A republic in southern Asia; 2nd most populous country in the world; Also called: Bharat.
Country in S Asia, bounded N by China, Nepal, and Bhutan; E by Myanmar; NW by Pakistan; and SE, S, and SW by the Indian Ocean. Situated in the NE of India, N of the Bay of Bengal, is Bangladesh.
India is a federal republic whose 1949 constitution contains elements from the US and British systems of government. It comprises 25 self-governing states, administered by a governor appointed by the federal president, and a council of ministers (headed by a chief minister) drawn from a legislature (legislative assembly) that is popularly elected for a five-year term. Five of the larger states have a second chamber (legislative council). The states have primary control over education, health, police, and local government and work in consultation with the center in the economic sphere. In times of crisis, central rule (“president’s rule”) can be imposed. There are also seven union territories, administered by a lieutenant-governor appointed by the federal president. The central (federal) government has sole responsibility in military and foreign affairs and plays a key role in economic affairs.
The titular, executive head of the federal government is the president, who is elected for five-year terms by an electoral college composed of members from both the federal parliament and the state legislatures. However, real executive power is held by a prime minister and cabinet drawn from the majority party or coalition within the federal parliament.
The two-chamber federal parliament has a 542-member lower house, Lok Sabha (house of the people), which has final authority over financial matters and whose members are directly elected for terms of a maximum of five years from single-member constituencies by universal suffrage, and a 245-member upper house, Rajya Sabha (council of states), whose members are indirectly elected, one-third at a time for six-year terms, by state legislatures on a regional quota basis. (Two seats in the Lok Sabha are reserved for Anglo-Indians, while the president nominates eight representatives of the Rajya Sabha.) Bills to become law must be approved by both chambers of parliament and receive the president's assent.
For history before 1947, see India: history. Between 1947 and 1949 India temporarily remained under the supervision of a governor general appointed by the British monarch while a new constitution was framed and approved. Former princely states (see India of the Princes; Kashmir) were integrated, and the old British provinces restructured into new states; in 1950 India was proclaimed a fully independent federal republic.
During its early years the republic faced the problem of resettling refugees from Pakistan and was involved in border skirmishes over Kashmir. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Nehru, land reforms, a new socialist economic program (involving protectionism), and an emphasis on heavy industries and government planning, were introduced. Sovereignty of parts of India held by France and Portugal was recovered 1950–61.
In foreign affairs, India remained within the Commonwealth, was involved in border clashes with China 1962, and played a leading role in the formation of the nonaligned movement 1961. In 1964, Nehru died and was succeeded as prime minister by Lal Bahadur Shastri. There was a second war with Pakistan over Kashmir 1965. In 1965–66 there were severe famine conditions in Maharashtra state.
Indira Gandhi’s premiership
Indira Gandhi (Nehru’s daughter) became prime minister on Shastri’s death 1966 and kept broadly to her father’s policy program, but drew closer to the USSR with the signing of a 15-year economic and military assistance agreement 1973. In 1971 Indian troops invaded East Pakistan in support of separatist groups. They defeated Pakistan’s troops and oversaw the creation of independent Bangladesh. In 1975, having been found guilty of electoral malpractice during the 1971 election, Indira Gandhi imposed a state of emergency and imprisoned almost 1,000 political opponents. She was cleared of malpractice by the Supreme Court Nov 1975, but the “emergency” continued for two years, during which period a harsh compulsory birth-control program was introduced.
The state of emergency was lifted March 1977 for elections in which the opposition Janata Party was swept to power, led by Morarji Desai. The new government was undermined by economic difficulties and internal factional strife. Desai was toppled as prime minister 1979, and a coalition, under Charan Singh, was soon overthrown. In Jan 1980 the Congress (I) Party, led by Indira Gandhi, was returned to power with a landslide victory.
The new Gandhi administration was economically successful, but the problems of intercaste violence and regional unrest were such that the Congress (I) Party lost control of a number of states. The greatest unrest was in Punjab, where Sikh demands for greater religious recognition and for resolution of water and land disputes with neighboring states escalated into calls for the creation of a separate state of “Khalistan”. In 1984, troops were sent into the Sikhs’ most holy shrine, the Golden Temple at Amritsar, to dislodge the armed Sikh extremist leader Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, resulting in the deaths of Bhindranwale and hundreds of his supporters. The ensuing Sikh backlash brought troop mutinies, culminating in the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards Oct 1984. In Delhi, retaliating Hindus massacred 3,000 Sikhs before the new prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi (Indira’s elder son), restored order.
