and light manufacturing, especially of cotton, woolen, and silk textiles, jute, and leather products, has been greatly expanded and diversified in recent years; it employs about 15% of the workforce. There are large textile works at Mumbai and Ahmadabad, a huge iron and steel complex (mainly controlled by the Tata family) at Jamshedpur, and steel plants at Rourkela, Bhilainagar, Durgapur, and Bokaro. Bangalore has electronics and armaments industries. India also produces large amounts of machine tools, transportation equipment, chemicals, and cut diamonds (it is the world's largest exporter of the latter) and has a significant computer software industry. Its large film industry is concentrated in Mumbai, with other centers in Kolkata and Chennai. In the 1990s the government departed from its traditional policy of self-reliant industrial activity and development and worked to deregulate Indian industry and attract foreign investment. Since then the service industries have grown; international call centers provide employment for an increasing number of workers.
Most towns are connected by state-owned railroad systems, one of the most extensive networks in the world. The train system is made mainly of broad-gauge track (5 ft/2 m) but includes a variety of rail gauges, which makes frequent transshipment necessary; the country is in the process of converting all tracks to broad gauge. Transportation by road is increasing, with the improvement of highways and the introduction of ordinary and luxury bus service on long-distance routes, but in rural India the bullock cart is still an important means of transportation. There are international airports at New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Chennai. The leading ports are Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Kochi, and Vishakhapatnam. The leading exports are gems and jewelry, clothing, engineering goods, chemicals, computer software, cotton thread, fabric, and handicrafts. The chief imports are machinery, petroleum, fertilizers, and chemicals. India's major trade partners are the United States, European Union countries, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Saudia Arabia, and Japan.
India is a federal state with a parliamentary form of government. It is governed under the 1949 constitution (effective since Jan., 1950). The president of India is elected for a five-year term by the elected members of the federal and state parliaments. Theoretically the president possesses full executive power, but that power actually is exercised by the prime minister (head of the majority party in the federal Parliament) and council of ministers (which includes the cabinet), who are appointed by the president. The ministers are responsible to the lower house of Parliament (Lok Sabha) and must be members of Parliament.
The federal parliament is bicameral. The upper house, the council of states (Rajya Sabha), consists of a maximum of 250 members; the great majority are apportioned by state—each state's delegates are chosen by its elected assembly—and 12 members are appointed by the president. In addition, one member represents the union territory of Puducherry. One third of the members retire every other year. The lower house is elected every five years, although it may be dissolved earlier by the president. It is composed of no more than 545 members apportioned among the states. There is a supreme court appointed by the president.
State governors are appointed by the president for five-year terms. States have either unicameral or bicameral parliaments and have jurisdiction over police and public order, agriculture, education, public health, and local government. The federal government has jurisdiction over any matter not specifically reserved for the states. In addition the president may intervene in state affairs during emergencies and may even suspend a state's government.
Until the 1990s the Congress party generally dominated Indian politics. Other major parties include the Janata Dal party, the Bharatiya Janata party, the Communist party of India/Marxist, and the Communist party of India. There are also significant regional parties.
The historical discussion that follows deals, until Indian independence, with the Indian subcontinent, which includes the regions that are now Bangladesh and Pakistan, and thereafter concentrates on the history of India.
One of the earliest civilizations of the world, and the most ancient on the Indian subcontinent, was the Indus valley civilization, which flourished c.2500 BC to c.1700 BC It was an extensive and highly sophisticated culture, its chief urban centers being Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. While the causes of the decline of the Indus Valley civilization are not clear, it is possible that the periodic shifts in the courses of the major rivers of the valley may have deprived the cities of floodwaters necessary for their surrounding agricultural lands. The cities thus became more vulnerable to raiding activity. At the same time, Indo-Aryan peoples were migrating into the Indian subcontinent through the northwestern mountain passes, settling in the Punjab and the Ganges valley.
Over the next 2,000 years the Indo-Aryans developed a Brahmanic civilization (see Veda), out of which Hinduism evolved. From Punjab they spread east over the Gangetic plain and by c.800 BC were established in Bihar, Jharkhand, and Bengal. The first important Aryan kingdom was Magadha, with its capital near present-day Patna; it was there, during the reign of Bimbisara (540–490 BC), that the founders of Jainism and Buddhism preached. Kosala was another kingdom of the period.
