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First posted on May 18th 2008







South Asia : Periodization, 1914-2008


1914 At the outset of World War I, Britain controlled most of South Asia, roughly one third as British India (direct rule), over 500 princely states in India (indirect rule). Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka) was a British Crown Colony; Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim were independent states. Portugal and France controlled a number of coastal enclaves (Portuguese India, French India); Oman the enclave Gwadar.
The Indian National Congress had been established in 1885, the Muslim League in 1906. The Morley-Minto Act of 1909 had introduced elections for provincial assemblies; Hindus and Muslims voted in separate constituencies.
1914-1918 Indian and Nepalese soldiers served in the British army, notably in the East African campaign.
1919-1929 In 1919 the Third Anglo-Afghan War was fought.
Mahatma Gandhi (Indian National Congress) began non-violent non-cooperation campaign for Home Rule, since Amritsar Massacre 1921 for independence. He focussed on the needs of the rural population, assumed the habit of a poor Indian farmer, widened the appeal of the Congress hitherto limited to the British-educated urban intelligentsia.
1930-1939 Great Depression affected India as prices for Indian exports declined, the volume of export products declined as well. Government of India Act 1935 expanded rights of provincial legislaturesm separated Burma from British India (1937).
In 1936 Muhammad Ali Jinnah left the INC, took the lead of the Muslim League, turned it into a political party, began campaign for a separate, Muslim-majority Pakistan.
1939-1945 Indian soldiers served in the British armed forces. India played her role in the war economy of the British Empire. Bengal experienced a major famine in 1943 - the province depended on rice imports from Burma (now Japanese). Gandhi spent many of the war years in jail, while Jinnah was free to campaign. Nonetheless, Gandhi was of the opinion that for the time of the war the campaign should rest. There were groups of Indian patriots who believed in achieving independence by armed struggle (Subhandra Chandra Bose, former INC).
From 1942 to 1944 India's eastern border served as military front. Ceylon was military base for the Indian Ocean, Assam base from where the Nationalist Chinese government in Chungking was supplied (Burma Road, later Flying Tigers).
1945-1960 The British withdrew from India in 1947. The INC propagated a unified Indian state, including areas which used to be under direct as well as under indirect rule. The Muslim League opted for a two state solution, Pakistan consisting of the Muslim majority areas, and the remainder, called India, where Hindus formed the majority. Princely states were to opt for one or the other side. It should be mentioned that there had been further options, such as Dravidastan, a state to encompass Southern India.
Pakistan, consisting of a larger West Pakistan (Punjab, Kashmir, Sindh, Balochistan) and a smaller, but more populous East Pakistan (East Bengal) did emerge. Clashes between Muslims and Hindu escalated into riots causing a massive population exchange, and the first Indo-Pakistani War was fought, mainly over the issue of Jammu and Kashmir (vast population majority Muslim, prince Hindu, the latter opted for India. In the process borders were established dividing Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir and Bengal in two.
Some princes were opposed to the integration into India or Pakistan; Hyderabad (India) and Kalat (Balochistan, Pakistan) had to be subdued by force.
The definition of 'nation' underlying Pakistan was religious, that of the Republic of India rather cultural - even after the split, India has a Muslim population second only to that of Indonesia. Both states were multiethnic. The Republic of India gradually underwent an administrative reform, creating states unifying the people speaking one particular language out of historical provinces with feudal origins.
Both India and Pakistan were created as democracies. Pakistan had to establish a new infrastructure, declared Urdu (the language of the immigrant Mohajir refugee population) national language; India planned to replace English by Hindi as the national language (resented by many ethnic groups, not implemented).
India pursued an economic policy of protectionism; Coca Cola was banned.
1960-1971 Sino-Indian War 1962, Second Indo-Pakistani War 1965, Third Indo-Pakistani War 1971; Bangladesh independent.
1971-1991 Indo-Pakistani arms race; India Soviet ally, Pakistan ally of PR China. India tries to tackle population growth by a policy of coerced sterilization; this results in election defeat of Indira Gandhi and failure of policy. Pakistan unstable democracy where military dictatorship and period of functioning democracy alternate. Ceylon renamed Sri Lanka (1972); government pursues policy discriminating against minority minority Tamil, begin of Sri Lankan Civil War 1983. Sikh campaign for independent Sikh state of Khalistan ended in the Golden Temple of Amritsar being stormed by Indian police; in response Indira Gandhi being assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. Gandhi "Dynasty" ended with electoral defeat of Rajiv Gandhi in 1989; the BJP (stressing Hindu base) formed a government. India moved from a protectionist toward a market-oriented economy.
Since 1991 Indo-Pakistani rivalry survived Cold War; in 1998 both nations became nuclear. Republic of India's population reached 1 billion in 1999; expected to exceed population of PRC in a few decades. In the last years, India's economy experienced strong growth, in part due to outsourcing. In 2004 BJP suffered unexpected electoral defeat; INC back in government. SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Association) established in 2004. Steps to improve Indo-Pakistani relations undertaken.
Pakistan was base of Taleban when the latter took control of Afghanistan in the 1990es; was a major base for the U.S. led operation to oust the Taleban in 2001.
In the last decades the region saw a rise of religious fundamentalism : In 1992 Babri Mosque (Uttar Pradesh, India) demolished; in 2001 Bamyan Buddha Relief (Afghanistan) demolished. In India Hindi-Muslim riots in 1992-1993.


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Country History files at WHKMLA : British India, Republic of India (Bharat), Pakistan, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Bangla Desh (Bengal), French India, Portuguese India, Nepal, Bhutan
For Afghanistan see Central and North Asia





External Files
DOCUMENTS Imperial Gazetteer of India, 1908-1931, posted by DSAL
Indian History Sourcebook; Documents for the history of India, from Project South Asia
Historical Maps of India, links from Rootsweb (Ian Poyntz)
Maps, from DSAL (Schwartzberg, Imperial Gazetteer Atlas 1909, 1931)
Reference B.D. Metcalf and T.R. Metcalf, A Concise History of India, Cambridge : UP 2002, 321 pp., KMLA Lib. Call Sign 954 M588c
Vincent A. Smith, The Oxford History of India, (1919) Oxford : UP 2001, 945 pp., KMLA Lib. Call Sign 954 S642b
Gordon Johnson, Cultural Atlas of India, NY : Facts on File 1996, 240 pp., illustrated, KMLA Lib. Call Sign 954 J66c
Ian Barnes and Robert Hudson, The History Atlas of Asia, NY : MacMillan 1998, KMLA Lib. Call Sign 911.5 B281t
C. Collin Davies, An Historical Atlas of the Indian Peninsula, Oxford : UP 1949 [G]
Historical and Cultural Maps, National Atlas of India Vol.8, published by National Atlas & Thematic Mapping Organisation, Calcutta 1983, edited by G.K . Dutt, S.K. Biswas [G]
Joseph E. Schwartzberg, A Historical Atlas of South Asia, Chicago : UP 1978 [G]