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 traditional agriculture, where tens of millions live below the poverty line; and urban India, one of the most heavily industrialized areas in the world, with an increasingly middle-class population and a fast-growing economy (and also much poverty). Agriculture (about 50% of the land is arable) makes up some 20% of the gross domestic product (GDP) and employs about 60% of the Indian people. Vast quantities of rice are grown wherever the land is level and water plentiful; other crops are wheat, sugarcane, potatoes, pulses, 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, inefficient 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. 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.
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 also 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 ore, mica, manganese, bauxite, and titanium, 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. There are also natural-gas deposits, especially offshore in the Bay of Bengal.
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 12% 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 become a major source of economic growth and in 2005 accounted for more than half of GDP; 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. Transportation by road is increasing, with the improvement of highways, 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 clothing and textiles, gems and jewelry, engineering products, chemicals, leather goods, computer software, cotton thread, and handicrafts. The chief imports are crude oil, machinery, gems, fertilizers, and chemicals. India's major trade partners are the United States, China, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Great Britain, and Switzerland.
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, who is head of state, is elected for a five-year term by the elected members of the federal and state parliaments; there are no term limits. 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 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. Members serve for six years, with one third retiring every other year. The lower house, the People's Assembly (Lok Sabha), is elected every five years, although it may be dissolved earlier by the president. It is composed of 545 members, 543 apportioned among the states and two chosen by the president. There is a supreme court consisting of a chief justice and 25 associate justices, all 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. Administratively, India is divided into 28 states and seven union territories.
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.From the Indus Valley to the Fall of the Mughal Empire
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 B.C. to c.1700 B.C. 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 B.C. 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 B.C.), that the founders of Jainism and Buddhism preached. Kosala was another kingdom of the period.
In 327-325 B.C., 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 B.C.), 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 B.C.), 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. B.C.) 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. A.D.) great prosperity.
In the 4th and 5th cent. A.D., 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.The Arrival of the Europeans
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.India under British Rule
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.India Moves toward Independence
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.Independence and the India-Pakistan Split
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.Problems on India's Borders
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.India in the Late Twentieth Century
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 14,000 people died, and hundreds of thousands were made homeless. Maoist rebels, largely insignficant since the 1980s, became an increasing problem for the government in E India, especially in Chattisgarh and neighboring states, beginning in 2004.
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. U.S. 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. The Communist allies of the Congress party also objected to the deal on the grounds that it infringed on India's sovereignty, and their objections to it threatened to bring down the government in 2007.
A series of bomb attacks on the Mumbai rail system on July 11, 2006, killed some 200 people and injured 700; it was initially unclear who mounted them, though the police suspected a Muslim terror group. The attack was the worst of several in 2006 and 2007. 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. The monsoons of 2007 brought serious flooding in parts of India, especially Assam, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh. Assam was particularly hard-hit, experiencing three waves of flooding that affected some 12 million people. The same states were hit by serious monsoon flooding in 2008 as well.
The first negotiations with Pakistan since a civilian government came to power there occurred in May, 2008, but after a July terror attack against its embassy in Afghanistan India accused Pakistan of continuing to support terrorist violence against it. In July, 2008, the Communists withdrew from the governing coalition after the prime minister decided to proceed with the nuclear pact signed with the United States. With the support of the pro-business Samajwadi party, other small parties, and independents, the Congress-led minority government survived a confidence vote later in July, ending months of indecision on the pact. The opposition, however, accused the government of attempting bribery to win the relatively close vote. In September the International Atomic Energy Agency approved lifting a ban on nuclear trade with India, and the U.S. Congress ratified the nuclear agreement with India.
In 2008 India again experienced a series of terrorist bombings in which a number of cities were struck several times in one day; those attacks were apparently the work of Indian Islamic militants. In November, however, Islamic terrorists from Pakistan attacked several sites in Mumbai, killing more that 170 people. India demanded that Pakistan take action against those it said were linked to the attacks, leading to increased tensions with Pakistan.
Maoist rebels in E India launched significantly more serious attacks in 2009, leading the government to begin a major counterinsurgency offensive against them later in the year. In Feb., 2009, Pakistan acknowledged that the Mumbai attack was partially planned in and launched from Pakistan, and said that it had arrested of number of individuals in connection with the attack. Congress and its allies won an increased plurality in the May, 2009, parliamentary elections, and again formed a coalition government with Singh as prime minister.
