Country in southern Asia, bounded to the north by China, Nepal, and Bhutan; east by Myanmar and Bangladesh; northwest by Pakistan and Afghanistan; and southeast, south, and southwest by the Indian Ocean.
India is a federal republic with a multiparty parliamentary democracy and a prime ministerial political executive. It is a union of 28 self-governing states and seven union territories. Its 1949 constitution contains elements from the US and British systems of government. Each state is administered by a governor, appointed by the federal president for a five-year term, and has a legislative assembly popularly elected for a five-year term, from which a council of ministers (headed by a chief minister) is drawn. A number 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 centre in the economic sphere. In times of crisis, central rule (‘president's rule’) can be imposed. The seven union territories, which include New Delhi, are 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 federal president is elected for a five-year term by an electoral college composed of members from the federal parliament and the state legislatures and is the ceremonial head of state. But 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 545-member lower house, Lok Sabha (house of the people), which has final authority over financial matters. Except for two seats reserved for Anglo-Indians, its deputies are directly elected for a maximum term of five years from single-member constituencies by universal suffrage. The upper house is the 244-member Rajya Sabha (council of states), 233 of whose members are indirectly elected, one-third at a time for six-year terms, by state legislatures on a regional quota basis. The remaining representatives of the Rajya Sabha are presidential nominees. To become law, bills must be approved by both chambers of parliament and receive the president's assent.
For the history of the Indian subcontinent (including India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) prior to partition and independence in 1947, see India: history to 1526, India: history 1526-1858, and India: history 1858-1947.
Independence and partition
In August 1947 the first prime minister of independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru, declared, ‘Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge’. India became independent from Britain at midnight on 14-15 August 1947. Lord Mountbatten, who had been sent as the last imperial viceroy to administer the handing over of power, remained as India's first governor general, and until 1949 India temporarily remained under the supervision of a governor general appointed by the British monarch while a new constitution was framed and approved. India remained within the Commonwealth.
The Muslims of British India had insisted on the creation of a separate Muslim state, and independence had been accompanied by the partition of the subcontinent into two states: the predominantly Muslim Pakistan, and the predominantly Hindu and Sikh India. Hundreds of thousands died in the communal violence accompanying the resultant mass migration of over 70 million Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs.
The intervention of Mahatma Gandhi in Bengal largely stemmed the violence, but in January 1948 he was assassinated by a Hindu fanatic. Gandhi had led the Indian National Congress (see Congress Party) in its campaign for independence, and although he no longer held any official position, few decisions could be taken without his approval. His power over the masses was symbolized by the success his numerous fasts had on stemming communal violence. His ideal of satyagraha, passive nonviolent resistance (see noncooperation movement), has greatly influenced Indian politics.
The Princely States and the Kashmir question
The Congress party, which had won independence, ruled with little opposition. In addition to having to deal with the virtual civil war in the Punjab caused by the mass migrations, the new government had to deal with the problems associated with the Princely States (see India of the Princes), the territories in the subcontinent that were ruled by native princes, not directly under British rule.
Under the terms of independence from Britain, each of the Princely States had the option of joining either Pakistan or India, or to remain independent. None chose the latter course. Hyderabad and Junagadh both had Muslim rulers and Hindu populations, but after the rulers of both decided to join Pakistan, their territories were forcibly annexed by India. In Kashmir, despite the majority of the population being Muslim, its Hindu maharaja decided to join India and called for Indian intervention when Muslims marched from the north on Srinagar. Fighting between Indian and Pakistani troops was brought to an end by a UN ceasefire on 30 October 1948, but Kashmir continued to be a source of tension and conflict between India and Pakistan.
Shock and sorrow at Gandhi's assassination briefly improved relations between India and Pakistan, but this did not last long. In 1949 India stopped coal supplies to Pakistan, claiming that the latter was holding up supplies of raw jute. East Bengal (then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh), which before partition had produced over 75% of India's jute, was left with unsold stocks, while the mills in West Bengal had no material to process. Further cross-border migrations took place.
