| Indian civilization
can be traced as far back as 2500 BC, however, the ancient civilizations
did not cover all of India, as it is known today. The 1st known
civilization settled along the Indus River in what is today
Pakistan. This, however, collapsed around 1500 BC. Between
521 and 486 BC, under Darius, the area was part of the Persian Empire.
Alexander the Great arrived in India in 326 BC, but did not travel
beyond the the Persian Empire, which only extended as far as the
Indus. India’s 2 great religions, Buddhism and Hinduism, had
already been established. Various dynasties followed, the
last of which was the Gupta Empire (AD 319-606).
The invasion of the White Huns ended all of this and northern
India became fragmented, and was only reunified when the Muslims
arrived from the west. During this time, the south was trading by
sea with the Egyptians and Romans. It took a long time for Muslim
forces to maintain a permanent presence in northern India: in the
late 12th century, Muhammad of Ghori, who had a power base
in what is now the Punjab, rapidly expanded eastwards. His conquests
led to the creation of Delhi as a major center of political power
and eventually its position as the Indian capital.
The next major arrival after the Muslims was the Moghuls,
who came over the mountain passes from Central Asia in the 1520s
and held effective control of the north until the mid-18th century.
Moghul influence peaked in the late 16th and early 17th
centuries; with the British conquest, at the end of the
18th century, the Moghul Empire was already in ruthless decline.
The British, motivated by trade and geopolitics, took control of
the whole sub-continent using the telegraph and the railways –
both of which they built – as their primary instruments of
control. The several and varied provinces of India were, for the
1st time, governed by a single, albeit alien, power.
The indigenous campaign for independence started with the
formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885,
but it made diminutive progress until after the end of World War
I, when Mahatma Gandhi controlled the Congress and began
the practice of non-cooperation with the British.
The colonial powers were gradually convinced that reforms were needed,
but the Congress itself was split on a key issue – the Muslims,
under Muhammad Ali Jinnah, claimed a separate homeland in
provinces such as the East Bengal and Punjab, where they formed
a majority of the population, however, Gandhi wanted India to become
a unified and secular state. Jinnah’s view, supported by the
last Governor-General, Earl Mountbatten, prevailed and in
August 1947, the independent states of India and Pakistan
were formed, (Pakistan was divided into 2 parts, East and West).
Since then, India has been a democratic republic,
with the 1st real elections 1951, and Hindu law has been modernized,
eradicating several of the old inequalities. Nonetheless,
the caste system, which places an individual in a particular stratum
in society from birth, has proved resistant to reform.
India has also created a broadly secular polity, which – with
many significant exceptions – has served fairly well to minimize
violent religious conflict. The Nehru family has controlled
Indian politics since independence: Jawaharlal (‘Pandit’)
was the first Prime Minister; followed by his daughter, Indira
Gandhi (one of the modern world’s first woman leaders);
and finally her son, Rajiv.
Their political might was exercised through the Congress Party,
which has governed India for much of the time since independence.
The party has been known as Congress (I) following a division in
the original Congress during the 1970s. Mrs. Gandhi maintained
office in many different parliaments until October 1984, when she
was assassinated by Sikh members of her personal bodyguard
in retaliation for the storming of the Golden Temple
Rajiv Gandhi took control immediately
afterwards. Among the most important decisions that he made was
the authorization of the Indian military intervention in
the intercommunal conflict in Sri Lanka, where, in 1987, the Indian
army became entangled in a peace-keeping role for 2 years. This
role as regional ‘policeman’ was also exemplified in
late 1988 when Indian forces were instrumental in quelling an abortive
invasion attempt in the Maldives. The relationship with Pakistan,
however, will always tend to dominate India’s foreign policy.
Relations between the two have varied between chilly and outright
The split of East and West Pakistan in 1971 into the contemporary
states of Bangladesh and Pakistan followed political and military
intervention by the Indian government. Since then, the border conflict
between India and Pakistan in the Kashmir region –
which dates back to the separation of the 2 countries at independence
– has sometimes erupted into armed conflict. The 1990s were
a very tense period in this region (see below), as opposition movements,
whose activities India continually blames on Pakistan, have waged
a sustained campaign of political violence against security forces.
Autonomy uprisings in several areas of India, including
Uttar Pradesh and Assam, have also caused frequent difficulties
for the Government, but it was the conflict in Sri Lanka,
which lay behind the assassination of the last of the Nehru
dynasty to have maintained power, Rajiv Ghandi. Although
Indian troops had withdrawn by 1991, Tamil guerrillas blamed him
for undermining their struggle: in an election rally in 1991, he
was killed by a suicide bomber.
The last of the Nerhu/Gandhi dynasty to hold office, Rajiv’s
death signified a time of decline for Congress (I) from which it
has still not recovered. Since the government of ex-foreign minister,
PV Narasimha Rao, who took control after Rajiv, its electoral
standing has slowly declined. The main beneficiary has been the
anti-secular Hindu party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
With ajtal Bihari (‘AB’)
Vajpayee as their leader , the BJP steadily improved its standing
throughout the 1990s to the point where, following the most up to
date poll in October 1999, it had enough strength to put together
a stable coalition government. The BJP is split between radical
and moderate wings: Vajpayee, by 2002, was facing a difficult
task holding the 2 together.
It's Relationship with Pakistan dominates Indian foreign policy.
The main cause of conflict is the status of Kashmir, most of which
was granted to India in 1947. Both sides claim the whole region
and both insist their claim is ‘non-negotiable’.
Separatist guerrillas, supported by Pakistan, have waged a consistent
campaign against Indian forces, which displays no sign of resolution
despite ongoing initiatives. With the nuclear capabilities of both
countries, and their proven systems of delivery, this is now viewed
as major potential flashpoint and is closely observed by the world’s
In the spring of 2002, after a spurt of guerrilla activity in Kashmir
and intercommunal conflict between Muslims and Hindus in the western
Indian state of Gujarat, the 2 countries almost went to war. Only
frantic international diplomacy calmed the situation. Historically,
the United States of America and China had supported Pakistan while
India had close relations with the Soviet Union.
The end of the Soviet Union has not, however, hurt India excessively:
it still maintains close ties with Moscow and is concerned only
by the possibility of conflict in central Asia spilling southwards.
China has long viewed India as their rival, and the main problem
is the presence of the exiled Tibetan opposition leader, the Dalai
Lama, in northwest India. Nevertheless, the 2 governments have
signed a major trade agreement and relations are slowly warming.
As for the Americans, India supported the Bush plan for ballistic
missile defense in the hope that the remaining sanctions from 1998
will be lifted.