See J. Nehru, The Discovery of India (1946, repr. 1989); O. H. K. Spate, India and Pakistan: A General and Regional Geography (3d ed. 1967); D. N. Majumdar, Races and Cultures of India (4th ed. 1961, repr. 1973); A. L. Basham, ed., A Cultural History of India (1984); J. Brown, Modern India (1985); V. E. Smith, The Oxford History of Modern India (3d ed. 1985); R. F. Nyrop, ed., India: A Country Study (4th ed. 1986); G. Johnson et al., ed., The New Cambridge History of India (1987-); S. Muthiah, ed., A Social and Economic Atlas to India (1987); A. Singh, The Origins of the Partition of India, 1936-1947 (1987); A. T. Philip and K. H. Rao, Indian Government and Politics (4th rev. ed. 1988); P. Moon, The British Conquest and Dominion of India (1989); B. Jalan, India's Economic Crisis (1991); S. Khilnani, The Idea of India (1998); L. James, Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India (1999); D. Gilmour, The Ruling Caste (2006).
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Trading company founded by Jean-Baptiste Colbert in 1664, and its successors, established to oversee French commerce with India, East Africa, and other territories of the Indian Ocean and the East Indies. In constant competition with the already-established Dutch East India Co., it mounted expensive expeditions that were often harassed by the Dutch. It also suffered in the French economic crash of 1720, and by 1740 the value of its trade with India was half that of the English East India Co. Its monopoly over French trade with India was ended in 1769, and it languished until its disappearance in the French Revolution.
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Trading company founded by the Dutch in 1602 to protect their trade in the Indian Ocean and to assist in their war of independence from Spain. The Dutch government granted it a trade monopoly in the waters between the Cape of Good Hope and the Straits of Magellan. Under the administration of forceful governors-general, it was able to defeat the British fleet and largely displace the Portuguese in the East Indies. It prospered through most of the 17th century but then began to decline as a trading and sea power; it was dissolved in 1799. Seealso East India Co., French East India Co.
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English chartered company formed for trade with East and Southeast Asia and India, incorporated in 1600. It began as a monopolistic trading body, establishing early trading stations at Surat, Madras (now Chennai), Bombay (Mumbai), and Calcutta (Kolkata). Trade in spices was its original focus; this broadened to include cotton, silk, and other goods. In 1708 it merged with a rival and was renamed the United Co. of Merchants of England Trading to the East Indies. Becoming involved in politics, it acted as the chief agent of British imperialism in India in the 18th–19th century, exercising substantial power over much of the subcontinent. The company's activities in China in the 19th century served as a catalyst for the expansion of British influence there; its financing of the tea trade with illegal opium exports led to the first Opium War (1839–42). From the late 18th century it gradually lost both commercial and political control; its autonomy diminished after two acts of Parliament (1773, 1774) established a regulatory board responsible to Parliament, though the act gave the company supreme authority in its domains. It ceased to exist as a legal entity in 1873. See also Dutch East India Co., French East India Co.
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India, officially the Republic of India (भारत गणराज्य Bhārat Gaṇarājya; see also other Indian languages), is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh largest country by geographical area, the second most populous country, and the most populous democracy in the world. Bounded by the Indian Ocean on the south, the Arabian Sea on the west, and the Bay of Bengal on the east, India has a coastline of . It borders Pakistan to the west; China, Nepal, and Bhutan to the north-east; and Bangladesh and Burma to the east. India is in the vicinity of Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Indonesia in the Indian Ocean.
Home to the Indus Valley Civilization and a region of historic trade routes and vast empires, the Indian subcontinent was identified with its commercial and cultural wealth for much of its long history. Four major world religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism originated there, while Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam arrived in the first millennium CE and shaped the region's diverse culture. Gradually annexed by the British East India Company from the early eighteenth century and colonised by the United Kingdom from the mid-nineteenth century, India became a modern nation state in 1947 after a struggle for independence that was marked by widespread nonviolent resistance.
India is a parliamentary republic consisting of 28 states and 7 union territories. It has the world's twelfth largest economy at market exchange rates and the fourth largest in purchasing power. Economic reforms have transformed it into the second fastest growing large economy; however, it still suffers from high levels of poverty, illiteracy, and malnutrition. A pluralistic, multilingual, and multiethnic society, India is also home to a diversity of wildlife in a variety of protected habitats.
