India, officially the Republic of India, is a country in South Asia. India occupies 2.4% of the world's land area, and supports over 15% of the world's population. Only China has a larger population. India's median age is 25, one of the youngest among large economies. About 70% live in more than 550,000 villages, and the remainder in more than 300 towns and cities. Over the thousands of years of its history, India has been invaded from the Iranian plateau, Central Asia, Arabia, Afghanistan, and the West; Indian people and culture have absorbed and modified these influences to produce a remarkable racial and cultural synthesis.
Whereas human settlement in India dates back to roughly 400,000 to 200,000 B.C., extensive urbanization and trade appear to have begun in the Indus River Valley around 3000 B.C. with the Harappan civilization. This civilization declined around 1500 B.C., probably due to ecological changes. The Aryans, who migrated from Persia to northwestern India around 2000 B.C. and settled in the middle Ganges River valley, brought a new pantheon of anthropomorphic gods, an early form of Sanskrit language, a tiered social system essentially based on ethnicity and occupation, and religious texts that are an important part of living Hindu traditions. The political map of ancient and medieval India was made up of myriad kingdoms with fluctuating boundaries. From 326 B.C. to around 200 B.C., the Mauryan Empire emerged as India’s first imperial power and ruled its areas with a highly centralized and hierarchical administration. For the next few hundred years, North and South India experienced a succession of ruling powers. From 320 A.D. to 550 A.D., most of North India was ruled by the Gupta Empire, which in contrast to the Mauryan Empire maintained a decentralized form of government, using numerous regional and local officials to govern vast territories with an array of local political, economic, and social arrangements. During this period, known as India's Golden Age, multiple components of Hindu culture became crystallized into a more unified system of thought.
From the disintegration of the Gupta Empire to the mid-thirteenth century, various regional kingdoms emerged and no highly centralized government was formed in South India, and South Indian villages and districts enjoyed much greater local autonomy than those in North India. During this period, South India engaged in flourishing trade with Arabs and Southeast Asia, which facilitated the diffusion of Indian mathematical concepts to the Middle East and Indian art, literature, and social customs to Southeast Asia. Islamic influence in South Asia emerged around 711 as Arabs conquered part of Sindh (now in Pakistan), and in the 10th and 11th centuries, Turks and Afghans invaded India and established sultanates in Delhi. Islam spread across the subcontinent over a period of 700 years. In the early 16th century, Babur established the Mughal Dynasty, which lasted for 200 years. South India followed an independent path, but by the 17th century large areas of South India came under the direct rule or influence of the expanding Mughal Empire.
The first British outpost in South Asia was established by the English East India Company in 1619 at Surat on the northwestern coast. Later in the century, the Company opened permanent trading stations at Madras (now Chennai), Bombay (now Mumbai), and Calcutta (now Kolkata), each under the protection of native rulers. The British expanded their influence from these footholds until, by the 1850s, they controlled most of present-day India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. In 1857, a rebellion in north India led by Indian soldiers seeking the restoration of the Mughal Emperor failed and the British Parliament transfered political power from the East India Company to the Crown. Great Britain began administering most of India directly, while controlling the rest through treaties with local rulers. In the late 1800s, the first steps were taken toward self-government in British India with the appointment of Indian councilors to advise the British Viceroy and the establishment of Provincial Councils with Indian members; the British subsequently widened participation in Legislative Councils. Beginning in 1920, Indian leader Mohandas K. Gandhi transformed the Indian National Congress (INC) political party into a mass movement to campaign against British colonial rule. The party used both parliamentary and nonviolent resistance and non-cooperation to agitate for independence. Rising civil disobedience and World War II eventually rendered India too costly and difficult to administer, and the British granted independence in 1947.
