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India Modern History

The division of British India into the Indian Union and Pakistan in 1947 has characterized India's modern history. The two neighboring countries have gone to war against each other three times. The situation has been particularly sensitive in the disputed Kashmir. Politically, India has been ruled by the Congress Party, dominated by the Nehru / Gandhi family. Only at the end of the 1990s did the Congress Party face real competition in the form of the Hindu nationalist BJP, which reigned in 1998–2004 and returned to power in 2014.

British India was divided in August 1947 into two independent states: the predominantly Hindu but secular Indian Union and the Muslim Pakistan. Independence was followed by great concern as between 7 million and 15 million people moved / fled between India and Pakistan - Hindus to India and Muslims to Pakistan. Contradictions between Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims led to carnage in both countries, which also could not agree on the Kashmir mountain area in the north (see further Conflicts: Kashmir).

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing India. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

After all, about 55 million Muslims chose to stay in India (today they are about 198 million). In protest against the division of British India, the country father and independence leader Mahatma Gandhi (see Older History) was murdered in January 1948 by a fanatical Hindu nationalist.

The Congress Party, which had led the freedom struggle, gained a dominant position in independent India. The party has often had a radical appearance but holds widely differing interests. Its leader Jawaharlal Nehru, prime minister from 1947 until his death in 1964, greatly influenced his policy. He advocated "Indian socialism": a mixed economy governed by five-year plans and a tightly regulated private industry.

Contemporary History of IndiaThe daughter Indira Gandhi takes over - and is murdered

During Nehru's time, the Congress Party was sometimes likened to a banyan tree (see Geography and Climate) - a tree under which many can seek protection but nothing can grow. There was no obvious "crown prince" to Nehru and as a compromise, in 1966 his daughter Indira Gandhi was appointed party leader and prime minister. She soon turned out to be an uncompromising ruler and under her the party weakened and divided. Loyalty to her and her family became increasingly important at the expense of skill and political conviction.

Discontent grew, as did the opposition. When a court ruled in 1975 the prime minister for violating the electoral law, she introduced a state of emergency. Opposition leaders and regime critics were imprisoned, press censorship was introduced. Indira Gandhi's son Sanjay was given wide powers of power. Among other things, a brusque family planning campaign was carried out, where forced sterilizations also occurred.

When the new elections were held in 1977, Indian democracy showed its strength. The opposition won and Morarji Desai, leader of the Janata Party (People's Party), came to power at the head of a coalition where the parties were most united by their dislike of Indira Gandhi. In 1979 it split, new elections were held in 1980 and the Congress Party regained power.

A growing problem was the Sikh separatist movement in the state of Punjab. In June 1984, Indira Gandhi allowed the army to invade the most important shrine of the Sikhs, the Golden Temple of Amritsar, to arrest terrorists. It was a bloody operation that aroused general disgust. A few months later, Indira was murdered by her Sikh bodyguards.

Rajiv's son takes over - and is murdered

Indira Gandhi was succeeded by his son Rajiv (Sanjay had died in a plane crash), who lacked political experience. The land he took over was plagued by religious contradictions. The distrust of the Congress Party was deep, the power struggle between the federal government and the state governments was fierce and the politician contempt widespread due to a series of scandals. Since Rajiv Gandhi was not personally involved in these, many people looked at him favorably but new scandals soon weakened his position. The best known became the Bofors business. In connection with the Swedish arms manufacturer Bofors being awarded a large contract on artillery pieces, bribes had been paid out (many believe that Rajiv knew this or even received bribes himself).

In the 1989 elections, the Congress Party lost power, but new elections had to be held as early as May 1991, when the coalition government formed after just over a year. When Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated during a general election in the southeastern state of Tamil Nadu by members of the Tamil separatist movement LTTE ("Tamil Tigers") in Sri Lanka, the Congress party received many sympathy votes. There was no obvious successor to Rajiv. His Italian-born widow Sonia was asked to stand, but she refused all political posts. Finally, PV Narasimha Rao, who has long been loyal to the Gandhi family and at the same time had the party's trust, was appointed party leader and prime minister.

Economic reforms, separatist efforts and religious contradictions came to dominate Rao's time in power. Rao himself was accused of weakness, indecision and even corruption.

In the spring 1996 parliamentary elections, the Hindu BJP (see also Religion) got the most seats and BJP leader Atal Behari Vajpayee was commissioned to form a government. No other party wanted to cooperate with the BJP, but the coalition government that was formed instead was forced to give up soon and in spring 1998 a new election was held. Again, the BJP became the largest party.