Stone Age rock shelters with paintings at the Bhimbetka rock shelters in Madhya Pradesh are the earliest known traces of human life in India. The first known permanent settlements appeared over 9,000 years ago and gradually developed into the Indus Valley Civilization, dating back to 3300 BCE in western India. It was followed by the Vedic period, which laid the foundations of Hinduism and other cultural aspects of early Indian society, and ended in the 500s BCE. From around 550 BCE, many independent kingdoms and republics known as the Mahajanapadas were established across the country.
In the third century BCE, most of South Asia was united into the Maurya Empire by Chandragupta Maurya and flourished under Ashoka the Great. From the third century CE, the Gupta dynasty oversaw the period referred to as ancient "India's Golden Age. Empires in Southern India included those of the Chalukyas, the Cholas and the Vijayanagara Empire. Science, engineering, art, literature, astronomy, and philosophy flourished under the patronage of these kings.
Following invasions from Central Asia between the tenth and twelfth centuries, much of North India came under the rule of the Delhi Sultanate, and later the Mughal Empire. Mughal emperors gradually expanded their empires to cover large parts of the subcontinent. However, in North-Eastern India, the dominant power was the Ahom kingdom of Assam, among the few kingdoms to have resisted Mughal subjugation.
From the sixteenth century, several European countries, including Portugal, the Netherlands, France, and the United Kingdom, started arriving as traders and later took advantage of the fractious nature of relations between the kingdoms to establish colonies in the country. By 1856, most of India was under the control of the British East India Company. A year later, a nationwide insurrection of rebelling military units and kingdoms, variously referred to as the India's First War of Independence or Sepoy Mutiny, seriously challenged the British Company's control but eventually failed. As a consequence, India came under the direct rule of the British Crown as a colony of the British Empire.
During the first half of the twentieth century, a nationwide struggle for independence was launched by the Indian National Congress and other political organizations. In the 1920s and 1930, under a movement led by Mahatma Gandhi, chatacterized by the commitment to ahimsa, or non-violence, millions of protesters engaged in mass campaigns of civil disobedience. Finally, on 15 August 1947, India gained independence from British rule, but was partitioned with independent governments for the Dominion of India and the Dominion of Pakistan in accordance with the wishes of the Muslim League, to create a nation state along the lines of religion. Three years later, on 26 January 1950, India became a republic and a new constitution came into effect.
Since independence, India has suffered from religious violence, casteism and insurgencies in various parts, but has been able to control them through tolerance and constitutional reforms. Terrorism in India is also a major security problem, especially in Jammu and Kashmir, North-east India and recently in major cities like Delhi and Mumbai, 2001 Indian Parliament attack being the most prominent one. India has unresolved territorial disputes with China, which in 1962 escalated into the Sino-Indian War; and with Pakistan, which resulted in wars in 1947, 1965, 1971, and 1999. India is a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement and the United Nations (as part of British India). In 1974, India conducted an underground nuclear test. This was followed by five more tests in 1998, making India a nuclear state. Beginning in 1991, significant economic reforms have transformed India into one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, adding to its global and regional clout.
The Constitution of India, the longest and the most exhaustive constitution of any independent nation in the world, came into force on January 26, 1950. The preamble of the constitution defines India as a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic. India has a bicameral parliament operating under a Westminster-style parliamentary system. Its form of government was traditionally described as being 'quasi-federal' with a strong centre and weak states, but it has grown increasingly federal since the late 1990s as a result of political, economic and social changes.
The President of India is the head of state elected indirectly by an electoral college for a five-year term. The Prime Minister is the head of government and exercises most executive powers. The Prime Minister is appointed by the President and, by convention, is the candidate supported by the party or political alliance holding the majority of seats in the lower house of Parliament.
The legislature of India is the bicameral Parliament, which consists of the upper house called the Rajya Sabha (Council of States) and the lower house called the Lok Sabha (House of People). The Rajya Sabha, a permanent body, has 245 members serving staggered six year terms. Most are elected indirectly by the state and territorial legislatures in proportion to the state's population. 543 of the Lok Sabha's 545 members are directly elected by popular vote to represent individual constituencies for five year terms. The other two members are nominated by the President from the Anglo-Indian community if, the President is of the opinion that community is not adequately represented.