After independence, Jawaharlal Nehru became the first prime minister. In 1966, Nehru's daughter Indira Gandhi became prime minister who in 1975, declared a state of emergency and suspended many civil liberties. In 1984, Gandhi was assassinated and Indian politics witnessed a series of turmoil for a period of time. In the early 1990s, under the leadership of P.V. Narasimha Rao, the Congress-led government initiated a process of privatization, which opened the Indian economy to global trade and investment. Hindu nationalists supportive of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) destroyed a 17th century mosque in Ayodhya in 1992, sparking widespread religious riots in which thousands, mostly Muslims, were killed. In May 1996 national elections, the Hindu nationalist BJP emerged as a major national political party. In 1998, India conducted five underground nuclear tests, making India a nuclear state. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) - a coalition led by the BJP - won a majority to form the government in October 1999. In February 2002, 57 Hindu volunteers returning from Ayodhya were burnt alive when their train caught fire. Alleging that the fire was caused by Muslim attackers, anti-Muslim rioters throughout Gujarat killed over 900 people and left 100,000 homeless. This led to accusations that the Hindu nationalist BJP-led Gujarat state government had not done enough to contain the riots, or arrest and prosecute the rioters. The ruling BJP-led coalition was defeated in the 2004 election, and a Congress-led coalition, known as the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), took power on May 22.. Prime Minister: Mr Manmohan Singh (Congress Party).
Government and politics
The Constitution of India, came into force on January 26, 1950, defines India as a "sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic." India has a bicameral parliament consists of the Rajya Sabha (Council of States) and the Lok Sabha (House of the People), which forms the legislative branch. The President of India is the head of state elected indirectly by an electoral college for a five-year term. The Prime Minister of India is the head of government. The Rajya Sabha is the upper house with 12 appointed members and 233 members elected by state and union territory assemblies and the Lok Sabha is the lower house with 543 elected members and 2 members appointed by the president. Lok Sabha members serve five-year terms, and Rajya Sabha members serve six-year terms, with one-third of members up for election every two years. The two houses have the same powers, but the Rajya Sabha’s power in the legislative process is subordinate to the Lok Sabha.
The government exercises its broad administrative powers in the name of the president, whose duties are largely ceremonial. Real national executive power is centered in the Council of Ministers (Cabinet), led by the prime minister. The president, vice-president and the Council of Ministers form the executive branch. The president appoints the prime minister, who is designated by legislators of the political party or coalition commanding a parliamentary majority in the Lok Sabha. The president then appoints subordinate ministers on the advice of the prime minister. The judicial branch consists of the Supreme Court of India which is the top legal entity, High Courts and subordinate Courts.
Emerging as the nation's single largest party in the 2004 Lok Sabha election, the Indian National Congress (INC) currently leads a government with a coalition called the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), supported by the Left Front headed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) holds the second-largest number of seats in the Lok Sabha and leads governments without forming any coalition in the states of Himachal Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) leads governments in the states of West Bengal and Tripura with a coalition called Left Front and in the state of Kerala with a coalition called Left Democratic Front. The Left Front's support provides the crucial seats necessary for the UPA to retain power in New Delhi. Lack of internal democracy within political parties, electoral fraud, money politics, criminalization of the political system and corruption is observed in Indian politics. Note: West Bengal is now governed by the Grassroots Alliance. (2011)
India sits atop the northwestern portion of the Indian-Australian Plate. There are three main geographical regions in India: the Himalayas, the Indo-Gangetic Plain and the Deccan. These and other portions of India can be classified into diverse physiological regions that include highlands, plains, deserts, and river valleys. The country’s lowest elevation is zero meters at the Indian Ocean, and the highest is 8,598 meters at Kanchenjunga, which is the third highest mountain in the world and located in the Himalayas. The Himalayas, the highest mountain system in the world, is approximately 2,500 km long. The Indo-Gangetic Plain, also known as the North Indian Plain, is situated between the Hialayas and the Deccan. The main part of the Indo-Gangetic plain is the Ganges River basin. The western parts of the plain consists of the Indus River basin. The Thar Desert or the Great Indian Desert, which is world's seventh largest desert, also forms an important part of the Indo-Gangetic Plain. The Deccan is the plateau region situated in the south. The Western Ghats or the Sahyadri is a mountain range situated at the western edge of the Deccan plateau region and the Eastern Ghats, a discontinuous range of mountains, run northeast-southwest parallel to the coast of the Bay of Bengal.