Hindu nationalism is growing in strength

By the end of the 1980s, conservative and nationalist Hinduism had grown stronger, mainly among the rural poor and in the slums of big cities, but also within a growing and frustrated middle class. Common was the feeling that militant Muslims were spreading at their expense. The BJP exploited and quickly undermined these moods (the Muslims have traditionally primarily voted for the Congress Party). Symbol of the contradictions became the ancient Babri Mosque in the city of Ayodhya in the state of Uttar Pradesh, in the middle of the Hindu core country.

The mosque had been built by Muslim invasion forces over 450 years ago on top of what is said to have been a Hindu temple in the glory of God Rama. The BJP had pushed the issue of demolishing the mosque to instead erect a Hindu temple on the site and in December 1992 enraged Hindus broke loose at the mosque and demolished it.

The incident led to heavy riots across much of India with well over a thousand dead as a result, especially Muslims. In January 1993, the unrest arose, now mainly in Bombay (Mumbai) - India's economic heart. Hindu masses turned to Muslims, killed them and set fire to their houses. They got "help" from the city's lower world and probably also Hindu party bosses who were trying to force a new election that the BJP could win. Many were afraid that a BJP victory would mean the end of multicultural, secular India.

Hindu nationalism was partly a reaction to the separatist uprising in Muslim-dominated Kashmir (see Conflicts: Kashmir). But globalization also caused many Indians to turn inward, towards their own culture, when suddenly foreign products and foreign ideas penetrated.

The BJP wins the government

Before the spring 1998 elections, the BJP had already obtained support from various parties and independent MPs. The BJP went ahead and became the largest single party with 181 seats. Atal Behari Vajpayee was able to form a minority government this time, but in order to receive continued support from some 20 parties of the most diverse ideologies, the BJP was forced to downplay its Hindu nationalist rhetoric.

Nevertheless, the fears that a BJP-led government would aggravate the conflict with Pakistan soon became true. In May 1998, India conducted a number of nuclear weapons tests in the desert of Rajasthan and shortly thereafter, Pakistan revealed its long-suspected nuclear weapons capabilities with a number of its own blasts. The outside world objected to this military escalation and both countries were subject to economic sanctions from the West.

In the spring of 1999, the conflict in Kashmir also intensified after Muslim guerrillas crossed the border from Pakistan. For a few months, fierce fighting was fought before Indian forces took over and a wave of patriotism favored the BJP in the new elections held during the fall. Again, Prime Minister Vajpayee formed a coalition government, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), this time with 23 other parties that together had a satisfactory majority.

The fighting in Kashmir had restored India to the international sympathies that were lost in the nuclear weapons test blasts but soon problems began to accumulate. Harsh criticism of the BJP-led state government's way of dealing with a devastating earthquake in Gujarat, as well as a bribery scandal within the federal government, led to diminished confidence in the BJP which returned in several state elections in 2001 and 2002.

Religious violence

The Ayodhya conflict also gained momentum. In February 2002, a Muslim mob in Gujarat ignited a railway wagon with Hindu pilgrims and activists on their way home from Ayodhya, where they were preparing a temple building, and 58 people were burned inside. The attack triggered violent attacks on Muslims in Gujarat and more than 800 people were killed. In the autumn, unrest flared up again after militant Muslims attacked a Hindu temple and in December, after electoral defeat in eleven states, the BJP won big in the state elections in Gujarat. Many feared that victory would lead to a more hard-line Hindu nationalist policy.

In the spring of 2003, however, Vajpayee launched a peace rally against Muslim Pakistan. The former prime minister wanted to be remembered as the one who made peace with the neighboring country after more than 50 years of conflict. The outstretched hand was received by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and in January 2004, India and Pakistan signed an agreement on peace talks, which also addressed the sensitive issue of Kashmir.

The peace attempts were well received and as the economy also went brilliantly, Vajpayee decided to announce new elections early in spring 2004. Opinion polls gave the BJP a clear lead in front of the Congress party, now led by Rajiv Gandhi's widow Sonia Gandhi. However, thanks to rural voters, who have not been part of the strong growth of the Indian economy, the Congress Party won the election. Italian-born Sonia Gandhi again chose to refrain from the Prime Minister's post so as not to become a divisive force because of her foreign origin, but she was expected to act behind the scenes.

The Congress Party forms a government

Manmohan Singh was appointed new prime minister instead. At the beginning of the 1990s, he had begun as the Minister of Finance an opening and modernization of the Indian economy. Singh was considered to be an inalienable politician, which made the government's pledge to take action against corruption more credible. Singh's biggest challenge, however, was to hold together the new government coalition, which consisted of nearly 20 different parties and also depended on the support of the four parties within the so-called Left Front. The government did manage to hold together, but in the autumn of 2006 it was plagued by a series of corruption scandals.

