Kamalesh Sharma of India became Commonwealth Secretary-General in 2008;
and Professor Asha Kanwar was appointed President and Chief Executive
Officer of the Commonwealth of Learning in 2012.
Twelve Indians have been regional winners in the Commonwealth Writers’
Prize, and three have gone on to take the overall Best Book or Best
First Book awards.
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative established its HQ in New Delhi
in 1993; and the country is also host to the Commonwealth Youth
Programme Asia Centre in Chandigarh and the Commonwealth Local
Government Forum’s Project Office, Asia, in Mumbai.
Scholarships for postgraduate study are awarded by India to citizens of
other Commonwealth countries under the Commonwealth Scholarship and
Joined Commonwealth: 1947
Population: 1,252,140,000 (2013)
GDP: 4.7% p.a. 1990–2013
UN HDI: world ranking 135
Official language: Hindi, English
Timezone: GMT plus 5.5hr
Currency: rupee (Rs)
Area: 3,287,263 sq km
Capital city: New Delhi
Population density (per sq. km): 381
The Republic of India, which lies across the Tropic of Cancer, comprises
most of the Indian subcontinent. It also includes the Andaman and
Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal and the Lakshadweep Islands in the
Arabian Sea. Its neighbours are Pakistan, Afghanistan and China to the
north, then Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar (formerly Burma). In
the south, the Palk Strait separates it from Sri Lanka.
India comprises 29 states (including the Delhi National Capital
Territory) and six union territories.
New Delhi/Delhi (capital, pop. 11.03m in 2011), Mumbai (formerly Bombay,
in Maharashtra State, 18.39m), Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore, in
Karnataka, 8.52m), Ahmadabad (Gujarat, 5.57m), Chennai (formerly Madras,
in Tamil Nadu, 4.64m), Kolkata (formerly Calcutta, in West Bengal,
4.49m), Surat (Gujarat, 4.46m), Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh, 3.94m),
Jaipur (Rajasthan, 3.42m), Kanpur (Uttar Pradesh, 3.25m), Pune
(Maharashtra, 3.12m), Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh, 2.81m), Nagpur
(Maharashtra, 2.49m), Patna (Bihar, 2.04m), Indore (Madhya Pradesh,
1.96m), Ludhiana (Punjab, 1.81m), Faridabad (Haryana, 1.8m), Bhopal
(Madhya Pradesh, 1.79m) and Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir, 1.26m).
There are 4,689,842 km of roads, 47 per cent paved. The number of
vehicles and the demand for roads is growing very rapidly.
India has Asia’s biggest, and the world’s fourth biggest, railway
system, with 64,460 km of track. The cities are connected by express
trains, and there are local trains between most parts of the country.
The chief western port is Mumbai, and the chief eastern ports are
Kolkata–Haldia and Chennai. The country has 7,520 km of coastline and
coastal shipping of freight within India plays an important role. There
are about 19,000 km of navigable inland waterways, though only 4,600 km
is navigable by large vessels.
There are international airports at Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi, Chennai and
Ahmadabad, and a total of about 250 airports with paved runways.
India is a member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association, Non- Aligned
Movement, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, United
Nations and World Trade Organization.
India has great topographical variety, with four distinct regions. The
northern region rises into the Himalayas, forming a mountainous wall 160
km to 320 km deep, the mountains losing height to the east. The second
region is the plain of the River Ganges and its tributaries, a huge
stretch of flat alluvium flowing into the Bay of Bengal in a broad
delta. This is one of the most fertile and densely populated regions of
India. The third region is the Thar Desert, which stretches into
Pakistan. The fourth region is the Deccan tableland bordered by ranges
of hills, the Western and Eastern Ghats and Nilgiri Hills in the south,
and their coastal belts.
The country has many large rivers, the most important of which are the
Ganges, Jamuna, Brahmaputra, a stretch of the Indus, Godavari, Krishna,
Mahanadi, Narmada and Cauvery. All these rivers are navigable in parts.