In 327–325 BC, Alexander the Great invaded the province of Gandhara in NW India that had been a part of the Persian empire. The Greek invaders were eventually driven out by Chandragupta of Magadha, founder of the Mauryan empire (see Maurya). The Mauryan emperor Asoka (d. 232 BC), Chandragupta's grandson, perhaps the greatest ruler of the ancient period, unified all of India except the southern tip. Under Asoka, Buddhism was widely propagated and spread to Sri Lanka and SE Asia. During the 200 years of disorder and invasions that followed the collapse of the Mauryan state (c.185 BC), Buddhism in India declined. S India enjoyed greater prosperity than the north, despite almost incessant warfare; among the Tamil-speaking kingdoms of the south were the Pandya and Chola states, which maintained an overseas trade with the Roman Empire.
Indian culture was spread through the Malay Archipelago and Indonesia by traders from the S Indian kingdoms. Meanwhile, Greeks following Alexander had settled in Bactria (in the area of present-day Afghanistan) and established an Indo-Greek kingdom. After the collapse (1st cent. BC) of Bactrian power, the Scythians, Parthians, Afghans, and Kushans swept into NW India. There, small states arose and disappeared in quick succession; among the most famous of these kingdoms was that of the Kushans, which, under its sovereign Kanishka, enjoyed (2d cent. AD) great prosperity.
In the 4th and 5th cent. AD, N India experienced a golden age under the Gupta dynasty, when Indian art and literature reached a high level. Gupta splendor rose again under the emperor Harsha of Kanauj (c.606–647), and N India enjoyed a renaissance of art, letters, and theology. It was at this time that the noted Chinese pilgrim Hsüan-tsang visited India. While the Guptas ruled the north in this, the classical period of Indian history, the Pallava kings of Kanchi held sway in the south, and the Chalukyas controlled the Deccan.
During the medieval period (8th–13th cent.) several independent kingdoms, notably the Palas of Bihar and Bengal, the Sen, the Ahoms of Assam, a later Chola empire at Tanjore, and a second Chalukya dynasty in the Deccan, waxed powerful. In NW India, beyond the reach of the medieval dynasties, the Rajputs had grown strong and were able to resist the rising forces of Islam. Islam was first brought to Sind, W India, in the 8th cent. by seafaring Arab traders; by the 10th cent. Muslim armies from the north were raiding India. From 999 to 1026, Mahmud of Ghazna several times breached Rajput defenses and plundered India.
In the 11th and 12th cent. Ghaznavid power waned, to be replaced c.1150 by that of the Turkic principality of Ghor. In 1192 the legions of Ghor defeated the forces of Prithivi Raj, and the Delhi Sultanate, the first Muslim kingdom in India, was established. The sultanate eventually reduced to vassalage almost every independent kingdom on the subcontinent, except that of Kashmir and the remote kingdoms of the south. The task of ruling such a vast territory proved impossible; difficulties in the south with the state of Vijayanagar, the great Hindu kingdom, and the capture (1398) of the city of Delhi by Timur finally brought the sultanate to an end.
The Muslim kingdoms that succeeded it were defeated by a Turkic invader from Afghanistan, Babur, a remote descendant of Timur, who, after the battle of Panipat in 1526, founded the Mughal empire. The empire was consolidated by Akbar and reached its greatest territorial extent, the control of almost all of India, under Aurangzeb (ruled 1659–1707). Under the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal empire a large Muslim following grew and a new culture evolved in India (see Mughal art and architecture); Islam, however, never supplanted Hinduism as the faith of the majority.
Only a few years before Babur's triumph, Vasco da Gama had landed at Calicut (1498) and the Portuguese had conquered Goa (1510). The splendor and wealth of the Mughal empire (from it comes much of India's greatest architecture, including the Taj Mahal) attracted British, Dutch, and French competition for the trade that Portugal had at first monopolized. The British East India Company (see East India Company, British), which established trading stations at Surat (1613), Bombay (now Mumbai; 1661), and Calcutta (now Kolkata; 1691), soon became dominant and with its command of the sea drove off the traders of Portugal and Holland. While the Mughal empire remained strong, only peaceful trade relations with it were sought; but in the 18th cent., when an Afghan invasion, dynastic struggles, and incessant revolts of Hindu elements, especially the Marathas, were rending the empire, Great Britain and France seized the opportunity to increase trade and capture Indian wealth, and each attempted to oust the other. From 1746 to 1763, India was a battleground for the forces of the two powers, each attaching to itself as many native rulers as possible in the struggle.
