India Unveiled: A Comprehensive Overview of the World’s Largest Democracy

This article is about the Republic of India. India, officially known as the Republic of India, stands as the seventh-largest country globally, boasting the highest population as of June 2023 and maintaining its status as …

India

Table of Contents

This article is about the Republic of India.

India, officially known as the Republic of India, stands as the seventh-largest country globally, boasting the highest population as of June 2023 and maintaining its status as the world’s most populous democracy since gaining independence in 1947. Geographically, it is surrounded by the Indian Ocean to the south, the Arabian Sea to the southwest, and the Bay of Bengal to the southeast. India shares land borders with Pakistan to the west, China, Nepal, and Bhutan to the north, and Bangladesh and Myanmar to the east. The Indian Ocean situates India close to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, while its Andaman and Nicobar Islands share maritime boundaries with Thailand, Myanmar, and Indonesia.

The roots of human habitation on the Indian subcontinent trace back at least 55,000 years, with diverse communities evolving over time. Settled life emerged around 9,000 years ago in the western margins of the Indus river basin, eventually evolving into the advanced Indus Valley Civilization by the third millennium BCE. Around 1200 BCE, an archaic form of Sanskrit, an Indo-European language, spread into India from the northwest, evident in the hymns of the Rigveda. The Rigveda, preserved through a vigilant oral tradition, documents the emergence of Hinduism in India. Over time, the Dravidian languages in the northern and western regions were replaced.

By 400 BCE, Hinduism saw the emergence of stratification and caste-based exclusion, alongside the rise of Buddhism and Jainism, advocating social orders independent of heredity. Early political consolidations led to the Maurya and Gupta Empires in the Ganges Basin, characterized by creativity but also marked by the declining status of women and the institutionalization of untouchability. In South India, the Middle kingdoms played a role in exporting Dravidian-language scripts and religious cultures to Southeast Asian kingdoms.

In essence, India’s rich history spans thousands of years, witnessing cultural, linguistic, and political developments that have shaped its present-day diversity and complexity.

In the early medieval era, the southern and western coasts of India saw the establishment of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism. Muslim armies from Central Asia intermittently dominated the northern plains, founding the Delhi Sultanate and integrating northern India into the cosmopolitan networks of medieval Islam. The 15th century witnessed the Vijayanagara Empire shaping a lasting composite Hindu culture in south India, while Sikhism emerged in the Punjab, rejecting institutionalized religion.

The Mughal Empire, starting in 1526, ushered in two centuries of relative peace, leaving behind a legacy of luminous architecture. However, the British East India Company gradually extended its rule, transforming India into a colonial economy while consolidating its sovereignty. British Crown rule commenced in 1858, promising rights to Indians at a slow pace but introducing technological changes and modern ideas of education and public life. A influential nationalist movement, marked by nonviolent resistance, played a pivotal role in ending British rule in 1947, resulting in the partition of the British Indian Empire into the Dominion of India and the Dominion of Pakistan.

Since 1950, India has been a federal republic with a democratic parliamentary system, embodying a pluralistic, multilingual, and multi-ethnic society. The population has surged from 361 million in 1951 to nearly 1.4 billion in 2022. Over this period, nominal per capita income increased from US$64 annually to US$2,601, with a literacy rate climbing from 16.6% to 74%. From relative destitution in 1951, India has evolved into a rapidly growing major economy and a hub for information technology services, fostering an expanding middle class.

India’s achievements extend beyond economic growth, encompassing a successful space program with extraterrestrial missions. It is the fourth country to land a craft on the moon, accomplishing this feat within 600 kilometers of the Lunar south pole. Indian movies, music, and spiritual teachings play an increasingly prominent role in global culture. While India has made strides in reducing poverty, economic inequality has risen. As a nuclear-weapon state with high military expenditure, India grapples with longstanding disputes over Kashmir with its neighbors, Pakistan and China.