India’s total coastline is 7,516 kilometers in length, which comprises 5,422 kilometers for the mainland, 132 kilometers for the Lakshadweep Islands, and 1,962 kilometers for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
India’s longest rivers are the Brahmaputra and Indus, which are both 2,896 kilometers long. However these two rivers are not entirely within India. Other major rivers are the Ganga (Ganges, 2,525 kilometers), Godavari (1,465), Kaveri (Cauvery, 800), Krishna (1,401), Mahanandi (851), Narmada (1,312), and Yamuna (1,370).
Climate in India varies significantly from the permanently snow-capped Himalayas in the north to the tropics in the south. The country has four seasons. December to February is relatively dry and cool, March to May is dry and hot, from June to September predominating southwest maritime winds bring monsoon rains to most of the country, and in October and November there are retreating dry monsoons originating from the northeast. Average temperatures range from 12.5° C to 30° C in the northwest, 17.5° C to 30° C in the north and northeast, and 22.5° C to 30° C in the south. Average annual rainfall is around 1,000 to 1,500 millimeters for much of the country, but can be quite low in some parts of the northwest (150 to 300 millimeters annually) and very high in the northeast and along the west coast (1,500 to 2,500 millimeters annually).
India's population is estimated at more than 1.1 billion and is growing at 1.3% a year. It has the world's 12th largest economy--and the third largest in Asia behind Japan and China--with total GDP of around $1 trillion ($1,000 billion). Services, industry, and agriculture account for 55%, 27%, and 18% of GDP respectively. Nearly two-thirds of the population depends on agriculture for its livelihood. 700 million Indians live on $2 per day or less, but there is a large and growing middle class of 325-350 million with disposable income for consumer goods.
India is continuing to move forward with market-oriented economic reforms that began in 1991. Recent reforms include liberalized foreign investment and exchange regimes, industrial decontrol, significant reductions in tariffs and other trade barriers, reform and modernization of the financial sector, significant adjustments in government monetary and fiscal policies, and safeguarding intellectual property rights.
Real GDP growth for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2007 was 9.4%, up from 9.0% growth in the previous year. Growth for the year ending March 31, 2008 was expected to be between 8.5-9.0%. Foreign portfolio and direct investment inflows have risen significantly in recent years. They contributed to $255 billion in foreign exchange reserves by June 2007. Government receipts from privatization were about $3 billion in fiscal year 2003-2004, but the privatization program has stalled since then.
Economic growth is constrained by inadequate infrastructure, a cumbersome bureaucracy, corruption, labor market rigidities, regulatory and foreign investment controls, the "reservation" of key products for small-scale industries, and high (although declining) fiscal deficits. The outlook for further trade liberalization is mixed. India eliminated quotas on 1,420 consumer imports in 2002 and has incrementally lowered non-agricultural customs duties in recent successive budgets. However, the tax structure is complex, with compounding effects of various taxes.
The United States is India's largest trading partner. Bilateral trade in 2006 was $32 billion. Principal U.S. exports are diagnostic or lab reagents, aircraft and parts, advanced machinery, cotton, fertilizers, ferrous waste/scrap metal, and computer hardware. Major U.S. imports from India include textiles and ready-made garments, Internet-enabled services, agricultural and related products, gems and jewelry, leather products, and chemicals.
The rapidly growing software sector is boosting service exports and modernizing India's economy. Software exports crossed $28 billion in FY 2006-2007, while business process outsourcing (BPO) revenues hit $8.3 billion in 2006-2007. Personal computer penetration is 14 per 1,000 persons. The cellular/mobile market surged to 140 million subscribers by November 2006. The country has 54 million cable TV customers.
The United States is India's largest investment partner, with a 13% share. India's total inflow of U.S. direct investment was estimated at more than $9 billion through 2006. Proposals for direct foreign investment are considered by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board and generally receive government approval. Automatic approvals are available for investments involving up to 100% foreign equity, depending on the kind of industry. Foreign investment is particularly sought after in power generation, telecommunications, ports, roads, petroleum exploration/processing, and mining.