In Dec 1984 Bhopal in central India became the site of a major industrial accident caused by the US multinational company, Union Carbide, failing to adhere to safety standards. More than 2,500 people were killed.
In the elections of Dec 1984, Congress (I), benefiting from a wave of public sympathy, gained a record victory. As prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi pledged to modernize and inject greater market efficiency into the Indian economy and to resolve the Punjab, Assam, and Kashmir disputes. Early reforms and the spread of technology, with India launching its first space satellite, augured well. Progress was made toward resolving the ethnic disputes in Assam and the hill areas, with 25 years of rebellion ended in Mizoram, which was made a new state of the Indian Union. However, Gandhi was unable to resolve the Punjab problem, with Sikh-Hindu ethnic conflict continuing, while in N India Hindu-Muslim relations deteriorated. Gandhi’s enthusiasm for economic reform also waned from 1986 and his personal reputation was sullied by the uncovering of the “Bofors scandal” by finance minister V P Singh, involving alleged financial kickbacks received by government-connected organizations from a $1,400-million arms contract with the
Swedish Bofors Corporation. In N Sri Lanka, where an Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) had been sent July 1987 at the Sri Lankan government’s request as part of an ambitious peace settlement, Indian troops became bogged down in a civil war.
R Venkataraman was sworn in as president July 1987. Despite bumper harvests 1988–89, Gandhi's popularity continued to fall. V P Singh, who was dismissed from Congress (I) 1987, attacked Gandhi's increasingly dictatorial style and became the recognized leader of the opposition forces, which united under the Janata Dal umbrella Oct 1988. In the general election Nov 1989 a broad anti-Congress electoral pact was forged, embracing the Janata Dal (People's Party), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), both factions of the Communist Party, and the regional-level Telugu Desam. This ensured that Congress (I) failed to secure a working majority. V P Singh, widely respected for his incorruptibility, took over at the head of a minority National Front coalition.
Singh's main objective was the lowering of racial tensions. However, in Jan 1990 Muslim separatist violence erupted in Kashmir, forcing the imposition of direct rule and leading to a deterioration of relations with Pakistan. Relations were improved with the neighboring states of Bhutan, Nepal (which had been subject to a partial border blockade by India during 1989), and Sri Lanka, with whom a date (31 March 1990) was agreed for the withdrawal of the IPKF. President's rule was imposed over Jammu and Kashmir July 1990 and over Assam Nov 1990, as a result of the rising tide of separatist violence. Punjab, where interethnic murders climbed to record heights from Nov, was already under president's rule begun 1983.
During the summer and early autumn of 1990 the Janata Dal government of V P Singh was rocked by a series of events, including the prime minister’s decision to employ more low-caste workers in government and public-sector jobs, which resulted in protests by high-caste students and a split in the Janata Dal. Chandra Shekhar, a long-time Singh opponent, emerged as the leader of a rebel faction. Hindu militants (the Vishwa Hindu Parishad) announced that on 30 Oct 1990 they would begin to build a “birthplace” temple dedicated to the warrior god Ram on the site of a mosque in the northern city of Ayodhya. (Some Hindus believed that the mosque had been built on the site of a Hindu temple, considered to the birthplace of Ram, and it remained a disputed site.) This precipitated serious communal tensions, which the government was unable to quell. On 7 Nov, after troops had fired on Hindu fanatics who were attempting to storm the Ayodhya mosque, the Singh government was voted out of office.
A new minority government was formed by Chandra Shekhar, who led a tiny Janata Dal socialist faction comprising 56 deputies, and was assured of outside support by the Congress Party of Rajiv Gandhi. Violence continued, with a total of 890 people killed and 4,000 injured in Hindu-Muslim riots and 3,560 people killed in the continuing ethnic strife in Punjab 1990. The higher oil prices due to the crisis in the Persian Gulf badly hit India's economy. At the end of Jan 1991 Shekhar dismissed the opposition-led government of the large southern state of Tamil Nadu, citing the presence of Tamil Tiger rebels from N Sri Lanka. In March, Shekhar fell out with his backers, Congress (I), and tendered his resignation, but continued as caretaker premier until elections May 1991.
assassination of Rajiv Gandhi
On 21 May 1991, a day after the first round of voting had taken place in the general election, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated at Sriperumpudur, near Madras, by a bomb strapped to a kamikaze guerrilla. She was one of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who resented the presence of Indian forces in Sri Lanka. P V Narasimha Rao, an experienced southerner, became Congress (I) party president.