Robert Clive's defeat of the Nawab of Bengal at Plassey in 1757 traditionally marks the beginning of the British Empire in India (recognized in the Treaty of Paris of 1763). Warren Hastings, Clive's successor and the first governor-general of the company's domains to be appointed by Parliament, did much to consolidate Clive's conquests. By 1818 the British controlled nearly all of India south of the Sutlej River and had reduced to vassalage their most powerful Indian enemies, the state of Mysore (see Haidar Ali and Tippoo Sahib) and the Marathas. Only Sind and Punjab (the Sikh territory) remained completely independent.
The East India Company, overseen by the government's India Office, administered the rich areas with the populous cities; the rest of India remained under Indian princes, with British residents in effective control. Great Britain regarded India as an agricultural reservoir and a market for British goods, which were admitted duty free. However, the export of cotton goods from India suffered because of the Industrial Revolution and the production of cloth by machine. On the other hand, the British initiated projects to improve transportation and irrigation.
British control was extended over Sind in 1843 and Punjab in 1849. Social unrest, added to the apprehensions of several important native rulers about the aggrandizing policies of Governor-General Dalhousie, led to the bloody Indian Mutiny of 1857. It was suppressed, and Great Britain, determined to prevent a recurrence, initiated long-needed reforms. Control passed from the East India Company to the crown. The common soldiers in the British army in India were drawn more and more from among the Indians, and these troops were later also used overseas. Sikhs and Gurkhas became famous as British soldiers. Native rulers were guaranteed the integrity of their domains as long as they recognized the British as paramount. In 1861 the first step was taken toward self-government in British India with the appointment of Indian councillors to advise the viceroy and the establishment of provincial councils with Indian members. But the power of Britain was symbolized and reinforced when Queen Victoria was crowned empress of India in 1877.
With the setting up of government universities, an Indian middle class had begun to emerge and to advocate further reform. Among the leaders who organized the Indian National Congress in 1885 were Allan Octavian Hume, retired from the Indian Civil Service, Dadabhai Naoroji, Pherozeshah Mehta, and W. C. Bonnerjee. Later in the century, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Surendranath Banerjea, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Rabindranath Tagore, and Aurobindo Ghose also rose to prominence. The nationalist movement had been foreshadowed earlier in the century in the writings of Rammohun Roy.
Popular nationalist sentiment was perhaps most strongly aroused when, for administrative reasons, Viceroy Curzon partitioned (1905) Bengal into two presidencies; newly created Eastern Bengal had a Muslim majority. (The partition was ended in 1911.) In the early 1900s the British had widened Indian participation in legislative councils (the Morley-Minto reforms). Separate Muslim constituencies, introduced for the first time, were to be a major factor in the growing split between the two communities. Muslim nationalist sentiment was expressed by Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Iqbal, and Muhammad Ali.
At the outbreak of World War I all elements in India were firmly united behind Britain, but discontent arose as the war dragged on. The British, in the Montagu declaration (1917) and later in the Montagu-Chelmsford report (1918), held out the promise of eventual self-government. Crop failures and an influenza epidemic that killed millions plagued India in 1918–19. Britain passed the Rowlatt Acts (1919), which enabled authorities to dispense with juries, and even trials, in dealing with agitators. In response, Mohandas K. Gandhi organized the first of his many passive-resistance campaigns. The massacre of Indians by British troops at Amritsar further inflamed the situation. The Government of India Act (late 1919) set up provincial legislatures with dyarchy, which meant that elected Indian ministers, responsible to the legislatures, had to share power with appointed British governors and ministers. Although the act also provided for periodic revisions, Gandhi felt too little progress had been made, and he organized new protests.
Imperial conferences concerning the status of India were held in 1930, 1931, and 1932, and led to the Government of India Act of 1935. The act provided for the election of entirely Indian provincial governments and a federal legislature in Delhi that was to be largely elected. In the first elections (1937) held under the act, the Congress, led by Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, won well over half the seats, mostly in general constituencies, and formed governments in 7 of the 11 provinces. The Muslim League, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, won 109 of the 485 Muslim seats and formed governments in three of the remaining provinces. Fearing Hindu domination in a future independent India, Muslim nationalists in India began to argue for special safeguards for Muslims.
