Advent of the Europeans
Vasco da Gama landed at Calicut, sailing via the Cape of Good Hope in 1498. This marked the beginning of the European era in Indian history. The lucrative trade in spices of Malabar - in modern Kerala - had tempted the Portuguese and inspired the search for a sea route to the Indies. The Portuguese had already established their colony in Goa by the first decade of the 16th Century but their territorial and commercial hold in India remained rather limited.
In the next century, India was visited by a large number of European travellers - Italians, Englishmen, Frenchmen and Dutchmen. They were drawn to India for different reasons. Some were traders, others adventurers, and quite a few fired by the missionary zeal to find converts to Christianity. Among them was Francois Bernier, the French doctor who enjoyed the confidence of princes and nobles and was in a uniquely privileged position to observe the functioning of the Mughal court. His account is a valuable source of information for historians.
These travelogues aroused European interest in India, and prompted in course of time, the colonial intervention. England, France, the Netherlands and Denmark, floated East India Companies. Chartered as trading companies by their respective governments, their primary commercial interest was in Indian textiles, both silk and cotton, indigo and at times, other sundry merchandise.
During the late 16th and the 17th centuries, these companies competed with each other fiercely. By the last quarter of the 18th century the English had vanquished all others and established themselves as the dominant power in India. The military campaigns of Robert Clive and the administrative enterprise of Warren Hastings (1772 - 1785) contributed significantly to this achievement.
The British administered India for a period of about two centuries and brought about revolutionary changes in the social, political and the economic life of the country. Most Indians who came in their contact could not perceive the strategic threat posed by the East India Company. The British from the beginning followed a policy of divide and rule. Diplomacy and deceit were used to gain control of revenue collection in the province of Bengal. This gave the foreigners effective control of administration. The Marathas, the Sikhs and the rulers of Mysore could never unite to confront the foreign enemy and fell one by one. By the onset of the 19th century there was no local power that could cope with their onslaught.
Once the British had consolidated their power, commercial exploitation of the natural resources and native labour became ruthless. It is true that there were a few benevolent Governor Generals who initiated social reforms and tried to render the administration more efficient and responsive, but they were exceptions. By the middle of the 19th Century arrogant exploitation of the people had tried the patience of the Indians to the limit.
The British had, to serve their own purpose, set up educational institutions that imparted western education and had established a vast network of rail-roads and telegraph lines. This united the country in an unprecedented manner. The Indians, exposed to western ideas of responsible and representative government, began to yearn for liberty and equality. There were many who looked back to the nation's glorious past and strove to rekindle the sentiment of patriotism. Foremost among them were Raja Ram Mohan Roy, and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. The 19th Century is often referred to as the age of national resurgence in India.
The flash point was reached in 1857 when the British introduced a new rifle and cartridge in the British Indian Army. The bullet offended the religious sentiments of both the Hindus and the Muslims, as it allegedly contained pork and beef tallow. Soldiers at Meerut were the first to rebel and reaching Delhi proclaimed Bahadurshah Zafar the sovereign ruler of India. The revolt soon spread like wild fire all over north India and could only be put down after great difficulty and bloodshed. Nationalist historians have seen in it the first Indian war of independence.
The six decades between the end of the "mutinous" war of 1857 - 59 and the conclusion of First World War saw both the peak of British imperial power in India and the birth of nationalist agitation against it.
The Freedom Struggle
With increasing intrusion of aliens in their lives, it was natural that nationalist feelings began to be articulated by an increasing number of Indians. A group of middle class Indians formed the Indian National Congress (1885) - a society of English - educated affluent professionals - to seek reforms from the British. The British did not respond adequately to the legitimate demands of the Indians and this resulted in growing resentment against them.
By the last decade of the 19th Century a younger, more militant generation of Indians had begun to assert their birthright to independence. The Indian National Congress inevitably changed under the constant pressure exerted by men like Bal Gangadhar Tilak from Maharashtra. In Bengal too, there was a fiery group of revolutionaries who maintained that violence was the only language the foreigners understood.
The partition of Bengal announced by Lord Curzon in 1905, triggered a political earthquake - people rose in revolt en masse and forced the withdrawal of the ill advised plan. The mass movement brought out the widespread love for India and things Indian - Swadeshi - and reinforced communal harmony. Foreign produce was boycotted and a bonfire of imported clothes became the characteristic feature of protest.
The anticolonial struggle became truly a mass movement with the arrival of Gandhi in 1915. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869 - 1948) had suffered great humiliation in South Africa due to the policy of racial discrimination and was commited to rid his motherland of the ills of foreign rule. While practising as an attorney in South Africa, Gandhi had read widely and contemplated deeply. After having acquainted himself with the ground reality in India he devised a unique strategy for India's freedom struggle. Laying equal emphasis on the ends and means, he told his compatriots to accept non-violence as their creed and civil disobedience as their invincible weapon.