Congress (I) minority government
Gandhi’s assassination occurred in the wake of what had been the most violent election campaign in Indian history, with several hundred dying in election-related violence in N India where Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh communal tensions were acute. Fortunately, there was subsequent calm, with polling being delayed until mid-June 1991 in seats not already contested. Benefiting from a sympathy vote, Congress (I) emerged as the largest single party, capturing, along with its allies, around 240 of the 511 seats contested. The BJP, which had performed particularly strongly before Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, captured 125 seats and 25% of the popular vote, V P Singh’s National Front and Left Front (Communist Party) allies captured 125 seats, while the Samajwadi Janata Party of the outgoing premier, Chandra Shekhar, captured only five seats. Congress (I) polled well in central and S India, but was defeated by the BJP in its traditional northern Hindu-belt heartland of Uttar Pradesh, where a BJP state government was subseq
uently formed. The BJP’s rise was the most striking development during this election. A Congress (I) minority government was established, headed by P V Narasimha Rao. In a new industrial policy, subsidies were slashed, inward foreign investment encouraged, and industrial licensing scrapped, bringing an end to the “permit raj”.
The president's rule was extended over Jammu and Kashmir Sept 1991 for a further six months and was imposed in Meghalaya Oct 1991. In Punjab, where killings averaged 600 a month during 1991, the president's rule was to remain in force until state elections Feb 1992. In Sept 1991 a Places of Worship Bill was passed, prohibiting the conversion of any place of worship that existed at the Independence (1947), thus debarring Hindus from converting mosques into temples. Despite the mosque in Ayodhya being exempted from its terms, the bill was opposed by the Hindu-chauvinist BJP.
Prime Minister Rao continued to introduce reforms designed to make the economy more market-conscious and open it up to greater investment. In Nov 1991, in compliance with the conditions for a loan from the International Monetary Fund of US $2.2 billion, it was agreed that fertilizer subsidies should be cut, with small farmers being exempted, and unprofitable factories closed down.
The position of Rao's minority government was strengthened Jan 1992 when a split occurred in the opposition Janata Dal and a number of its deputies left and sought alliance with Congress (I). In elections held Feb 1992 in strife-torn Punjab, Congress (I) won control of the state assembly and a majority in parliament. However, despite heavy security, turnout was only 28%, with the main Sikh nationalist party opponents of Congress boycotting the contest.
Ayodhya mosque destroyed
In Dec 1992 Hindu extremists demolished the Muslim mosque in Ayodhya, spreading communal violence across the country and resulting in over 1,200 deaths, two-thirds of which were Muslims. In response, Prime Minister Rao dismissed four state governments controlled by the Hindu-chauvinist BJP and ordered the arrest of senior opposition leaders and the banning of extremist religious organizations.
In July 1993 Rao narrowly survived a confidence vote but in Dec 1993, with the addition of 10 formerly independent members to Congress (I), the government established a clear parliamentary majority. An earthquake in Maharashtra state had earlier killed tens of thousands, and president's rule remained in force in Manipur, Tripura, and Kashmir, where 114 soldiers, 820 militants, and 577 civilians died Jan–Sept 1993 as a result of the on-going civil war. In Sept 1994 an outbreak of pneumonic plage in the western city of Surat claimed more than 50 lives. Congress (I) suffered losses in four state elections Nov–Dec 1994 and in March 1995 lost control of Maharashtra, for the first time since independence, to a coalition led by the Hindu-chauvinist BJP. It was also defeated in Gujarat, where the BJP won an overwhelming majority.
Despite the breakup of the USSR 1991, economic and military links with Russia remained close. A thaw in relations with China resulted Dec 1991 after the visit to India of Li Peng, the first Chinese premier to visit India since the border conflict of 1962. In Jan 1992 full diplomatic relations with Israel were established.
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