The climate is hot with regional variations. Rajasthan and large parts
of the north-west are dry (under 750 mm annual rainfall) and the Thar
Desert (in fact a semi-desert) receives around 300 mm. Some 80 per cent
of rain falls between June and September, the season of the monsoon.
April to June is generally hot, dry and dusty.
The most significant environmental issues are that finite natural
resources support a very large and growing population; deforestation,
soil erosion and desertification; air pollution with industrial
effluents and vehicle emissions; and water pollution with raw sewage and
run-off of agricultural pesticides.
Forests in the western Himalayan region range from conifers and
broad-leaved trees in the temperate zone to silver fir, silver birch and
junipers at the highest level of the alpine zone. The temperate zone of
the eastern Himalayan region has forests of oaks, laurels, maples and
rhododendrons, among other species. Vegetation of the Assam region in
the east is luxuriant with evergreen forests, occasional thick clumps of
bamboo and tall grasses. The Gangetic plain is largely under
cultivation. The Deccan tableland supports vegetation from scrub to
mixed deciduous forests. The Malabar region is rich in forest
vegetation. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands have evergreen, mangrove,
beach and diluvial forests. Much of the country’s flora originated three
million years ago and are unique to the subcontinent. Forest covers 23
per cent of the land area, having increased at 0.3 per cent p.a.
1990–2010. Arable land comprises 53 per cent of the total land area and
permanent cropland four per cent.
Among the indigenous mammals are elephants, bisons, pandas, Himalayan
wild sheep, deer, antelopes and tapirs. Large cats include lions,
tigers, panthers, cheetahs and leopards. The tiger is the Indian
national animal, protected since 1973. The tiger population, down to
1,827 in 1972, was in the mid-1990s back to 3,750. Crocodiles and
gharials (a crocodile unique to India) are bred in a project begun in
1974 to save them from extinction. Birdlife is abundant and includes
pheasants, mynahs, parakeets and hornbills. The spectacular Indian
peacock is the national bird. Reptiles include cobras, saltwater snakes
and pythons. Endangered wildlife is protected under legislation and
there are 83 national parks and 447 wildlife sanctuaries, covering
nearly 5.2 per cent of the country. Some 94 mammal species and 73 bird
species are thought to be endangered (2014).
The Indian subcontinent is one of the cradles of civilisation. An Indus
Valley culture of pre-Aryan people flourished from about 3000 BCE. This
population comprised Dravidian tribes who appear to have migrated from
the west, ousting and assimilating aboriginal inhabitants. The Indus
Valley civilisation developed writing, art, temples, cities, irrigation
and commerce. It was wiped out around 2500 BCE by invaders who entered
the subcontinent through the mountain passes of the north-west frontier.
Indo-European conquerors (with iron weapons, war chariots and armour)
had control of much of the subcontinent by 1500 BCE. They settled and
established the tightly stratified Vedic civilisation. Much information
about this civilisation, which was advanced in various arts and
sciences, is derived from the Vedas, a collection of sacred writings.
Sixteen autonomous states were established, with the kingdom of Magadha
in the Ganges river valley (territory of present-day Bihar) rising to
prominence in the 6th century BCE. During the reign of King Bimbisara
(c. 543–491 BCE) Prince Siddhartha and Vardhamana Jnatiputra or
Nataputta Mahavira (founders of Buddhism and Jainism) preached in
Invasions subsequently came from Persia and Greece, including that of
Alexander the Great of Macedon in 326 BCE. Through this turmoil, Magadha
strengthened its position as the centre of an expanding empire. The
Maurya dynasty was founded in 321 BCE. At the zenith of the Maurya
period under Ashoka (272–232 BCE), the empire took in the entire
subcontinent, and stretched from Afghanistan to Bengal. Ashoka gave
India many of its enduring cultural characteristics, including his
emblem, and philosophy. Ashoka spread the teachings of Prince Siddhartha
(Buddhism) across India.
This empire in turn fragmented under waves of invasion between about CE
100–300, though, when the Guptas seized power and reunified Magadha in
CE 319–606, Indian art, culture and philosophy had another renaissance
and Hinduism gained strength again. This power centre was, in its turn,
broken up in the Hun invasion, bringing confusion to northern India.