The Congress government and the new constitution
In the early years after independence, Prime Minister Nehru was given free rein in international affairs, while the home affairs and states minister, V J Patel, assisted by his secretary V P Menon, had most influence at home. Under Patel the new Indian government took over the public services, and most of their personnel, almost intact. Despite opposition from Hindu extremists, India remained secular and a compromise language formula was found, with English remaining the official language for 15 years.
Its 1949 constitution was Western in character, drawing upon the 1935 Government of India Act (see India: history 1858-1947), the US constitution, and those of Europe, including that of the Soviet Union.
After the death of Patel in December 1950, Nehru became the unchallenged leader of India. In the first general elections (1951-52) 173 million people voted and Congress depended for its massive success on Nehru's charisma. Although there were 59 other parties, Congress had a landslide victory. The Communists, having unsuccessfully tried revolution in the Telengana district of Hyderabad between 1948 and 1951, turned instead to the democratic process.
In the 1957 elections the Communist Party polled 12 million votes to become the largest opposition party in the central parliament. The Communist Party enjoyed great popularity in Kerala, a poor but literate state, where it governed, carrying out successful reforms from 1957 until 1959 when the ‘president's rule’ was imposed from the centre. In 1960 the Communists in Kerala polled 44% of the vote, and in the 1962 elections they formed the major opposition party in Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal.
The power of Congress depended on its heroic past, but its early self-sacrifice turned to corruption, and the social and economic reforms that were endorsed by the party were often not carried out. Nehru himself threatened to resign after Congress's vote was reduced in the 1957 election, and Kerala lost to the Communists, citing what he called his party's ‘deep malaise’.
The language issue
The demand, backed by violence, for the states to be organized on linguistic grounds, was a major problem. When a Telugu-speaking leader died from his fast, Nehru capitulated and new boundaries were drawn up for the state of Andhra, and a new commission advocated the creation of states on a linguistic basis. The seeds of a Punjabi-speaking state were sown when the Sikhs demonstrated, threatening a return to the partition riots. A compromise was found and the formation of a Punjabi-speaking state delayed until after Nehru's death in 1964. The States Reorganization Bill was passed in 1956. Nehru's indecisiveness allowed this bill to give power to reactionary elements intent on frustrating social and economic change.
The first and second five-year plans
Nehru sought to develop Indian's economy through a planned, socialist approach. A Planning Commission was set up in 1950 to administer a series of five-year plans and in 1955 the ‘socialist pattern of society’ was set down as the objective of planning. The first five-year plan, covering the period from 1951 to 1956, concentrated on agriculture and had some success. But the second plan in 1956 concentrated on industry, and neglect of agriculture meant that huge imports of grain were necessary by the beginning of the third plan in 1961.
Leadership of the developing world
Nehru developed a distinctive foreign policy based on Pancha Sila, the five principles of coexistence, as announced in a joint statement with the Chinese premier Zhou Enlai in 1954, and non-alignment in the ideological conflict between the Soviet bloc and the West (see non-aligned movement). Nehru's claim that India was nonviolent and Gandhian became the image that India presented to the world. At the meeting of the members of the Colombo Plan in 1954 India asserted itself as ‘leader of the developing nations’. At the Bandung Conference in 1955 Nehru and Zhou Enlai successfully advocated the Pancha Sila, and from then until the Belgrade Conference in 1961 (which was the first official meeting of the non-aligned movement) these ideals were embraced by 24 countries.
Conflict with China
India had border tensions with China from its inception. In 1950 the Chinese invaded Tibet and India could do nothing but protest. When India placed checkposts along the northern frontier with China the Chinese protested, but India was obdurate throughout the diplomatic exchanges of the 1950s.
Anti-Chinese feeling built up in India when the Dalai Lama and many other refugees fled from Tibet in 1959 following a failed uprising against Chinese rule. An accidental border clash was dubbed by India as ‘deliberate aggression’. Throughout negotiations, attempts by Nehru at conciliation were greeted in India by uproar. Chinese penetration of the Himalayas border area of Aksai Chin was, however, regarded by India as an invasion of Indian territory.
