Modern History

After the lesson of the Indian Mutiny the British became a little more respectful of Indian culture. However the desire for independence did not die. On the contrary it slowly grew. The Indian National Congress was founded in 1885. The Muslim League was founded in 1906.

In 1861 legislative bodies was formed for India. However the members were not elected. They were appointed by the governor-general or by provincial governors. Most of their members were British. Furthermore after the mutiny the ratio of British soldiers to Indians was increased. In 1877 Queen Victoria was made Empress of India.

In the late 19th century the British created a network of railways in India. By 1900 there were 25,000 miles of railway in India. The first train made in India was built in Bombay in 1865. The British also built new roads across India. Improved communications meant the different parts of India were bought closer together and Indians began to feel a greater sense of national identity. In the late 19th century many newspapers were founded and they helped to mobilise public opinion.

In 1905 the British divided Bengal. They did this to make it easier to rule. This move provoked unrest in Bengal. People demonstrated and boycotted British goods.

In the late 19th century India was an agricultural society. Jute, raw cotton and tea and coffee were exported to Britain. In return textiles and other manufactured goods were imported from there. The Indian textile industry could not compete with cheap, mass produced British goods. However in the early 20th century Indian industries began to develop. It was still an overwhelmingly agricultural country but it was just beginning to change.

At the same time Britain was in decline. In the mid-19th century Britain was the most powerful country in the world but by the end of the century other powers such as Germany and the USA had caught up. Britain was weakened by the first world and continued to decline in the 1920's and 1930's. As Britain declined Indian nationalist feeling grew stronger.

Indian public opinion was embittered by the Amristar massacre, which took place on 13 April 1919. A crowd of thousands gathered in a square named Jallianwalla Bagh to protest against recent legislation. General Reginald Dyer decided on a show of force. Dyer told his men to open fire. They did so, killing 379 people and wounding about 1200 more.

At this point a remarkable individual rose to be the leader of the struggle for independence. This was Mohandas Karamchand Ghandi (1869-1948). Ghandi was a lawyer. For a time he lived in South Africa and became the leader of the Indians in that country. In 1915 he returned to India and soon emerged as the leader of the nationalists. In 1920 he launched a campaign of non-co-operation with the British. This included boycotting British textiles and their schools. Against Ghandi's wishes some people turned to violence. Ghandi was arrested in 1922 and remained in prison for 2 years.

Not everyone agreed with Ghandi's desire for peaceful campaigning. Nevertheless his skill as a politician and his personal charisma ensured that he became the leader of the independence movement. In 1930 he began a campaign to end the governments monopoly of salt production. He led a march to the sea to collect salt. The British arrested Ghandi and tens of thousands of others. However in 1931 they were forced to back down. They released Ghandi and most (not all) of the other prisoners. They also allowed people to make salt for their own personal use. In 1932 the army began to recruit Indian officers.

In 1931 the capital of India was moved from Calcutta to New Delhi.

Ghandi continued campaigning. He was arrested again in 1932 and in 1933 but both times was soon released. By 1935 the British realised that Indian independence was inevitable, sooner or later. In that year they granted a new constitution. When it came in effect, in 1937, Indians were allowed to elect provincial assemblies. (Although the British retained control of central government).

In 1939 the Viceroy of India declared war on Germany, without consulting the Indians, much to their chagrin.


By 1940 the Muslims demanded their own separate state made up of those provinces where Muslims were the majority.

In 1942 the National Congress demanded that the British quit India. The British responded by imprisoning their leaders, including Ghandi, who was released in 1944.

In 1946 the Viceroy appointed an interim cabinet with Jawaharlal Nehru as prime minister. However the divide between Muslims and Hindus had become unbridgeable. The leader of the Muslims, M A Jinnah declared a 'day of action' on 16 August 1946. In Calcutta the 'day of action' led to violence between Muslims and Hindus. About 5,000 people were killed in what became known as 'The Great Killing'.