India's external debt was $155 billion in 2006-2007, up from $126 billion in 2005-2006. Foreign assistance was approximately $3 billion in 2006-2007, with the United States providing about $126 million in development assistance. The World Bank plans to double aid to India to almost $3 billion a year, with focus on infrastructure, education, health, and rural livelihoods.
The supreme command of the Indian armed forces is vested in the President of India. Policies concerning India's defense, and the armed forces as a whole, are formulated and confirmed by the Cabinet.
The Indian Army numbers over 1.1 million strong and fields 34 divisions. Its primary task is to safeguard the territorial integrity of the country against external threats. The Army has been heavily committed in the recent past to counterterrorism operations in Jammu and Kashmir, as well as the in the Northeast. Its current modernization program focuses on obtaining equipment to be used in combating terror. The Army often provides aid to civil authorities and assists the government in organizing relief operations.
The Indian Navy is by far the most capable navy in the region. The Navy's primary missions are the defense of India and of India's vital sea lines of communication. India relies on the sea for 90% of its oil and natural gas and over 90% of its foreign trade. The Navy currently operates one aircraft carrier with two on order, 14 submarines, and 15 major surface combatants. It is capable of projecting power within the Indian Ocean basin and occasionally operates in the South China Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Gulf. Fleet introduction of the Brahmos cruise missile and the possible lease of nuclear submarines from Russia will add significantly to the Indian Navy's flexibility and striking power.
Although small, the Indian Coast Guard has been expanding rapidly in recent years. Indian Navy officers typically fill top Coast Guard positions to ensure coordination between the two services. India's Coast Guard is responsible for control of India's huge exclusive economic zone.
The Indian Air Force is becoming a 21st century force through modernization, new tactics and the acquisition of modern aircraft, such as the SU-30MKI, a new advanced jet trainer (BAE Hawk) and the indigenously produced advanced light helicopter (Dhruv). In June 2007, the Indian Government announced intentions to release a request for proposals for 126 multi-role combat aircraft for the Indian Air Force.
With an estimated population of 1.14 billion, India is world's second most populous country accounting approximately 17% of world's population. India's population growth rate is 1.578%; there are 22.22 births per 1,000 people per year. Major cities in India are New Delhi (population 12.8 million), Mumbai, formerly Bombay (16.4 million), Kolkata, formerly Calcutta (13.2 million), Chennai, formerly Madras (6.4 million), Bangalore (5.7 million), Hyderabad (5.5 million), Ahmedabad (5 million), Pune (4 million).  India's literacy rate is 61% (73.4% for males and 47.8% for females). Kerala has the highest literacy rate (91%) and Bihar has the lowest (47%).
India is home to two major linguistic families: Indo-Aryan (spoken by approximately 75.27% of the population) and Dravidian (spoken by about 22.53%). Twenty-two languages are legally recognized by the constitution for various political, educational, and other purposes: Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithali, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu. Hindi, spoken by approximately 40.2% people (largest number of speakers), is the official language of the union and is the lingua franca of the multilingual country. English, which has the status of a 'subsidiary official language', is the most important language for national, political, and commercial communication.
Approximately 80.5% of the population is Hindu, 13.4% Muslim, 2.3% Christian, 1.9% Sikh, 0.8% Buddhist, and 0.4% Jain; another 0.6% belongs to other faiths, such as Zoroastrianism and numerous religions associated with Scheduled Tribes. The Constitution of India declares the nation to be a secular republic, and prohibits religious discrimination, but in spite of this, there have been enduring tensions and conflict among religious communities. Large-scale religious violence have periodically occurred in India since independence. Throughout the history of post-Independence India, both Muslim and Christian communities have faced repeated attacks from Hindu activists. The United States Department of State in its annual human rights report for 2006 noted attacks against religious minorities in India. State Department's annual report on religious freedom for 2007 expressed concern over organized societal attacks against religious minority. Some state governments in India have been accused of not effectively prosecuting those who attack religious minorities.
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