In 1961 Indian forces invaded and annexed the tiny Portuguese colony of Goa, in southwest India. (France's few small colonies in India, including Pondicherry, had been transferred to India in 1954.)
In 1962 a brief border war broke out with China when the Chinese army invaded Assam. However the Indian army was quickly defeated and the Chinese soon withdrew, after what had been a punitive expedition.
Shastri and renewed conflict with Pakistan
Nehru died in May 1964 and was replaced as prime minister by Lal Bahadur Shastri. The ministry of external affairs, which had been held by Nehru, went to Swaran Singh. In 1964 president's rule was again imposed in Kerala, where there had been a Communist victory, and the Communist Party in India split into pro-Chinese and pro-Soviet wings.
In 1965 a skirmish known as the ‘War of the Rann of Kutch’ took place with Pakistan, but a ceasefire followed the mediation of the British prime minister Harold Wilson. A more serious war between India and Pakistan broke out in Kashmir in August 1965, ending in a precarious ceasefire. China supported Pakistan and demanded that India dismantle military works on the Tibetan side of the Chinese border. In January 1966, under Soviet mediation, Shastri and the Pakistani president Ayub Khan signed a formal ceasefire agreement in Tashkent.
The early years of Indira Gandhi's premiership
In January 1966, Shastri died and Nehru's daughter, Indira Gandhi, replaced him as prime minister. She introduced a number of changes from Nehru's non-aligned and socialist policies, including encouraging foreign investment, and developed closer relations with the Soviet Union. In the same year the rupee was devalued by 36.5% and a new Hindu-majority province, Haryana, was created in the Punjab.
By 1967 the power of Congress was being eroded. In the elections it gained only 8 out of 17 states. A serious challenge to the leadership came from Morarji Desai, the deputy prime minister and finance minister. Kerala and Bengal were dominated by the Communists, and in the latter state sieges of managers by workers called ‘gheraos’ had become commonplace. More serious, however, was a peasant rising in the Bengali village of Naxalbari, from where the pro-Chinese Naxalites emerged to create a reign of anarchy and terror in Bengal.
In 1968, president's (federal) rule was imposed on the states of West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and the Punjab, and Congress's relations with Communist-controlled Kerala were strained. In an extraordinary political conflict in 1969 Indira Gandhi, while retaining majority support in Congress, was sacked from the party by a working committee of its bosses. The result was a split into the Opposition Congress, led by Desai, and Indira Gandhi's Ruling Congress. The fourth five-year plan concentrated on food production, and stressed its socialist framework by nationalizing 14 banks. In 1970 the Ruling Congress formed a coalition with the Communist Party of India in Kerala, and the Communist Party (Marxist) was weakened.
The 1971 war with Pakistan
In 1971 agitation by separatist groups in East Pakistan led to violent suppression by forces loyal to West Pakistan, and there were mass migrations of people from East to West Bengal. Indian troops intervened to support the separatists, and the ensuing war with Pakistan led to the creation of Bangladesh from the ruins of East Pakistan. Much of India's newly increased revenue was absorbed by Bangladesh.
Indian relations with the USA were weakened by US partisan support for Pakistan in the war. India moved closer to the Soviet bloc, and on 9 August 1971 a 20-year treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union was signed. This provided for immediate consultations between the USSR and India if either country suffered attack or threat of attack by a third country, and prohibited either from entering into a military alliance that was directed against the other. Indira Gandhi emphasized that India's policy of non-alignment had not been reversed. India supported the Arabs in the1973 Arab-Israeli War, and the same year a further 15-year economic and military assistance agreement was signed with the USSR. In June 1974 India carried out its first underground nuclear test, leading Pakistan to demand from the West a ‘nuclear umbrella’ to defend itself.