The executive branch consists of the President, Vice-President, and the Council of Ministers (the Cabinet being its executive committee) headed by the Prime Minister. Any minister holding a portfolio must be a member of either house of parliament. In the Indian parliamentary system, the executive is subordinate to the legislature, with the Prime Minister and his Council being directly responsible to the lower house of the parliament.
India has a unitary three-tier judiciary, consisting of the Supreme Court, headed by the Chief Justice of India, twenty-one High Courts, and a large number of trial courts. The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over cases involving fundamental rights and over disputes between states and the Centre, and appellate jurisdiction over the High Courts. It is judicially independent, and has the power to declare the law and to strike down union or state laws which contravene the Constitution. The role as the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution is one of the most important functions of the Supreme Court.
India, at the federal level, is the most populous democracy in the world. For most of its democratic history, the federal government has been led by the Indian National Congress (INC). State politics have been dominated by several national parties including the INC, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)), and various regional parties. From 1950 to 1990, barring two brief periods, the INC enjoyed a parliamentary majority. The INC was out of power between 1977 and 1980, when the Janata Party won the election owing to public discontent with the "Emergency" declared by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In 1989, a Janata Dal-led National Front coalition in alliance with the Left Front coalition won the elections but managed to stay in power for only two years.
The years 1996–1998 were a period of turmoil in the federal government with several short-lived alliances holding sway. The BJP formed a government briefly in 1996, followed by the United Front coalition. In 1998, the BJP formed the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) with several regional parties and became the first non-Congress government to complete a full five-year term. In the 2004 Indian elections, the INC won the largest number of Lok Sabha seats and formed a government with a coalition called the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), supported by various left-leaning parties and members opposed to the BJP.
Since its independence in 1947, India has maintained cordial relationships with most nations. It took a leading role in the 1950s by advocating the independence of European colonies in Africa and Asia. India is a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement. After the Sino-Indian War and the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, India's relationship with the Soviet Union warmed at the expense of ties with the United States and continued to remain so until the end of the Cold War. India has fought three wars with Pakistan, primarily over Kashmir. Additional skirmishes have taken place between the two nations particularly in 1984 over Siachen Glacier and in 1999 over Kargil.
In recent years, India has played an influential role in the ASEAN, SAARC, and the WTO. India is a founding member and long time supporter of the United Nations, with over 55,000 Indian military and police personnel having served in thirty-five UN peace keeping operations deployed across four continents. Despite criticism and military sanctions, India has consistently refused to sign the CTBT and the NPT, preferring instead to maintain sovereignty over its nuclear program. Recent overtures by the Indian government have strengthened relations with the United States, China, and Pakistan. In the economic sphere, India has close relationships with other developing nations in South America, Asia, and Africa.
India maintains the third largest military force in the world, which consists of the Indian Army, Navy, and Air Force. Auxiliary forces such as the Paramilitary Forces, the Coast Guard, and the Strategic Forces Command also come under the military's purview. The President of India is the supreme commander of the Indian armed forces. India became a nuclear power in 1974 after conducting an initial nuclear test, Operation Smiling Buddha. Further underground testing in 1998 led to international military sanctions against India, that was gradually withdrawn after September 2001. India maintains a "no first use" nuclear policy.
India is a federal republic of twenty-eight states and seven Union Territories. All states, and the two union territories of Puducherry and the National Capital Territory of Delhi have elected governments. The other five union territories have centrally appointed administrators and hence are under direct rule of the President. In 1956, under the States Reorganisation Act, states were formed on a linguistic basis. Since then, this structure has remained largely unchanged. Each state or union territory is divided into basic units of government and administration called districts. There are nearly 600 districts in India. The districts in turn are further divided into tehsils and eventually into villages.