In the summer of 2008, the government coalition lost its support from the Left Front, after the government signed a contentious agreement on closer nuclear cooperation with the United States. However, Singh had instead secured support from the North Indian regional party Samajwadi and a few small parties. Following the departure of the Left Front, the government demanded a vote of confidence in Parliament which it won, thereby strengthening the fight.

In the spring 2009 parliamentary elections, the Congress Party, at the head of the United Progress Alliance (UPA) coalition, won a clear victory. Singh became the first Prime Minister since Jawarharlal Nehru in 1961, who was re-elected after serving a full term of office.

UPA went ahead in both the major cities and the countryside. Behind the victory was largely India's good economic development. Disagreement within the opposition coalition NDA contributed to a poor election result for its leading party BJP. The regional and caste-based parties also made a poor choice and the communists returned sharply in their strongest strongholds, Kerala and West Bengal. The Indian electorate had generally moved towards the middle of the political scale.

Terrorist acts and other violent acts

Singh declared that India would continue the peace process with Pakistan, but it was countered by militant Islamist groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, originating in the Kashmir conflict. The groups had carried out a series of bomb attacks: in Bombay and Delhi in 2005 and in Varanasi, Mumbai and Kashmir in 2006 - all with many civilian deaths and injuries as a result. In November 2008, ten terrorists attacked seven locations in Bombay for three days, including two luxury hotels, a train station and a hospital. Result: 174 dead and nearly 300 injured. A group affiliated with Lashkar-e-Taiba took on the deed.

The terrorist attacks undermined the Singh government's position by showing that it could not protect its citizens. The attacks also affected India's relations with neighboring countries. Singh believed that the terrorists were inspired and supported by forces inside Pakistan and he demanded that the neighboring country stop the militant groups. However, some terrorist attacks were carried out by the domestic Islamist group Indian Mujahedin.

Singh warned of new attacks - and they came. In February 2010, a Pakistan-based outbreak group from Lashkar-e-Taiba carried out an explosion in a restaurant in Pune, with 16 dead and some 60 injured as a result. In July of the following year, 26 people were killed and at least 130 were injured in three concerted bombings in Bombay. In February 2013, 17 people were killed when two explosive charges detonated in Hyderabad.

At the same time, violence between Hindus and Muslims continued. In Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, some 50 people were killed in September 2013 in the worst religiously motivated riots in several years. In Assam, hundreds of victims of violence were called for between the Bodo and Muslim settlers. The so-called Naxali uprising in mainly northeastern India escalated and caused Singh to call the Maoist rebels India's "foremost internal security challenge " (see Naxali uprising).

Big election victory for BJP and Modi

Prime Minister Singh's second term was also characterized by corruption charges, failing economy and political action paralysis. The Congress party also had leadership problems. Singh announced his intention to leave politics regardless of the 2014 election. Party leader Sonia Gandhi continued to refrain from running for prime ministerial candidate. After some hesitation, her and Rajiv Gandhi's son Rahul was appointed vice-party leader, at the same time as he became the face of the Congress party outwardly in the electoral movement. But it was never stated that he was intended to be prime minister and many questioned his interest and willingness for such an assignment.

In the run-up to the parliamentary elections in spring 2014, the opposition was thus given a head start. The BJP had appointed Gujarat's charismatic chief minister Narendra Modi as his prime ministerial candidate. Modi was indeed contentious, including within the BJP, for his ties to more extreme Hindu nationalist circles. Modi had been criticized for inaction during the religious riots in Gujarat in 2002. But before the election, Hindu nationalist rhetoric was toned down in favor of economic issues. Many Indians hoped that Modi could give India the same high economic growth and good development that Gujarat had experienced during Modi's twelve years at the helm.

When all the votes were counted in mid-May, it was clear that the BJP had won its own majority in Parliament's lower house. The Congress party had made one of its worst choices ever. Both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi made their seats available but were persuaded to stay. The Congress party's alliance parties also backed down sharply.

Later that month, Modi presented a relatively small government consisting of 41 ministers from the BJP and four from small alliance parties (in November the government was expanded to 66 ministers and in July 2016 to 77). At its first government meeting, Modi presented an ambitious program of action: restore public confidence in the state administration, increase transparency in government work, and invest in school, care, water, energy and roads. Modi also set up a special group with the task of seizing black money. New jobs would be created, India would attract more foreign investment, the tax system would be simplified and inflation would be combated. The government would also prioritize the fight against women's violence and work for good relations with neighboring countries.

 
 

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