homeIndia travel guide > India history
India guide
Traveler café 
Travel directory
Last updated : Nov 2009
India History
India History - TravelPuppy.com
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 in Amritsar.

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 hostility.

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 major powers.

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.