Muslim conquerors began entering the north from around the seventh
century; this phase of history had its apogee in the Moghul dynasty of
1526 to 1738. One of the great legacies of Moghul India is aesthetic: it
gave to Indian culture new arts in poetry, architecture, garden design
and notably some of the world’s greatest palace and funerary buildings,
of which the Taj Mahal is only one masterpiece. However, the Moghul
dynasty also had negative effects, especially for the south, where the
trading empires, established for centuries and historically involved in
sea trade with such partners as Egypt and the Roman Empire, were
With the decline of the Moghul Empire into separate feudal and often
feuding states, new invaders, Portuguese, Dutch, French and British,
entered the Indian Ocean. In 1690 the British East India Company set
itself up at Calcutta to trade in clothes, tea and spices. The company
had its own private army, with which it ousted the French from Madras in
1748. French plans for control of the subcontinent were finally ended by
decisive British victories in 1756–63. One by one, the company then
conquered the Indian states until it had control of virtually the whole
subcontinent by 1820. Those states which remained unconquered entered
into alliance with Britain.
Sporadic resistance to the rule of the East India Company culminated in
a major uprising in 1857, known to the British as the Indian Mutiny.
After its suppression, the British Crown took direct control. The high
colonial period followed, when the Indian railway system was
constructed, a nationwide education system established, and the world’s
then largest administrative system developed. There was also, however,
substantial disruption: India’s handloom textile industry was destroyed
by competition from British mills and peasant farming hit by
reorganisation in favour of cash crops. India’s importance to Britain
was as more than a source of raw materials and a market for British
manufactured goods. India underpinned Britain’s imperial influence and
strength, the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of the British Empire.
However, the independence movement not only brought an end to British
rule, but also set the pattern for resistance to colonialism everywhere.
The Indian National Congress was set up in 1885; Mohandas (Mahatma)
Gandhi became its leader after 1918 and set it on its course of
non-violent non-co-operation with the foreign rulers. Gandhi’s methods
of mass mobilisation greatly impressed the Congress radical wing and a
young activist, Jawaharlal Nehru. There was, however, bloodshed at
Amritsar, Punjab, in 1919 when British troops killed more than 400
The memory of the Amritsar massacre became a rallying cry for the
independence movement. Congress launched its ‘non-co- operation’
campaign: colonial institutions, elections, administrative bodies,
schools and British products were boycotted. Campaign participants were
instructed to accept passively the legal consequences. With Gandhi’s
campaign against the state monopoly on salt, the movement spread
nationwide. Around 27,000 Indian nationalists were imprisoned and the
British administrative system was partially paralysed. The colonial
authorities were politely, but insistently, invited to ‘go home’. As a
result of its much weakened position at the end of World War II, the UK
accepted the inevitable and began the process of transferring power.
India became independent in August 1947.
At independence the subcontinent was divided, at the insistence of
Muslim leaders, into the independent Islamic state of Pakistan and the
independent secular state of India. Some 12 million refugees were
transferred across the borders, as Sikhs and Hindus moved from Pakistan
into India and Muslims migrated to Pakistan. An estimated four million
people migrated in September 1947 alone, amid much violence, including
military action in disputed areas and the murder of the Mahatma himself,
in 1948, by a Hindu extremist. Nehru’s Congress won the general election
(India’s first general election with universal adult suffrage) of 1952;
he remained Prime Minister until his death in 1964 when he was succeeded
by Lal Bahadur Shastri.
During this period the modern nation of India was founded. Nehru had to
address four main areas: the constitution, reorganisation of states,
development of India as an industrial nation, and settling disputes with
neighbours. The main problems with the constitution were the remnants of
the princely states, all eventually brought into the Union (although the
dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir continued into the
2000s), and the redrawing of state boundaries in accordance with
Nehru’s distrust of world powers and exploitation led his pursuit of a
self-sufficient industrial socialist state. He also aimed to resolve
religious conflict through a secular state, and to abolish the caste
system. Internationally, Nehru set India on its course of non-alignment
and was one of the founders of the Non-Aligned Movement. Foreign policy,
however, was dogged with problems, chief among these being the ongoing
crises with Pakistan (and to some extent Bangladesh) over boundaries,
which led to three wars in 1947, 1965 and 1971, and dispute with China
over Tibet in 1962, culminating in armed conflict. In time, India
developed a large and well-equipped army, and was the first Third World
country to develop a nuclear-weapons capability (1974) and equip its
army through indigenous production as well as through imports.