India's defining geological processes commenced seventy-five million years ago, when the Indian subcontinent, then part of the southern supercontinent Gondwana, began a northeastwards drift—lasting fifty million years—across the then unformed Indian Ocean. The subcontinent's subsequent collision with the Eurasian Plate and subduction under it, gave rise to the Himalayas, the planet's highest mountains, which now abut India in the north and the north-east. In the former seabed immediately south of the emerging Himalayas, plate movement created a vast trough, which, having gradually been filled with river-borne sediment, now forms the Indo-Gangetic Plain. To the west of this plain, and cut off from it by the Aravalli Range, lies the Thar Desert. The original Indian plate now survives as peninsular India, the oldest and geologically most stable part of India, and extending as far north as the Satpura and Vindhya ranges in central India. These parallel ranges run from the Arabian Sea coast in Gujarat in the west to the coal-rich Chota Nagpur Plateau in Jharkhand in the east. To their south, the remaining peninsular landmass, the Deccan Plateau, is flanked on the left and right by the coastal ranges, Western Ghats and Eastern Ghats respectively; the plateau contains the oldest rock formations in India, some over one billion years old. Constituted in such fashion, India lies to the north of the equator between 6°44' and 35°30' north latitude and 68°7' and 97°25' east longitude.
India's coast is long; of this distance, belong to peninsular India, and to the Andaman, Nicobar, and Lakshadweep Islands. According to the Indian naval hydrographic charts, the mainland coast consists of the following: 43% sandy beaches, 11% rocky coast including cliffs, and 46% mudflats or marshy coast.
Major Himalayan-origin rivers that substantially flow through India include the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, both of which drain into the Bay of Bengal. Important tributaries of the Ganges include the Yamuna and the Kosi, whose extremely low gradient causes disastrous floods every year. Major peninsular rivers whose steeper gradients prevent their waters from flooding include the Godavari, the Mahanadi, the Kaveri, and the Krishna, which also drain into the Bay of Bengal; and the Narmada and the Tapti, which drain into the Arabian Sea. Among notable coastal features of India are the marshy Rann of Kutch in western India, and the alluvial Sundarbans delta, which India shares with Bangladesh. India has two archipelagos: the Lakshadweep, coral atolls off India's south-western coast; and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a volcanic chain in the Andaman Sea.
India's climate is strongly influenced by the Himalayas and the Thar Desert, both of which drive the monsoons. The Himalayas prevent cold Central Asian katabatic winds from blowing in, keeping the bulk of the Indian subcontinent warmer than most locations at similar latitudes. The Thar Desert plays a crucial role in attracting the moisture-laden southwest summer monsoon winds that, between June and October, provide the majority of India's rainfall. Four major climatic groupings predominate in India: tropical wet, tropical dry, subtropical humid, and montane.
India, which lies within the Indomalaya ecozone, displays significant biodiversity. One of eighteen megadiverse countries, it is home to 7.6% of all mammalian, 12.6% of all avian, 6.2% of all reptilian, 4.4% of all amphibian, 11.7% of all fish, and 6.0% of all flowering plant species. Many ecoregions, such as the shola forests, exhibit extremely high rates of endemism; overall, 33% of Indian plant species are endemic. India's forest cover ranges from the tropical rainforest of the Andaman Islands, Western Ghats, and North-East India to the coniferous forest of the Himalaya. Between these extremes lie the sal-dominated moist deciduous forest of eastern India; the teak-dominated dry deciduous forest of central and southern India; and the babul-dominated thorn forest of the central Deccan and western Gangetic plain. Important Indian trees include the medicinal neem, widely used in rural Indian herbal remedies. The pipal fig tree, shown on the seals of Mohenjo-daro, shaded Gautama Buddha as he sought enlightenment.
Many Indian species are descendants of taxa originating in Gondwana, to which India originally belonged. Peninsular India's subsequent movement towards, and collision with, the Laurasian landmass set off a mass exchange of species. However, volcanism and climatic changes 20 million years ago caused the extinction of many endemic Indian forms. Soon thereafter, mammals entered India from Asia through two zoogeographical passes on either side of the emerging Himalaya. Consequently, among Indian species, only 12.6% of mammals and 4.5% of birds are endemic, contrasting with 45.8% of reptiles and 55.8% of amphibians. Notable endemics are the Nilgiri leaf monkey and the brown and carmine Beddome's toad of the Western Ghats. India contains 172, or 2.9%, of IUCN-designated threatened species. These include the Asiatic Lion, the Bengal Tiger, and the Indian white-rumped vulture, which suffered a near-extinction from ingesting the carrion of diclofenac-treated cattle.