The state of emergency
In 1973 prices soared as a result of the worldwide increase in oil prices, and the fifth five-year plan, which concentrated on increasing the production of food grains, was launched. In 1974 the fifth plan was revised to cope with increases in oil prices, and food riots took place in Maharashtra and Gujarat.
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 in November 1975, but the ‘emergency’ continued for two years, during which period a harsh compulsory birth-control programme was introduced.
Opposition Janata Party wins power
The state of emergency was lifted in March 1977 for elections in which the opposition Janata coalition of four parties was swept to power. Janata was led by Morarji Desai, who had been arrested for his political activities in 1975 and held in solitary confinement. The new government was undermined by economic difficulties and internal factional strife. Desai was toppled as prime minister in July 1979, and a new coalition under Charan Singh, leader of the Lok Dal (People's Party) was soon overthrown. In January 1980 the Congress (I) Party, led by Indira Gandhi, was returned to power with a landslide victory at the general election.
The Amritsar massacre
The new Gandhi administration was economically successful, as a ‘green revolution’ (based on improved seeds) began to sweep the countryside, but the problems of intercaste violence and regional unrest were such that her 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 neighbouring 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 in October 1984. In Delhi, retaliating Hindus massacred 3,000 Sikhs before the new prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, Indira's elder son, restored order.
In December 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.
Rajiv Gandhi's premiership
Benefiting from a wave of public sympathy, Congress (I) gained a record victory in the December 1984 general election. Prime minister Rajiv Gandhi pledged to resolve the Punjab, Assam, and Kashmir disputes and modernize and inject greater market efficiency into the Indian economy.
Early reforms and the spread of technology, with India launching its first space satellite, augured well. Progress was made towards 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, Rajiv Gandhi was unable to resolve the Punjab problem, with Sikh-Hindu ethnic conflict continuing, and in northern India Hindu-Muslim relations deteriorated.
Gandhi's enthusiasm for economic reform also waned from 1986, and his personal reputation was tarnished by the uncovering, by finance minister V P Singh, of the ‘Bofors scandal’, which involved alleged financial kickbacks received by government-connected organizations from a $1,400-million arms contract with the Swedish Bofors Corporation.
In northern Sri Lanka, Gandhi sent an Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) in July 1987, at the Sri Lankan government's request, as part of an ambitious peace settlement. But these Indian troops became bogged down in a civil war.
Despite bumper harvests in 1988-89, Gandhi's popularity continued to fall and the unity of the once dominant Congress party was shattered. This led to a new period in which regional parties and Hindu nationalist parties came to the fore and governments became short-lived and unstable. V P Singh, who had been dismissed from Congress (I) in July 1987, attacked Gandhi's increasingly dictatorial style and became the recognized leader of a centrist alliance of opposition forces, called the National Front, in October 1988.
V P Singh's coalition government
In the general election of November 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 January 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 neighbouring 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 in July 1990 and over Assam in November 1990, as a result of the rising tide of separatist violence. Punjab, where interethnic murders climbed to record heights from November, had been under president's rule since 1983.
During the summer and early autumn of 1990 V P Singh's government 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 Singh's 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 October 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 be the birthplace of Ram, and it remained a disputed site.) This precipitated serious communal tensions, which the government was unable to quell and came to dominate politics in the 1990s. On 7 November, after troops had fired on Hindu fanatics who were attempting to storm the Ayodhya mosque, the Singh government was voted out of office.
Chandra Shekhar's minority government
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 in 1990. The higher oil prices due to the crisis in the Gulf hit India's economy badly. At the end of January 1991 Shekhar dismissed the opposition-led government of the large southern state of Tamil Nadu, citing the presence of Tamil Tiger rebels from northern Sri Lanka. In March, Shekhar fell out with his backers, Congress (I), and tendered his resignation, but continued as caretaker premier until elections in May 1991.
The 1991 elections
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 (now Chennai), by a suicide bomber. 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.
Gandhi's assassination occurred during what had been the most violent election campaign in Indian history, with several hundred dying in election-related violence in northern 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 southern India, but was defeated by the BJP in its traditional northern Hindu-belt heartland of Uttar Pradesh, where a BJP state government was subsequently formed. The BJP's rise was the most striking development during this election.
