Monday, November 2, 2009



India is home to one of the richest and the most ancient civilizations in the world, which existed over 5,000 years ago. This civilization originated in the Indus River Valley, hence the name given to it was Indus Valley civilization. It is the origin of many of the ideas, philosophies and movements which have shaped the destiny of mankind. The civilization with its main cities Mohenjadaro and Harappa flourished for over eight centuries. Its people thought to be Dravidians, whose descendants still inhabit the far south of India.

Aryan and Greek Invasions

The country was influenced by many invasions, the Arya or Aryans (1500BC) as they are known today, are the first invaders. Aryans were a group of nomadic tribes who had originally inhabited the steppes of Central Asia, in particular the region between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea. Tall, fair haired, with clear cut features, they spoke a group of languages which have become known as Indo-European. They settled in the region to the north west of India, known as the Punjab. They brought with them new ideas, new technology and new gods, this is one of the most important epochs in Indian history. With time, the Aryans were engaged in struggle with the dark skinned people or Dasyus. The Dasyus were the Dravidians. The superiority of the Aryans resulted in the Dravidian submission.

The second great invasion into India occurred around 500 BC, when the Persian kings Cyrus and Darius, pushing their empire eastward, conquered the prized Indus Valley. After centuries of obscurity, doubt and conjecture, India came into the full light of recorded history with the invasion of Alexander the Great of Macedonia in 327 BC. Although Alexander crossed the Indus and defeated an Indian king, he turned back without extending his power into India.

Maurya and Gupta Periods

The receding tide of Greek power led to a period of confusion and uncertainty in northern India as various rulers tried to make capital of the vacuum that Alexander had left behind. These circumstances saw the rise of Mauryas,  India's first imperial dynasty, founded by Chandragupta Maurya. Maurya dynasty reached its peak around 260 BC under the Emperor Ashoka, the most famous figures in Indian History. He left a series of inscriptions on pillars and rocks across the sub-continent. But after his death, the Mauryan empire gradually fell apart because his descendants were not as strong rulers as he was.

At the beginning of the fourth century AD, India was fragmented into a lot of small kingdoms. They were often invaded by stronger neighbors like Greeks. They conquered Indus Valley again but they didn't stay for long. Out of this seeming Chaos, King Chandragupta II united all of northern India into a great empire again.

 The Gupta period has been described as the golden age of Indian history and under their rule of northern India, arts, including poetry and literature, flourished. The exquisite Ajanta and Ellora caves were excavated in this period. Gupta period extended from 320AD to 480AD. But in 455 AD the Huns invaded India from the north and destroyed the Guptan Empire. Again India was split into small kingdoms until the Muslim invasions around 1000 AD.
In South India, great empires rose, entirely independently from those of the north. These included the Kalachuris,  Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, Yadhavas, Hoysalas, Pallavas, Cholas, Pandyas, Cheras and the Vijayanagar kingdom.

Muslim Invasions

The Medieval Period in Indian history began with the Muslim Invasions. While the Hindu kingdoms ruled in the south and Buddhism was fading in the north, Muslim invasions from the Middle East began, towards the end of the 12th century. The Muslim period in India began with the Turkish conquests under Mahmud of Ghazni and Muhammad Ghori. Many famous dynasties such as the the Slave Dynasty, Khilji Dynasty, Tughlaq Dynasty,  Saiyyid and Lodhi, Bahmani Dynasty, and Others followed. In the16th century, Babur from Fergana (Uzbekistan), a descendant of Genghis Khan swept across the Khyber Pass, defeated Ibrahim Lodi the last ruler of the Delhi Sultanate at the battle of Panipat and established the Great Mughal Dynasty which lasted for 200 years.
The Mughal (Mogul) period saw a remarkable blend of Indian, Persian and Central Asian influences manifested in an impressive legacy of magnificent palaces, forts, tombs and landscaped gardens-including India's magnificent edifice, the Taj Mahal. The golden era of the Mughal period was under the rule of Akbar the great.

European Invasions

The country’s riches in different cultures, wealth in spices and minerals - made it a target for invasion and colonisation by European powers from the fifteenth century onwards.
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to settle in India, in Goa, in the fifteenth century (1498). The Europeans arrived even before the Mughals. The Dutch East India company was chartered in 1602 and they established spice trade and factories in Cochin, Nagapatinam and Agra. They did not have any military ambitions for India. In 1613, the British East India Company, a trading company, started its first trading post in Gujarat. Later in the century, the East India Company opened permanent trading stations at Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta, each under the protection of native rulers.

Meanwhile around 1644, the French established trade with India. Pondicherry was the hub of French settlements. Other French factories and settlements were at Surat, their first trading post in 1666, then Masulipatanam, Karikal, Chandernagore in Bengal and Mahe at the Malabar coast. The struggle for establishing supremacy in trade resulted in wars between the English and the French in the Deccan. The latter of the three successive Carnatic wars between them, from 1746-48, 1748-54 and 1758-63 moreover sealed the fate of the French possessions in India

In 1757, at the Battle of Plassey, Robert Clive, an employee of the British East India Company, defeated the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-Daulah and established their political sovereignty in India. It was an important step towards the eventual British dominance of the country. The First War of Independence (Sepoy Mutiny) or the first major Indian rebellion against the British after the battle of Plassey took place in 1857. Although the rebels succeeded in capturing territories in the Gangetic plain, it was recaptured by the British and the rebellion was completely crushed by mid 1858. The British government took over control of India from the East India Company. Britain then ruled India with local rulers for over three hundred years.