In recent decades, human encroachment has posed a threat to India's wildlife; in response, the system of national parks and protected areas, first established in 1935, was substantially expanded. In 1972, India enacted the Wildlife Protection Act and Project Tiger to safeguard crucial habitat; in addition, the Forest Conservation Act was enacted in 1980. Along with more than five hundred wildlife sanctuaries, India hosts thirteen biosphere reserves, four of which are part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves; twenty-five wetlands are registered under the Ramsar Convention.
For most of its post-independence history, India adhered to a quasi-socialist approach with strict government control over private sector participation, foreign trade, and foreign direct investment. However, since 1991, India has gradually opened up its markets through economic reforms and reduced government controls on foreign trade and investment. Foreign exchange reserves have risen from US$5.8 billion in March 1991 to US$308 billion on 4 July 2008, while federal and state budget deficits have decreased. Privatization of publicly-owned companies and the opening of certain sectors to private and foreign participation has continued amid political debate. India's GDP in terms of USD exchange-rate is US$1.089 trillion. When measured in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP), India has the world's fourth largest GDP at US$4.726 trillion. India's per capita income (nominal) is US$977, while its per capita (PPP) is US$2700.
With an average annual GDP growth rate of 5.5% for the past two decades, the economy is among the fastest growing in the world. India has the world's second largest labour force, with 516.3 million people, 60% of whom are employed in agriculture and related industries; 28% in services and related industries; and 12% in industry. Major agricultural crops include rice, wheat, oilseed, cotton, jute, tea, sugarcane, and potatoes. The agricultural sector accounts for 28% of GDP; the service and industrial sectors make up 54% and 18% respectively. Major industries include automobiles, cement, chemicals, consumer electronics, food processing, machinery, mining, petroleum, pharmaceuticals, steel, transportation equipment, and textiles. Along with India’s fast economic growth comes its growing demand for energy. According to the Energy Information Administration, India is the sixth largest consumer of oil and third largest consumer of coal.
Although the Indian economy has grown steadily over the last two decades; its growth has been uneven when comparing different social groups, economic groups, geographic regions, and rural and urban areas. Income inequality in India is relatively small (Gini coefficient: 36.8 in year 2004), though it has been increasing of late. Wealth distribution in India is fairly uneven, with the top 10% of income groups earning 33% of the income. Despite significant economic progress, a quarter of the nation's population earns less than the government-specified poverty threshold of $0.40 per day. In 2004–2005, 27.5% of the population was living below the poverty line.
More recently, India has capitalised on its large pool of educated, English-speaking people, and trained professionals to become an important outsourcing destination for multinational corporations and a popular destination for medical tourism. India has also become a major exporter of software as well as financial, research, and technological services. Its natural resources include arable land, bauxite, chromite, coal, diamonds, iron ore, limestone, manganese, mica, natural gas, petroleum, and titanium ore.
In 2007, estimated exports stood at US$140 billion and imports were around US$224.9 billion. Textiles, jewellery, engineering goods and software are major export commodities. While crude oil, machineries, fertilizers, and chemicals are major imports. India's most important trading partners are the United States, the European Union, and China.
With an estimated population of 1.13 billion, India is the world's second most populous country. Almost 70% of Indians reside in rural areas, although in recent decades migration to larger cities has led to a dramatic increase in the country's urban population. India's largest cities are Mumbai (formerly Bombay), Delhi, Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), Chennai (formerly Madras), Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore), Hyderabad and Ahmedabad.
India is the second-most culturally, linguistically and genetically diverse geographical entity after the African continent. India is home to two major linguistic families: Indo-Aryan (spoken by about 74% of the population) and Dravidian (spoken by about 24%). Other languages spoken in India come from the Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman linguistic families. Hindi, with the largest number of speakers, is the official language of the union. English, which is extensively used in business and administration, has the status of a 'subsidiary official language.' The constitution also recognises in particular 21 other languages that are either abundantly spoken or have classical status. The number of dialects in India is as high as 1,652.
Over 800 million Indians (80.5%) are Hindu. Other religious groups include Muslims (13.4%), Christians (2.3%), Sikhs (1.9%), Buddhists (0.8%), Jains (0.4%), Jews, Zoroastrians, Bahá'ís and others. Tribals constitute 8.1% of the population.
India's literacy rate is 64.8% (53.7% for females and 75.3% for males). The state of Kerala has the highest literacy rate (91%); Bihar has the lowest (47%). The national human sex ratio is 944 females per 1,000 males. India's median age is 24.9, and the population growth rate of 1.38% per annum; there are 22.01 births per 1,000 people per year.