A Congress (I) minority government was established, headed by Rao. Reflecting broader changes around the world, and the collapse of socialism in eastern and central Europe, India retreated from protectionism and state control. It adopted a new industrial policy in which subsidies were slashed, inward foreign investment encouraged, privatization was begun, and industrial licensing scrapped, bringing an end to the ‘permit raj’.
Sectarian violence continues
President's rule was extended over Jammu and Kashmir in September 1991 for a further six months and was imposed in Meghalaya in October 1991. In Punjab, where killings averaged 600 a month during 1991, president's rule was to remain in force until state elections in February 1992. In September 1991 a Places of Worship Bill was passed, prohibiting the conversion of any place of worship that existed at the time of independence in 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.
The position of Rao's minority government was strengthened in January 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 in February 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.
In December 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.
Despite the break-up of the USSR in 1991, economic and military links with Russia remained close. A thaw in relations with China resulted in December 1991 after the visit to India of Li Peng, the first Chinese premier to visit India since the border conflict of 1962. In January 1992 full diplomatic relations with Israel were established.
Developments and events, 1993-95
In July 1993, Rao narrowly survived a confidence vote but in December 1993, with the addition of ten 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 in January-September 1993 as a result of the ongoing civil war.
Congress (as the party had been redesignated) suffered losses in four state elections in November-December 1994, and in the spring of 1995 lost control of Maharashtra and Gujarat to the Hindu-chauvinist Shiv Sena and BJP. It was also defeated in Bihar. In October 1995 direct rule was imposed in Uttar Pradesh following caste clashes and the collapse of a coalition government, which included the BJP. A report published in 1995 by the independent Vohra Commission showed large areas of northern India to be under the control of mafia gangs, backed by local politicians, and in January 1996 a number of politicians, including the leader of the BJP, were charged with corruption.
The 1996 elections
In national elections held in April 1996 the BJP emerged as the largest parliamentary bloc, but failed to win a majority. The second-largest number of votes was won by the leftist National Front-Left Front (NF-LF) group, followed by Congress, which suffered its worst election defeat since independence.
Rao resigned and dissolved parliament and in May 1996 the BJP formed a minority government under Atal Behari Vajpayee, but this collapsed after only 13 days.
The United Front governments
A new minority coalition of 13 centrist and leftist parties was formed in June, headed by H D Deve Gowda of the NF-LF (now the United Front), which enjoyed the tacit backing of the Congress Party. The new finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram continued the liberalizing economic reforms instituted by Rao, with cuts in public spending and plans to streamline state-controlled firms and boost foreign and private investment. The United Front coalition government pledged to concentrate on the ‘concerns of the poor’, including rural development and social welfare.
In August 1996. a bill was passed changing the name of Madras to Chennai. Facing charges in political bribery and fraud trials, Rao resigned as president and parliamentary leader of the Congress party in September and December 1996 respectively. He was replaced by the 78-year-old Sitaram Kesri, who criticized the Rao administration for implementing economic liberalization too quickly. In strife-torn Kashmir in October the National Conference Party (which wants the state to remain within India) won a sweeping victory in the first local elections for nearly a decade. In Uttar Pradesh, inconclusive elections and the lack of a stable majority resulted in the imposition of direct central rule.
In February 1997, in state elections in the northern province of Punjab, the Sikh Akali Dal and its ally the Hindu nationalist BJP won a decisive victory over the Congress Party, which had restored peace during its five years in power. In the same month the United Front government cut income tax by 10%, as well as corporate taxes and import duties, in a pro-business budget.
In April 1997, the Gowda government fell after the Congress Party withdrew its support, after it had authorized police investigations of its members accused of corruption. A new 14-party United Front government was formed with the backing of Congress in late April, headed by the 77-year-old socialist and former foreign minister Inder Kumar Gujral.