World War II found India by no means unified behind Great Britain. There was even an Indian national army of anti-British extremists, led by Subhas Bose, which fought in Myanmar on the Japanese side. To procure India's more wholehearted support, Sir Stafford Cripps, on behalf of the British cabinet, in 1942 proposed establishing an Indian interim government, in which Great Britain would maintain control only over defense and foreign policy, to be followed by full self-government after the war. The Congress adamantly demanded that the British leave India and, when the demand was refused, initiated civil disobedience and the Quit India movement. Great Britain's response was to outlaw the Congress and jail Gandhi and other leaders. Jinnah gave conditional support to the war but used it to build up the Muslim League.
The British Labour government of Prime Minister Attlee in 1946 offered self-government to India, but it warned that if no agreement was reached between the Congress and the Muslim League, Great Britain, on withdrawing in June, 1948, would have to determine the apportionment of power between the two groups. Reluctantly the Congress agreed to the creation of Pakistan, and in Aug., 1947, British India was divided into the dominions of India and Pakistan. The princely states were nominally free to determine their own status, but realistically they were unable to stand alone. Partly by persuasion and partly by coercion, they joined one or the other of the new dominions. Hyderabad, in S central India, with a Muslim ruler and Hindu population, held out to the last and was finally incorporated (1948) into the Indian union by force. The future of Kashmir was not resolved.
Nehru became prime minister of India, and Jinnah governor-general of Pakistan. Partition left large minorities of Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan and Muslims in India. Widespread hostilities erupted among the communities and continued while large numbers of people—about 16 million in all—fled across the borders seeking safety. More than 500,000 people died in the disorders (late 1947). Gandhi was killed by a Hindu fanatic in Jan., 1948. The hostility between India and Pakistan was aggravated when warfare broke out (1948) over their conflicting claims to jurisdiction over the princely state of Kashmir.
India became a sovereign republic in 1950 under a constitution adopted late in 1949. In addition to staggering problems of overpopulation, economic underdevelopment, and inadequate social services, India had to achieve the integration of the former princely states into the union and the creation of national unity from diverse cultural and linguistic groups. The states of the republic were reorganized several times along linguistic lines. India consolidated its territory by acquiring the former French settlements (see Puducherry) in 1956 and by forcibly annexing the Portuguese enclaves of Goa and Daman and Diu in Dec., 1961. In 1987, Goa became a separate state and Daman and Diu became a union territory. In world politics, India has been a leading exponent of nonalignment.
The republic's major foreign problems have been a border dispute with China that first surfaced in 1957 and continual difficulties with Pakistan. The Chinese controversy climaxed on Oct. 20, 1962, when the Chinese launched a massive offensive against Ladakh in Kashmir and in areas on the NE Indian border. The Chinese announced a cease-fire on Nov. 21 after gaining some territory claimed by India. In the late 1960s there was friction with Nepal, which accused India of harboring Nepalese politicians hostile to the Nepalese monarchy. In Aug., 1965, fighting between India and Pakistan broke out in the Rann of Kachchh frontier area and in Kashmir. The United Nations proclaimed a cease-fire in September, but clashes continued. India's Prime Minister Shastri, who succeeded Nehru after the latter's death in 1964, and Pakistan's President Ayub Khan met (1966) under Soviet auspices in Tashkent, USSR (now in Uzbekistan), to negotiate the Kashmir problem. They agreed on mutual troop withdrawals to the lines held before Aug., 1965.
Shastri died in Tashkent and was succeeded, after bitter debate within the Congress party, by Indira Gandhi, Nehru's daughter. The Congress party suffered a setback in the elections of 1967; its parliamentary majority was sharply reduced and it lost control of several state governments. In 1969 the party split in two: Mrs. Gandhi and her followers formed the New Congress party, and her opponents on the right formed the Old Congress party. In the elections of Mar., 1971, the New Congress won an overwhelming victory. Rioting and terrorism by Maoists, known as Naxalites, flared in 1970 and 1971. The situation was particularly serious in West Bengal.