Challenges persist, including gender inequality, child malnutrition, and escalating air pollution. India’s diverse land is home to four biodiversity hotpots, with 21.7% of its area covered by forests. The nation’s wildlife, traditionally viewed with tolerance in its culture, finds refuge in protected habitats within these forests and elsewhere.

Republic of India: A Glimpse at the World’s Largest Democracy

Flag:
Horizontal tricolour with deep saffron, white, and green bands. The white band holds a navy-blue wheel with 24 spokes.

State Emblem:
Features three lions, a galloping horse, a 24-spoke wheel, and an elephant. Motto: “सत्यमेव जयते” (Truth Alone Triumphs).

National Anthem:
“Jana Gana Mana” (Hindi) – “Thou Art the Ruler of the Minds of All People.”

National Song:
“Vande Mataram” (Sanskrit) – “I Bow to Thee, Mother.”

Territory:
Controlled area in dark green; claimed but not controlled in light green.

Capital:
New Delhi

Largest City:
Mumbai (City Proper), Delhi (Metropolitan Area)

Official Languages:
Hindi, English

Recognised Regional Languages:
447 languages (State level and Eighth Schedule)

Religions (2011):

  • Hinduism: 79.8%
  • Islam: 14.2%
  • Christianity: 2.3%
  • Sikhism: 1.7%
  • Buddhism: 0.7%
  • Jainism: 0.4%
  • Unaffiliated: 0.23%
  • Other: 0.65%

Government:
Federal parliamentary republic

  • President: Droupadi Murmu
  • Vice-President: Jagdeep Dhankhar
  • Prime Minister: Narendra Modi
  • Chief Justice: Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud

Legislature:
Parliament

  • Upper House: Rajya Sabha
  • Lower House: Lok Sabha

Independence:

  • Dominion: 15 August 1947
  • Republic: 26 January 1950

Area:
Total: 3,287,263 km² (7th)
Water (%): 9.6

Population:

  • 2023 estimate: 1,428,627,663 (1st)
  • 2011 census: 1,210,854,977 (2nd)
  • Density: 423.0/km² (30th)

Economy (2023 estimate):

  • GDP (PPP) Total: $13.119 trillion (3rd)
  • GDP (PPP) Per Capita: $9,183 (127th)
  • GDP (Nominal) Total: $3.732 trillion (5th)
  • GDP (Nominal) Per Capita: $2,612 (139th)

Statistics:

  • Gini (2019): 35.7 (medium)
  • HDI (2021): 0.633 (medium, 132nd)
  • Currency: Indian Rupee (₹)
  • Time Zone: UTC+05:30 (IST)
  • Calling Code: +91
  • ISO 3166 Code: IN
  • Internet TLD: .in (others)
  • Driving Side: Left
  • Date Format: dd-mm-yyyy

India, with its rich cultural tapestry, diverse languages, and thriving democracy, stands as a nation of contrasts and complexities on the global stage.

Etymology

The origin of the name “India” is fascinating, as revealed by the Oxford English Dictionary. According to the third edition in 2009, “India” is derived from the Classical Latin “India,” which referred to South Asia and an uncertain region to its east. The progression of the name is traced through Hellenistic Greek “India,” ancient Greek “Indos,” Old Persian “Hindush” (an eastern province of the Achaemenid Empire), and ultimately its Sanskrit cognate, “Sindhu,” meaning “river” and specifically referring to the Indus River and its well-settled southern basin. The ancient Greeks referred to the people of this region as “Indoi,” translating to “The people of the Indus.”

In the Indian context, the term “Bharat” (pronounced [ˈbʱaːɾət]) holds significant historical and cultural weight. Mentioned in Indian epic poetry and enshrined in the Constitution of India, “Bharat” finds use in various Indian languages. A modern rendition of the historical name “Bharatavarsha,” initially applying to North India, “Bharat” gained prominence from the mid-19th century as a native name for the country.