The new government included virtually all members of the preceding Gowda cabinet, but the Congress Party withdrew its support in November 1997, after accusing one of its members of supporting rebels linked to the 1991 assassination of party leader and former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi.
BJP back in power after 1998 general election
Gujral remained as caretaker prime minister until the general election in February-early March 1998. Again no party won a clear majority, but the Hindu nationalist BJP emerged as the single largest party, and India's president, R K Narayanan, asked its 71-year-old leader, Atal Behari Vajpayee, to form a coalition government. Soon after the election of Rajiv Gandhi's widow, the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, took over as the new president of the Congress Party.
In response to demands for greater local autonomy, in August 1998 the government agreed to the creation, in November 2000, of three new states - Uttaranchal, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh - to be carved out of parts of the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh.
In mid-May 1998, the Vajpayee government fuelled regional tensions and angered the world's opinion by conducting tests of five nuclear weapons, including an H-bomb, in the Rajasthan desert. (India had exploded its first nuclear device in 1974.) In late May, Pakistan responded by conducting five nuclear explosions on its territory. Australia and New Zealand recalled their high commissioners and the USA imposed economic sanctions, including blocking aid, barring bank loans, and banning exports of equipment, such as computers, that might have a military use.
In September 1998, India announced that it would now sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and conduct no further nuclear tests, apart from those allowed under the treaty. This prompted the US to partially lift its economic sanctions, in November 1998.
In November 1998, the opposition Congress polled strongly in state elections in northern and central India, achieving its best results in a decade and attracting back support from young people, Muslims, and dalits (formerly ‘untouchables’). This was seen as reflecting public approval for Sonia Gandhi's leadership of the party.
Civil unrest and continuing conflict over Kashmir
Late 1998 and early 1999 saw a rise of religious unrest and a dramatic escalation of the terror campaign against Christians, mainly in the state of Gujarat.
In Kashmir, India used air power in May 1999 to attack guerillas. However, a full-scale Indo-Pakistani war was averted in July 1999 after Pakistan announced a truce with India over Kashmir, and Pakistani militants began to withdraw from mountains in Kashmir.
In August 1999 Prime Minister Vajpayee unveiled a formal nuclear weapons doctrine, based on a ‘credible minimum deterrent’ that would be used only after a first strike against the country by an enemy.
BJP retains power after 1999 general election
In April 1999, the BJP-led coalition government lost a confidence vote in parliament and a general election was called for October 1999, India's third election in less than four years. The ruling coalition managed to hold on to power after Congress performed poorly ands two lower-caste parties, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, did well in populous northern India.
Prime Minister Vajpayee vowed to make economic reform his top priority and also promised to create three new states: Uttaranchal, Jharkand, and Chhattisgarh.
The coastal state of Orissa was hit in October 1999 by the fiercest cyclone for 28 years, which claimed over 9,500 lives.
On 26 January 2001 the most powerful earthquake in India in 50 years, measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale, struck the northwest state of Gujarat. An estimated 50,000 people were killed and 1 million left in need of food and shelter.
Relations with Pakistan
There were rising tensions with Pakistan during 2000. In January 2000 India accused Pakistan of involvement in a week-long hijacking of an Indian airliner by Kashmiri militants who demanded the release of terrorists imprisoned by India. Pakistan denied any involvement. The Indian government agreed to release three prisoners, including the Islamic religious leader Maulana Masood Azhar, who subsequently appeared in public on Pakistani soil.
Shelling and clashes continued in Kashmir, but in July 2000 the Pakistani-backed Hizbol Mojahedin fighters announced a three-month ceasefire. In response, India suspended all offensive operations for the first time during the 11 years of violence in which more than 30,000 people had died. India refused to allow the involvement of Pakistan in peace talks, and the mutual ceasefire ended after only 15 days. However India declared a unilateral ceasefire in November 2000. This lasted until May 2001, but was ignored by the militants. In July 2001, India released over 400 Pakistani prisoners as a goodwill gesture ahead of a summit meeting. But the talks between Vajpayee and President Musharraf of Pakistan were inconclusive.