Mountbatten was then made viceroy. He quickly realised the Muslims must be granted their own state (modern Pakistan and Bangladesh). India and Pakistan became independent on A4 August 1947. Mountbatten agreed to stay in India as Governor-general for an interim period.

Unfortunately some provinces had mixed populations of Muslims and Hindus and violence broke out between them. Many Hindus fled to India and Muslims fled to Pakistan but about half a million people died in the violence.

The violence threatened to overwhelm New Delhi but Ghandi managed to prevent it by fasting and threatening to fast to death unless the violence stopped. It did but some extreme Hindus became angry with Ghandi. One of them murdered Ghandi on 30 January 1948.

In December 1946 a Constituent Assembly met to draw up a constitution for India. The new constitution came into force in January 1950. India became a secular state. Prime minister Nehru made the economy a 'mixed economy' of some state owned industry and some private enterprise. Industry was strictly regulated. Unfortunately this restricted free enterprise.

Nevertheless in the 1950s a series of 5 year plans were devised. The first increase irrigation and boosted agriculture. The second and third plans boosted industry. On the other hand India's population grew rapidly. Poverty and illiteracy remained common.


In the 1960s India fought two wars. In 1962 there was a conflict with China. There were clashes along the border between India and Tibet in the late 1950s. The on 20 October 1962 Chinese troops attacked along the North-eastern border of India. They quickly captured key mountain passes and redrew the border. On 21 November the Chinese declared a ceasefire.

India also fought a war with Pakistan in 1965. The two countries always disagreed over the border. On 1 September 1965 Pakistani troops attempted to capture Kashmir. However the Indians won a tank battle and drove them back. On 27 September both sides agreed to a ceasefire.

Nehru died in 1964 and Indira Ghandi became prime minister in 1966. At first she proved to be a popular politician.

In 1971 India fought another war with Pakistan. At that time Pakistan was divided into two parts, West and East Pakistan (modern Bangladesh). Then in March 1971 East Pakistan broke away and declared its independence. West Pakistan refused to accept the move and sent troops to force the East to submit. Refugees flooded into India.

Then on 3 December 1971 the Pakistani air force attacked air bases in North West India. Pakistani ground forces attacked but were unable to make much headway. Meanwhile on 4 December Indian troops entered East Pakistan. The Pakistani forces in the East, under General Niazi surrendered on 16 December. Pakistan agreed to a ceasefire on 17 December 1971. Bangladesh then became independent.

In 1974 India exploded an atomic bomb.

However in 1973 oil prices rose sharply triggering rapid inflation in India. That harmed agriculture by making fertiliser much more expensive. Indian industry also entered a recession. Growing discontent in India led to strikes such as a railway strike in 1974.

Then a High Court declared that Mrs Ghandi's election in 1971 was invalid because of election malpractice. However Mrs Ghandi persuaded the president to declare a state of emergency on 17 June 1975. Civil liberties were suspended and Mrs Ghandi's opponents were arrested. Her son Sanjay led a mass sterilisation campaign in Northern India to combat the population explosion. The emergency was lifted in January 1977. During it inflation was curbed and industry revived.

Elections were due to be held in 1976 but they were delayed until March 1977. However Mrs Ghandi lost anyway. The Janata party held power from 1977 to 1980 when Mrs Ghandi returned.

In the early 1980s India, like the rest of the world, entered a recession. Worse was to come. Sikhs in Punjab were demanding independence. A man named Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale (1947-1984) and his supporters took over the Golden Temple in Amristar. Then in May 1984 the Indian army surrounded the temple. They attacked the fundamentalists in the temple but in the process they destroyed the holiest place in the Sikh religion. Two of Mrs Ghandi's Sikh bodyguards killed her in revenge.

She was succeeded by her son Rajiv. He started to deregulate industry and the Indian economy began to grow rapidly. However Rajiv was assassinated in 1991.

In the 1990s the Indian economy was deregulated further and today it is booming. Of course, India still has many problems and poverty is widespread but there is every reason to be optimistic and to believe that India will become another 'tiger economy'.