In Pakistan, attempts by the government (dominated by West Pakistanis) to suppress a Bengali uprising in East Pakistan led in 1971 to the exodus of millions of Bengali refugees (mostly Hindus) from East Pakistan into India. Caring for the refugees imposed a severe drain on India's slender resources. India supported the demands of the Awami League, an organization of Pakistani Bengalis, for the autonomy of East Pakistan, and in Dec., 1971, war broke out between India and Pakistan on two fronts: in East Pakistan and in Kashmir. Indian forces rapidly advanced into East Pakistan; the war ended in two weeks with the creation of independent Bangladesh to replace East Pakistan, and the refugees returned from India. India's relations with the United States were strained because of U.S. support of Pakistan.
In mid-1973, India and Pakistan signed an agreement providing for the release of prisoners of war captured in 1971 and calling for peace and friendship on the Indian subcontinent. Also in 1973, India's ties with the USSR were strengthened by a new aid agreement that considerably increased Soviet economic assistance; at the same time, relations with the United States improved somewhat. In 1974, India became the world's sixth nuclear power by exploding an underground nuclear device in the Thar Desert in Rajasthan state. Also in 1974, Gandhi's position was put under intense pressure by opponents who criticized her government for abusing its powers and in 1975 her 1971 election to the Lok Sabha was invalidated.
Despite the declaration of a state of emergency and the initiation of several relatively popular public policy programs, the opposition campaign and the growing power of her son Sanjay Gandhi contributed to a 1977 election defeat for Gandhi and the New Congress party at the hands of a coalition known as the Janata (People's) party. The Janata party soon became fractured, however, and in Jan., 1980, Indira Gandhi and her new Congress (Indira) party won a resounding election victory. Less than six months later Sanjay Gandhi, expected by many to be his mother's successor, was killed in a plane crash.
In 1982, Sikh militants began a terrorism campaign intended to pressure the government to create an autonomous Sikh state in the Punjab. Government response escalated until in June, 1984, army troops stormed the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the Sikh's holiest shrine and the center of the independence movement. Sikh protests across India added to the political tension, and Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two Sikh members of her personal guard in October. The resulting anti-Sikh riots (some incited by local Congress party leaders) prompted the government to appoint Indira's eldest son, Rajiv Gandhi, prime minister. Rajiv moved quickly to end the rioting and thereafter pursued a domestic policy emphasizing conciliation among India's various conflicting ethnic and religious groups. In 1989 he was defeated by the Janata Dal party under the leadership of Vishwanath Pratap Singh.
While India's economic performance was generally stable in the 1980s, it experienced continuing problems politically, including border and immigration disputes with Bangladesh, internal agitation by Tamil separatists, violent conflicts in Assam, strife caused by the Sikh question, and continued antagonism between Hindus and Muslims. From 1987 to 1990, the Indian military occupied the northern area of Sri Lanka in an unsuccessful attempt to quell the Tamil separatist insurgency.
In 1990, Singh resigned as prime minister and called for new elections. The following year Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated during an election rally and was succeeded as head of the Congress party by P. V. Narasimha Rao. The Congress party won the ensuing election and Rao became prime minister. He immediately instituted sweeping economic reforms, moving away from the centralized planning that had characterized India's economic policy since Nehru to a market-driven economy, greatly increasing its foreign investment and trade.
Religious conflict sparked by militant Hindus and exploited by Hindu political parties was a persistent problem in the 1980s and led to bloody riots in 1992. In early 1996 a bribes-for-favors corruption scandal dating back to the early 1990s, described by some as the worst since independence, hit the Rao administration. Several ministers were forced to resign, and the Congress party, which had governed the country for all but four years since 1947, found itself in crisis. Rao himself was rumored to be involved in the scandal, and the main opposition political group, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), was also implicated.
The May, 1996, general elections proved a debacle for the Congress party, which finished third, its worst ever electoral showing. The BJP won the most parliamentary seats but fell well short of a majority, and the government it formed lasted for less than two weeks. An uneasy coalition government of leftist, regional, and lower-cast parties was then formed under the prime ministership of H. D. Deve Gowda. In Deve Gowda's United Front government, lower-caste Indians, southerners, and religious minorities assumed more important roles than ever before, but the coalition was dependent on the tacit support of the Congress party. Less than a year later, in Apr., 1997, the leadership changed hands again, and I. K. Gujral became prime minister; he resigned seven months later. Following elections held early in 1998, the BJP and its allies won the most seats and BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee was named prime minister. His government fell after losing a vote of confidence in Apr., 1999, but following a solid victory in the elections in September, he formed a new coalition government.
