• travel guide
  • Travel Guides
  • Apps & eBooks
  • Community
  • Publish Apps
Travel Guide > Asia > India

India History & Politics

  
 
Upload Photo     Upload Video

Indians date their history from the Vedic Period which scholars place in the second and first millennia BCE continuing up to the 6th century BCE, based on literary evidence. This is the period when the Vedas, the oldest and holiest books of Hinduism, were compiled. The earliest archaeological traces are from 7000 BC in Mehrgarh, which grew to be the "Indus Valley Civilization", which, in 3300 BC had well-planned towns and well-laid roads, but gave no evidence of weapons or fortifications. This declined and disintegrated around 1900 BC, possibly due to drought & geological disturbances. There is a major dispute over whether the textual descriptions in Vedic literature match with the archaeological evidence found in the Indus Valley. The majority of the historians claim that they do not match, which means that Vedic people were not the same as the Indus Valley people. The theory is that the Vedic people were later migrants, who encountered a civilization in decline and perhaps hastened that decline. The minority view challenges this Aryan Migration (or invasion) theory, claiming that the Indus Valley people were in fact the ones who compiled the Vedas.

The Vedic civilization influences India to this day. The roots of present-day Hinduism lie in them. Some rituals of Hinduism took shape during that period. Most North-Indian languages come from Sanskrit, the language of the Vedas, and are classified as part of the Indo-European group of languages. In the 1st millennium BC, various schools of thought in philosophy developed, enriching Hinduism greatly. Most of them claimed to derive from the Vedas. However, two of these schools - Buddhism and Jainism - questioned the authority of the Vedas and they are now recognized as separate religions.

Many great empires were formed between 500 BC and AD 500. Notable among them were the Mauryas and the Guptas (called the Golden Age). This period saw a gradual decline of Buddhism and Jainism. The practice of Buddhism, in particular, disappeared from the Indian mainland, though Buddha himself was incorporated into the Hindu pantheon. Jainism continues to be practised by a significant number who are ambivalent about whether they consider themselves Hindus or not.

Islamic incursions started in the 8th century in the form of raids. Gradually the raiders started staying as rulers, and soon much of North India was ruled by Muslims. The most important of the Muslim rulers were the Mughals, who established an empire that at its peak covered almost the entire subcontinent (save the southern and eastern extremities), while the major Hindu force that survived in the North were the Rajputs. Eventually the Mughal empire declined, partly under attack from the Marathas who established a short-lived confederacy that was almost as big as the Mughal Empire. The Rajput and Mughal period of North India was the golden age for Indian art, architecture, and literature, produced the monumental gems of Rajasthan, and the Taj Mahal. Hindi and Urdu also took root in medieval North India. During the Islamic period, some Hindus also converted to Islam, either due to force, to escape the low social status that the caste system imposed on them, or simply to gain the benefits of being aligned with their rulers. Today, some 13% of the Indian population and an overwhelming majority of Pakistan is Muslim.

South India followed a different trajectory, being less affected by the Islamic invasion. The period from 500 AD to 1600 AD is called the classical period dominated by great South Indian kingdoms. Prominent among them were the Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas and Vijayanagara empires who ruled from present day Karnataka and the Pallavas, Cheras, Pandyas and Cholas who ruled from present day Tamil Nadu & Kerala. Tamil, Kannada and Telugu literature flourished during this time and has been prolific ever since. Among them, the Cholas are widely recognised to be the most powerful of the South Indian kingdoms, with their territory stretching as far north as Pataliputra and their influence spreading as far east as Sumatra, Western Borneo and Southern Vietnam at the height of their power. Some of the grandest Hindu and Jain monuments that exist in India were built during this time in South and East India, which were less subject to Muslim religious prohibitions.

European traders started visiting India beginning in the late 16th century. Prominent among these were the British, French and the Portuguese. By the 19th century, the British East India Company had, one way or the other assumed political control of virtually all of India. though the Portuguese and the French too had their enclaves along the coast. There was an uprising by Indian rulers in 1857 which was suppressed, but which prompted the British government to make India a part of the empire. Many Indians converted to Christianity during the period, for pretty much the same reasons as they converted to Islam, though forcible conversions ended in British India after 1859, when the British Government took over from the East India Company, and Queen Victoria's proclamation promised to respect the religious faiths of Indians.

Non-violent resistance to British colonialism under Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi led to independence on 15 August 1947. However, independence was simultaneously granted to the secular state of India and the smaller Islamic state of Pakistan, and the orgy of Hindu-Muslim bloodletting that followed Partition led to the deaths of at least half a million and the migration of 12-14 million people.

Free India under Nehru adopted a democratically-governed, centrally-planned economy. These policies were aimed at attaining "self-sufficiency", and to a large extent made India what it is today. India achieved self-sufficiency in food grains by the 1970s, ensuring that the large-scale famines that had been common are now history. However these policies also led to shortages, slow growth and large-scale corruption. After a balance-of-payments crisis in 1991, the country adopted free-market reforms which have continued at a meandering pace ever since, fueling strong growth. The IT and the business outsourcing industries have been the drivers for the growth, while manufacturing and agriculture, which have not experienced reforms, are lagging. About 60% of Indians live on agriculture and around 25% remain in poverty.

Relations with Pakistan have been frosty. They have fought three (or four, if you count the Kargil conflict of 1999) wars, mostly over the status of Kashmir. The third war between the two countries in 1971 resulted in East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh. China and India went to war in 1962 over a border dispute. An unprepared India was defeated by China. Viewed as a "betrayal" in India, the defeat still rankles. Though current relations are peaceful, there is still military rivalry and no land crossings are allowed between the two countries, though one border crossing between Sikkim and Tibet was re-opened in 2006 for trade (but not tourists). The security concerns over Pakistan and China prompted India to test nuclear weapons twice (including the 1974 tests described as "peaceful explosions"). India wants to be accepted as a legitimate nuclear power and is campaigning for a permanent Security Council seat.

India is proud of its democratic record. Constitutional government and democratic freedoms have been safeguarded throughout its 60 years as an independent country, except for an 18 month interlude in 1975-1977, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency, suspending elections and human rights.

Current concerns in India include the ongoing dispute with Pakistan, terrorism, over-population, corruption, environmental degradation, continuing poverty, and ethnic and religious strife. But the current obsession, at least among the educated elite, is over whether India will be able overtake China in economic growth.

Most roads and infrastructure continue to remain in a very poor condition as a result of the recent economic development.

Politics

India is a republic, with the President as the Head of State. In practice the Prime Minister is one who wields the most authority in government, with the President's position being only nominal.

The parliament is based on the British Westminster system, consisting of two houses. The lower house, known as the Lok Sabha (House of the People) is popularly elected by the people. Most members of the upper house, known as the Rajya Sabha (Council of States) are elected by members of the state legislatures, though a few are also nominated. The leader of the party with the largest number of seats in the Lok Sabha is appointed as Prime Minister. The parliamentary pattern is repeated in the states, with a few differences. The head of the state is called the Governor rather than the President, and he or she is appointed by the Central Government rather than elected. The head of government is the Chief Minister, who is the leader of the state assembly and appointed in a way similar to the Prime Minister. Legislatures in states may be unicameral or bicameral.





Users for India History & Politics
1 0 0
Make it Happen!

Our service for you - your travel checklist:

  1. Read our online guides
  2. Find a cheap flight
  3. Book a nice hotel
  4. Get travel insurance
    - even during your trip -

...and have fun!