Increased privatization and tax cuts were unveiled in the federal budget in February 2001, which promised a ‘new deal’ designed to encourage economic growth. Quantitative restraints on 715 categories of imports were lifted. However, India's coalition government began to fall apart when videotapes of high officials taking bribes in set-up arms deals were released in March 2001. Bangaru Laxman - the president of the BJP, the main party in the coalition - and the defence minister George Fernandes, were among those forced to resign. One of the parties withdrew its nine members of parliament from the coalition.
In March 2001 the estimate of India's population exceeded 1 billion, making it the second country in the world, after China, to cross the 1 billion mark. Its population had grown by 181 million since 1991, at an annual rate of 1.9%.
Parliament building attacked
In December 2001, five armed assailants, believed to be from Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani-based Kashmiri separatist group, broke into the Indian parliament building. They were killed in the ensuing battle along with nine others, including police officers. India responded by recalling its high commissioner from Islamabad and halting bus and rail links with Pakistan. The two countries exchanged shellfire on 23 December and New Delhi acknowledged that it had mobilized forces near the border with Pakistan, and that its troops were on high alert.
In May 2002, India accused Pakistan of backing Islamic militant incursions into Indian-administered Kashmir, and there was a large troop build-up on the Kashmir line of control.
Hindu-Muslim violence increases
Tensions rose between Hindus and Muslims in India in February 2002. A train carrying Hindu worshippers from a religious celebration at Ayodhya, where militant Hindus demolished the Babri Masjid (Mosque of Babur) in 1992, was set on fire by a Muslim crowd, killing at least 57 people. Most of the victims were activists with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP; World Hindu Council), who had planned to start building a temple at Ayodhya on 15 March in defiance of court orders. This led to three months of communal rioting, in which over 900 peope, mainly Muslims, were killed, mainly in the western state of Gujarat.
Improved relations with Pakistan
During 2003 and 2004 there remained ups and downs in India's relations with Pakistan. In February 2003, India expelled the Pakistan high commissioner from New Delhi after alleging that Pakistan was funding separatists in Kashmir and a month later both countries tested short-range nuclear-capable missiles. But relations improved later in 2003 and in October 2003 the two countries agreed to restore transport links and play cricket with each other.
Congress returns to power with India's first Sikh prime minister
Vajpayee succeeded in becoming the first non-Congress prime minister to serve out a full term in office. But his BJP-led coalition was defeated in the April-May 2004 general election by the Congress Party and its allies, who won 35% of the vote. The Congress Party was led in the elections by Sonia Gandhi, but she declined to become prime minister and instead Manmohan Singh, an economist and former finance minister, became prime minister - the first Sikh to hold this office.
Singh inherited a strong economy, in which inflation stood at 4% and GDP had been growing at around 6% a year for several years. As finance minister under Rao in the 1990s he had overseen market-based deregulation and tax simplification to encourage entrepreneurship. This continued when he became prime minister and, helped by the development of new high-tech and outsourcing industries, economic growth surged to over 9% a year. This began to make an impact on poverty, although still two-thirds of India's workforce remained in agriculture and a quarter of the population were in severe poverty.
Natural disasters and terrorism
India suffered a series of natural disasters, including the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004, floods and landslides in Maharashtra in western India in July 2005, and an earthquake in Kashmir in October 2005.
India also faced serious terrorist attacks. These included bomb attacks on railway commuters in Mumbai (Bombay) in July 2006, which claimed 200 lives; a bomb attack on a train between Delhi and Lahore in February 2007, which killed over 70; and attacks by gunmen, who came from the sea by inflatable boats, on luxury hotels in the commercial centre of Mumbai in November 2008, killing over 170. These were blamed on Islamic militants and India suspected the involvement of Pakistan's intelligence services. Despite this, the Singh government continued to seek improved relations with Pakistan, holding a series of talks.
We're sorry this article wasn't helpful. Tell us how we can improve.