Following Lal Bahadur Shastri’s death in 1966, Nehru’s daughter, Indira
Gandhi, became Prime Minister; she won the 1967 general election, but
lost in 1977. Between 1977 and 1980 a Janata coalition – led by Morarji
Desai, a former member of the Congress party – and then a Lok Dal
coalition ruled the country. Heading her new Congress (I) party, Indira
Gandhi returned to power in the 1980 elections.
In 1984, when there was unrest in several states, Sikh nationalists
demanding autonomy occupied several places of worship; federal troops
stormed the Golden Temple at Amritsar. On 31 October 1984 Indira Gandhi
was assassinated in New Delhi by two Sikh members of her personal
bodyguard. Rajiv Gandhi, her son, was at once sworn in as Prime
Minister. He called elections in December at which Congress (I) won 49
per cent of the votes and 403 seats.
After the November 1989 general election, although Congress (I) remained
the single biggest party in the Lok Sabha, it was unable to command an
overall majority and V P Singh, leader of the new Janata Dal party and
head of the National Front Coalition, became Prime Minister. The Janata
Dal party (a merger of the old Janata and Lok Dal parties) aimed to be
the party of the poor and lower castes.
In 1991, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) withdrew its support,
Janata Dal split and the Lok Sabha was dissolved in March 1991, to
prepare for a general election. While campaigning, Rajiv Gandhi was
assassinated by a member of an extremist faction supporting the Tamil
guerrillas in Sri Lanka. In the elections Congress (I) party took 227
seats and its new leader Narasimha Rao formed a minority government, the
BJP winning 119 seats and Janata Dal 55.
The Rao administration introduced economic reforms and turned the
economy around, but failed to win an overall majority in the 1996
elections. The BJP and its allies won 194 seats, Congress (I) 136 and a
loose alliance of left-wing parties 179 seats, with the remainder won by
minor parties and independents. The BJP formed a minority government
under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, but this proved too fragile to last and the
country was then governed by a coalition of 13, and later 15 parties,
with Deve Gowda and then I K Gujral as Prime Minister, with the support
of Congress (I) which was wracked by defections and splits following its
election defeat. By late 1997 the coalition had lost its majority and an
early general election was called.
But in the February/March 1998 general election again no party emerged
with a clear majority. Of the total of 545 seats, BJP took 181, Congress
(I) 141 and Communist Party of India (Marxist) 32. But after the
negotiations that followed the election the BJP-led coalition had the
support of some 265 members, and Vajpayee of the BJP was able to form a
coalition government comprising some 40 parties and independent members
and finally commanding a majority in an early vote of confidence of
Relations with Pakistan
The year 2002 saw higher levels of tension between India and Pakistan
over Kashmir, especially in May 2002 when India mobilised a vast army
along the Line of Control and the two countries were on the brink of
war. Tension eased considerably in October 2002 when India reduced its
number of troops along the Line of Control; diplomatic relations were
restored in August 2003 and a ceasefire along the Line of Control was
agreed and took effect from 26 November 2003.
Peace talks between India and Pakistan began in 2004, marking a historic
advance in relations between the two countries. The talks led to the
restoration of communication links and a range of confidence-building
measures, including co-ordinated relief efforts in the aftermath of the
October 2005 earthquake.
A series of co-ordinated terrorist attacks in Mumbai during three days
in November 2008 resulted in at least 170 dead and several hundred
injured. The principal targets were two luxury hotels. The Indian
authorities released a dossier of evidence asserting that the ten gunmen
were Pakistan-based. This dossier was subsequently presented to the
Government of Pakistan for it to take appropriate action.
BBC The story of India
China vs India Race to the
Top of the World Documentary
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