Indian Independence

Eventually demand grew for Indian independence. The socio- religious movements brought forth by various social reformers all over the country inspired national consciousness to improve their social condition and invoked the spirit of patriotism among the Indian masses. A national movement for independence was created. Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, Subhash Chandra Bosh, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Mahamana, Sardar Ballabh Bhai Patel, Sarojini Naidu, Chander Shekhar Azad were the notable people of the movement. But the most relevantverent leader of the movement was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a lawyer who believed in non violent protest (civil disobedience). Gandhi worked with Jawaharlal Nehru, the secretary of the Indian National Congress and  transformed the Indian National Congress political party into a mass movement to campaign against the British colonial rule. After several years of struggle, Britain decided to quit India.

But a major problem had arisen. A large Muslim minority doubted that an independent India would also mean a Hindu-dominated India. The Muslim League, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah began to call for an independent Muslim region- Pakistan. On 15th of August, 1947, India became completely independent from colonial rule, ending nearly 350 years of British presence in India. Nehru became the first Prime Minister of independent India.

Following independence India was divided, to create Pakistan, which initially also included present-day Bangladesh where there were Muslim majorities. The separation escalated the brewing violence into a bloodbath. It is estimated that over one million people were killed in sectarian violence as up to six million Muslims moved towards Pakistan and up to five million Hindus and Sikhs moved towards India. Mahatma Gandhi opposed partition and in 30th January 1948 he himself was gunned down by a  Hindu fundamentalist, enraged by his support for the Muslims.
On January 26, 1950 India became a republic. The country adopted a new constitution based on the British parliamentary model. Newly independent, India worked to establish strong institutions of justice, media and bureaucracy.

Governments of India

Nehru governed India until his death in and Lal Bahadur Shastri succeeded him as Prime Minister of India in 1964. He successfully repulsed Pakistan's twin attack on India-in the Rann of Kutch and in Kashmir. After India-Pakistan War of 1965, Shastri met in Tashkent with Pakistan's President and signed a “no-war” declaration.

After Shastri's death he was succeeded by Nehru's daughter, Indira Gandhi. She rode a wave of success in1971 with India's victory in the second Indo-Pak war (1971), resulting in East Pakistan becoming the separate nation of Bangladesh; launching of the India's first satellite into space (1975), nuclear explosion in Pokhran (1974). Other major decisions during her tenure include the nationalization of banks and the abolition of privy purses to the princes. In her attempt to control population growth, she implemented a voluntary sterilization program. But her adversaries criticized it. In 1975, beset with deepening political and economic problems, Mrs. Gandhi declared a state of emergency and suspended many civil liberties. The Emergency was a dark night in Indian democracy.
The people also suffered a lot from this emergency rule.  In the same year India acquired Sikkim. Seeking a mandate at the polls for her policies, she called for elections in 1977.  Congress party lost the election to the Janata Party and Moraji Desai became India's new prime minister. In 1979 Desai's government crumbled and Charan Singh of the Janata Secular Party formed an interim government. But in 1980, Gandhi's government returned to power. 

In 1984, Mrs. Gandhi was assassinated by her own Sikh guards in apparent retaliation for dispatching troops to the Sikh Golden Temple. The years following the assassination, saw the Sikh Terrorism in Punjab. The situation has returned to normal after a decade of bitter violence.
Within 24 hours, Indira's son Rajiv Gandhi was sworn in as the new prime minister. But his government was brought down in 1989 by allegations of corruption. Two major scandals, the "Spy" and the "Bofors" affairs, tarnished his reputation and he resigned his position. This was followed by opposition coalition governments headed by V.P. Singh and then Chandra Shekhar. That alliance also collapsed, resulting in national elections in 1991. But Rajiv Gandhi who stood for the elections, met with a tragic end in 1991 at Sriperumbudur, near Chennai by an LTTE Suicide Bomber when he was attending an election meeting.

In the elections INC becomes the largest party and returned to power at the head of a coalition, under the leadership of P.V. Narasimha Rao. In 1996, he and his cabinet officials were subsequently indicted for major corruption. Religious conflict between Hindus and Muslims lead to bloody riots in 1992. Rao's tenure also marked extensive economic reforms under the Finance Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in the early 90s, which paved the way for  India's economy growth at a high rate.
In 1996, When general elections were held Rao and Congress were badly defeated, and he lost the prime minister ship. The Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged from national elections as the single-largest party in the Lok Sabha but without a parliamentary majority. Under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, BJP coalition government lasted only 13 days. With all political parties wishing to avoid another round of elections, a 14-party coalition led by the Janata Dal formed a government with H.D. Deve Gowda as Prime Minister but his government collapsed within a year. Another minor party leader, I.K. Gujral replaced Dev Gowda. In November 1997, the Congress Party again withdrew support from the United Front. In new elections in February 1998, the BJP won the largest number of seats in Parliament, but fell far short of a majority. The President inaugurated a BJP-led coalition government under Vajpayee. This coalition fell apart and new elections in 1999 improved the position of the BJP, Vajpayee formed a new coalition. In 1999, Pakistani infiltrators crossed the line of control in Kargil, Kashmir resulting in an armed conflict between the Indian army and Pakistani paramilitary forces, resulting in eventual withdrawal by the Pakistani soldiers. In 2004 elections, Congress formed the government under the former Finance Minister popularly known as the father of Indian Economic Reforms, Dr. Manmohan Singh.

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