The British attempt to appease India's call for independence while retaining their prize colony. The result is the Government of India Act of 1935, which increases the country's provincial autonomy. In the 1937 elections, India's Congress Party outperforms the Muslim League, deepening the three-way rift between Muslims, Hindus, and the British.
The British hand over power at local and provincial levels, but keep control of the center. More autonomy seems inevitable, but negotiations between the Congress Party, the Muslim League, and the British reach an impasse. In March 1940, the Muslim League demands partition and spends the next five years building support in Muslim-majority areas. The 1946 elections lead to further violence.
Britain partitions the colony, with free India flanked by East and West Pakistan. Most of the 562 independent princely states join India, under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. In the South, Telugu-speaking Hyderabad tries unsuccessfully to remain independent. Millions of people flee Pakistan for India and vice versa amid mounting violence. Hindu extremists assassinate Gandhi in 1948.
India adopts a British-style parliamentary democracy with elected state and national governments. It retains the judicial, administrative, defense, and educational structures and institutions set up by the British. India becomes a republic in 1950, with a largely ceremonial president as head of state. Prime Minister Nehru enjoys nationwide support, but new opposition parties begin to form.
The federal system is reorganized along linguistic lines into 15 states and eight federally administered territories. Separatist movements exist in pockets throughout the country, notably in Muslim-dominated Kashmir and the Western region of Punjab, where Sikhs grow increasingly militant. Democratization of the political process leads to the spread of opposition parties.
India proves ill equipped for the 1962 war with China along the countries' shared border, and Prime Minister Nehru's image is tarnished, both at home and abroad. India acquires the former French settlement of Pondicherry and forcibly annexes the Portuguese enclaves of Goa and Daman and Diu. The state of Assam begins to lose territory as non-Assamese populations are granted autonomy.
Lal Bahadur Shastri becomes prime minister upon Nehru's death. Anti-Hindu demonstrations erupt in Tamil Nadu (then Madras), and India enters a second war with Pakistan over Kashmir. Shastri dies after signing an agreement with Pakistan for a cease-fire line in Kashmir. Opposition to the Congress Party grows. The state of Punjab is partitioned into Hindi-speaking Haryana and Punjabi-speaking Punjab.
Nehru's daughter, Indira Gandhi, becomes prime minister. For the first time, the Congress Party majority is reduced, as opposition alliances control almost two-thirds of the state governments. Indira Gandhi's imperious style angers some party members, and the party splits into Congress (O) and Congress (R). Regional parties proliferate, especially in Tamil Nadu, Punjab, and Jammu and Kashmir.
The Congress (R) party under Morarji Desai gains a parliamentary majority. Indira Gandhi consolidates her power, but a deepening economic crisis, war with Pakistan, and civil disobedience test her administration. Displeased with central government, Punjab unsuccessfully calls for a "Sikh Autonomous Region." The government is in turmoil after Gandhi's 1971 election is invalidated.
At Indira Gandhi's request, the president declares a state of emergency, suspending civil rights. Gandhi's opponents are jailed until public outcry forces general elections. The multiparty opposition campaigns as the Janata Party, stressing decentralization and employment, and wins a majority in the Lower House. Morarji Desai becomes prime minister. India's protectorate of Sikkim becomes a state.
Prime Minister Desai resigns after failing to bring about reform. He is briefly succeeded by Chaudhury Charan Singh and Chandra Shekhar. Renaming her party Congress (I) for Indira, Gandhi is reelected. In 1984 she is assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards after ordering the army to storm a holy Sikh shrine where extremists have taken refuge. Her son Rajiv replaces her.
Rajiv Gandhi temporarily restores calm, but two scandals taint his Congress (I) Party. The new nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) incites the public by celebrating Hindu heritage and opposing secularism and affirmative action for lower castes. Several opposition factions join the Janata Dal Party in the National Front. India and Pakistan agree not to strike each other's nuclear facilities.
Rajiv Gandhi wins the 1989 election, but resigns after failing to form a majority government. The National Front's V.P. Singh becomes prime minister, but his government's dependence on the Communist and Bharatiya Janata parties proves untenable. The latter withdraws its support, and Singh loses a vote of confidence. The subsequent minority opposition government collapses after four months.
Rajiv Gandhi is assassinated by a Tamil suicide terrorist. The Congress Party prime minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, is stronger than expected, selecting ministers (in particular finance and commerce ministers) who will break with the past. Support for the Bharatiya Janata Party grows among the upper castes. Central government intervention in local affairs fuels existing separatist movements.
Two minority coalition governments survive a scant year each. The 1998 elections pit the Congress Party's Sonia Gandhi, widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, against the United Front alliance and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The vote runs deeply along the lines of caste and religion. A BJP-led coalition barely emerges victorious, and Atal Behari Vajpayee becomes prime minister.
Vajpayee's 13-party coalition fails to win a majority in Parliament. Bowing to sociopolitical demands, the government creates three new Northern states. The Bharatiya Janata Party conducts nuclear tests, sparking counter tests by Pakistan and bringing international sanctions upon both countries. A serious military clash in Kashmir and a series of scandals further undermine the government.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition maintains control at the federal level and scores some victories in state elections. Tension with Pakistan is high. The opposition accuses the BJP of advancing a right-wing Hindu agenda. India offers support to the U.S. antiterrorism campaign. In Cabinet reshuffles, the finance and foreign ministers swap jobs, and two famous film stars enter the government.
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