In May, 1998, India detonated three underground nuclear explosions, after which the United States imposed economic sanctions. Two more blasts followed, and Pakistan followed suit by conducting its own nuclear tests. In May, 1999, India launched a military campaign against Islamic guerrillas who were occupying strategic positions in the Indian-held part of Kashmir, and who India denounced as being sponsored by Pakistan; the rebels withdrew by the end of July. Portions of W Gujarat (in W India) were devastated by an earthquake early in 2001.
Talks in July, 2001, between Vajpayee and Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's military ruler, ended sourly, without any progress concerning Kashmir. In September the economic sanctions imposed by the United States were removed, as the Bush administration pursued closer relations with India. Relations with Pakistan, in contrast, were further aggravated by the suicide bombing of Kashmir's state assembly building by Pakistani-supported militant Muslim guerrillas in October, and reached a crisis point and diplomatic break in December after guerrillas launched a terror attack on the Indian parliament. India insisted the Pakistan end all such attacks. The border with Pakistan was closed, and Indian troops were mobilized along it.
Tensions eased somewhat when Pakistan moved to shut down the groups responsible for most terror attacks in India (although most arrested militants were later released) and Musharraf subsequently announced (Jan., 2002) that Pakistan would not tolerate any groups engaging in terrorism. Localized Hindu-Muslim violence, centered mainly in Gujarat and unrelated to events in Kashmir, erupted in early 2002, and BJP members and the BJP government there was accused of complicitiy in the riots.
War with Pakistan again loomed as a possibility in May, 2002, when attacks by Muslim guerrillas once again escalated. The chance that such a conflict might turn into a nuclear confrontation prompted international efforts to defuse the crisis. A pledge by Musharraf to stop infilitration across the line of control in Kashmir led to the apparent end of active government sponsorship of such infilitration, although it did not stop it. The move eased the crisis, and in October the two nations began a troop pullback. Diplomatic relations were restored in May, 2003, and situation slowly improved during the rest of 2003 and the following year. Also in 2003, India signed a border pact with China that represented an incremental improvement in their relations; a new agreement two years later called for the two nations to define their disputed borders through negotiations.
Indian parliamentary elections in the spring of 2004 resulted in an unexpected victory for the Congress party, which subsequently formed a 20-party coalition government. Sonia Gandhi, Congress's leader, declined to become prime minister, perhaps in part because of concerns over her foreign birth. Instead, Manmohan Singh, a technocrat and former finance minister, led the new government. In Dec., 2004, India's SE coast and Andaman and Nicobar Islands were devastated by an Indian Ocean tsunami. More than 16,000 people died, and hundreds of thousands were made homeless. By Apr., 2005, relations with Pakistan had improved to the point that Pakistani president Musharraf visited India, and during the subsequent months the two nations increased cross-border transport links, including in Kashmir, and improved intergovernmental cooperation and trade relations. Although the devastation from the Oct., 2005, earthquake in N Pakistan was much greater there, Indian Kashmir, where more than 1,300 died, and other parts of India were also affected by the temblor. After the earthquake India and Pakistan eased border crossing restrictions in Kashmir.
In Mar., 2006, India reached an agreement with the United States that ended a U.S. moratorium on reactor fuel and components sales to India. Under the pact India agreed to open most of its nuclear reactors to international inspections for the first time. Critics of the deal pointed out, however, that the Indian military was permitted to retain uninspected control of fast-breeder reactors, enabling it to increase its production of plutonium for nuclear weapons.
A series of bomb attacks on the Mumbai rail system on July 11 killed some 200 people and injured 700; it was initially unclear who mounted them, though the police suspected a Muslim terror group. India-Pakistan peace talks were suspended as a result of the attack. In Sept., 2006, Indian police said that Pakistan's intelligence agency was involved in planning the attack, a charge Pakistan denied, but the Indian prime minister said the he would provide Pakistan with evidence of the agency's involvement. The peace talks resumed in Nov., 2006, and in Feb., 2007, an agreement intended to prevent an accidental nuclear war between the two nations was signed.