India's culture is marked by a high degree of syncretism and cultural pluralism. It has managed to preserve established traditions while absorbing new customs, traditions, and ideas from invaders and immigrants and spreading its cultural influence to other parts of Asia.
Indian architecture is one area that represents the diversity of Indian culture. Much of it, including notable monuments such as the Taj Mahal and other examples of Mughal architecture and South Indian architecture, comprises a blend of ancient and varied local traditions from several parts of the country and abroad. Vernacular architecture also displays notable regional variation.
Indian music covers a wide range of traditions and regional styles. Classical music largely encompasses the two genres – North Indian Hindustani, South Indian Carnatic traditions and their various offshoots in the form of regional folk music. Regionalised forms of popular music include filmi and folk music; the syncretic tradition of the bauls is a well-known form of the latter.
Indian dance too has diverse folk and classical forms. Among the well-known folk dances are the bhangra of the Punjab, the bihu of Assam, the chhau of West Bengal, Jharkhand and Orissa and the ghoomar of Rajasthan. Eight dance forms, many with narrative forms and mythological elements, have been accorded classical dance status by India's National Academy of Music, Dance, and Drama. These are: bharatanatyam of the state of Tamil Nadu, kathak of Uttar Pradesh, kathakali and mohiniyattam of Kerala, kuchipudi of Andhra Pradesh, manipuri of Manipur, odissi of Orissa and the sattriya of Assam.
Theatre in India often incorporates music, dance, and improvised or written dialogue. Often based on Hindu mythology, but also borrowing from medieval romances, and news of social and political events, Indian theatre includes the bhavai of state of Gujarat, the jatra of West Bengal, the nautanki and ramlila of North India, the tamasha of Maharashtra, the terukkuttu of Tamil Nadu, and the yakshagana of Karnataka.
The Indian film industry is the largest in the world. Bollywood, based in Mumbai, makes commercial Hindi films and is the most prolific film industry in the world. Established traditions also exist in Bengali, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil, and Telugu language cinemas.
The earliest works of Indian literature were transmitted orally and only later written down. These included works of Sanskrit literature – such as the early Vedas, the epics Mahābhārata and Ramayana, the drama Abhijñānaśākuntalam (The Recognition of Śakuntalā), and poetry such as the Mahākāvya – and the Tamil language Sangam literature. Among Indian writers of the modern era active in Indian languages or English, Rabindranath Tagore won the Nobel Prize in 1913.
Indian cuisine is characterized by a wide variety of regional styles and sophisticated use of herbs and spices. The staple foods in the region are rice (especially in the south and the east) and wheat (predominantly in the north). Spices originally native to the Indian subcontinent that are now consumed world wide include black pepper; in contrast, hot chili peppers, popular across India, were introduced by the Portuguese.
Traditional Indian dress varies across the regions in its colours and styles and depends on various factors, including climate. Popular styles of dress include draped garments such as sari for women and dhoti or lungi for men; in addition, stitched clothes such as salwar kameez for women and kurta-pyjama and European-style trousers and shirts for men, are also popular.
Many Indian festivals are religious in origin, although several are celebrated irrespective of caste and creed. Some popular festivals are Diwali, Thai Pongal, Holi, Onam, Vijayadasami, Durga Puja, Eid ul-Fitr, Bakr-Id, Christmas, Buddha Jayanti and Vaisakhi. India has three national holidays. Other sets of holidays, varying between nine and twelve, are officially observed in individual states. Religious practices are an integral part of everyday life and are a very public affair.
Traditional Indian family values are highly respected, although urban families now prefer the nuclear family structure due to the socio-economic constraints imposed by traditional joint family system.
India's national sport is field hockey, with cricket being its most popular. In some states, particularly those in the northeast and the states of West Bengal, Goa, and Kerala, Association football is also a popular sport. In recent times, tennis has also gained popularity. Chess, commonly held to have originated in India, is also gaining popularity with the rise in the number of Indian Grandmasters. Traditional sports include kabaddi, kho kho, and gilli-danda, which are played nationwide. India is also home to the ancient martial arts, Kalarippayattu and Varma Kalai. Martial arts practised in neighboring countries are said to have been influenced by this country.