Gandhi had a unique gift for dramatic manipulation of symbols as well as a charismatic personality. It was not long, before he galvanised the masses in the fight against the British. Almost all the major leaders in the national movement accepted him as their mentor. He conceived and led the Non-cooperation Movement in 1922, the Salt Satyagraha in 1930 that climaxed in the Dandi March and the Quit India Movement in 1942 with its stirring battle cry - Do or Die - shaking the roots of the British empire.
Even revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad, who disagreed with the philosophy of non-violence, respected Gandhi Ji. Netaji Subhash Chadra Bose, who organised the Indian National Army (1943) in South East Asia during the Second World War to liberate India, also sought his blessings before starting his military campaign. Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad, Jaiprakash Narayan, Vallabhbhai Patel followed Gandhi's commands as disciplined soldiers of the Congress party.
After a long and arduous round of constitutional negotiations and in the face of the determined struggle of the Indian people, the British agreed to transfer power on 15th August, 1947(the date is commemorated as Independence Day).
But with freedom came the division of the country - a partition(leading to the creation of Pakistan)that brought in its wake unprecedented death and devastation. Undeterred, millions of Indians continued their endeavour to build the nation.
India since Independence
India at the time of independence was a country beset with great economic problems. It had suffered colonial exploitation for about two centuries and was recovering painfully from the blight of a distressing famine. The disruption of life caused by the Second World War had aggravated the crisis. Large parts of the country were under the feudal rule of Indian princes and only a miniscule minority had taken any initiative to modernize their states. In any case, the benefits of industrialisation remained confined to a small privileged section of the society. With freedom from foreign rule, also came partition and the government was confronted with the awesome task of rehabilitating millions of refugees.
Perhaps the most remarkable achievement of India since independence has been to overcome the trauma of partition and forge a unified modern nation from a bewildering diversity. India today can take pride in its federal form of governance that gives full scope to the development of the country's diverse ethnic and linguistic groups within the overall framework of a united nation.
The process of political integration was completed in two stages after the adoption of a federal constitution on January 26, 1950(the date is commemorated as Republic Day). The first step was to secure the merger of princely states and second by redrawing the boundaries of the states to accommodate the aspirations of major linguistic or ethnic groups. This political transformation synchronised a revolutionary social change with far reaching economic development.
Jawaharlal Nehru, who became the first Prime Minister of India was influenced by socialist thought. Many young leaders also seriously attempted to give the policies of the Indian National Congress - the party in the vanguard of the anti imperialist struggle - a socialist ideological orientation. Mahatma Gandhi too was unequivocal in his championing of the impoverished masses. God for him was no other but the Daridranarayan, poorest of the poor.
The new government gave top priority to economic planning for development. Land reforms were undertaken to ensure greater social justice and eradicate bondage. Steps were taken to accelerate industrialisation and redress regional imbalances. Progress was slow, as the infrastructure was not there. People had very high expectations and the government had to provide for education, health care and employment for hundreds of millions of people. For more than three decades, India's national income grew by no more than 3.6 per cent a year, one of the slowest growth rates in the developing world. Its per capita income was among the lowest.
It took the nation almost half a century to find its feet. Today India is a nuclear power, has launched satellites into space, produces its own steel, and builds its own warships and many of its aircrafts. It has an impressive heavy engineering base, and is one of the few developing countries that is able to bid successfully for heavy engineering turnkey contracts in other developing countries. Its progress in agriculture is equally impressive.
India's most impressive achievement is that the Indian economy today is stable and self-reliant. A powerful entrepreneurial class has emerged - almost as important an objective as securing all-round industrial development.
India's strategy for development has had many critics. It was pointed out that the emphasis on heavy industry made capital inefficient and lowered the annual rate of growth of GNP to about 3.6 per cent between 1950 and 1975.
But the philosophy of self-reliance is finally paying off. By the 80's, the first phase of industrialisation was largely over. India now has a well-developed industrial base that can produce almost anything that the country needs. The scientific and technical infrastructure is capable of responding to complex challenges. With the success of the green revolution that began in 1975 spearheaded by Dr. Swaminathan, India has also become self-sufficient in food grains.
A self confident nation, India is prepared to interact with the rest of the world without anxiety or inhibition. Just when other countries began to increase protection, the Indian government began to lower protective barriers, invite global tenders for its major investment projects, and encourage industry to secure the most up-to-date technology from abroad.Globalisation of the economy began in the early nineties initiated by Dr.Manmohan Singh,the then Finance Minister.