Another name associated with India is “Hindustan,” a Middle Persian term that gained popularity by the 13th century during the Mughal Empire era. The meaning of “Hindustan” has varied over time, referring either to a region encompassing present-day northern India and Pakistan or to India in its entirety.

These names reflect the rich linguistic and historical tapestry of India, showcasing the diverse influences that have shaped its nomenclature over the centuries.

History

Ancient India

Around 55,000 years ago, Homo sapiens, the first modern humans, migrated from Africa to the Indian subcontinent, marking the initial human presence in the region. The earliest known modern human remains in South Asia date back to approximately 30,000 years ago. By 6500 BCE, signs of domestication of food crops and animals, the construction of permanent structures, and the storage of agricultural surplus emerged in sites like Mehrgarh in Balochistan, Pakistan. These developments laid the groundwork for the Indus Valley Civilization, South Asia’s first urban culture, which thrived between 2500 and 1900 BCE in present-day Pakistan and western India. Notable cities of this civilization include Mohenjo-daro, Harappa, Dholavira, and Kalibangan. The society engaged in crafts production and extensive trade, showcasing a diverse range of subsistence practices.

Between 2000 and 500 BCE, various regions in the subcontinent underwent a transition from Chalcolithic cultures to Iron Age ones. This period saw the composition of the Vedas, the oldest scriptures associated with Hinduism, suggesting the emergence of a Vedic culture in the Punjab region and the upper Gangetic Plain. Historians also propose multiple waves of Indo-Aryan migration from the northwest during this time. The caste system took shape, establishing a hierarchy of priests, warriors, and free peasants while marginalizing indigenous people by deeming their occupations impure.

On the Deccan Plateau, archaeological evidence indicates a chiefdom stage of political organization during this period. In South India, the transition to a sedentary lifestyle is evident through the proliferation of megalithic monuments and traces of agriculture, irrigation tanks, and craft traditions.

This historical timeline provides insights into the early human presence and the cultural developments that laid the foundation for complex societies in the Indian subcontinent.

In the late Vedic period, around the 6th century BCE, the Ganges Plain and north-western regions witnessed the consolidation of small states and chiefdoms into 16 major oligarchies and monarchies, collectively known as the mahajanapadas. This era of emerging urbanization saw the rise of non-Vedic religious movements, leading to the establishment of two independent religions: Jainism, gaining prominence during the lifetime of Mahavira, and Buddhism, based on the teachings of Gautama Buddha. Both religions attracted followers from various social classes, emphasizing renunciation as an ideal and establishing enduring monastic traditions. The 3rd century BCE marked the political ascendancy of the Magadha kingdom, evolving into the Mauryan Empire. Though once believed to control most of the subcontinent, recent perspectives suggest that the Mauryan core regions were separated by large autonomous areas. The Mauryan kings, renowned for their empire-building, also became known for Ashoka’s renunciation of militarism and his widespread advocacy of Buddhist principles.

The Sangam literature in the Tamil language, spanning from 200 BCE to 200 CE, unveils the rule of the Cheras, Cholas, and Pandyas in the southern peninsula. These dynasties engaged in extensive trade with the Roman Empire, as well as regions in West and Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, in North India, Hinduism asserted patriarchal control within families, leading to increased subordination of women. By the 4th and 5th centuries, the Gupta Empire had established a sophisticated system of administration and taxation in the greater Ganges Plain, serving as a model for subsequent Indian kingdoms. Under the Guptas, Hinduism experienced a revival based on devotion rather than ritual management, leading to a flourishing of sculpture and architecture among the urban elite. This period also witnessed the zenith of classical Sanskrit literature and significant advancements in Indian science, astronomy, medicine, and mathematics.

Medieval India

Exploring India’s Rich Historical Tapestry: From Early Medieval Ages to the Mughal Empire

Early Medieval Age (600-1200 CE):

Diving into India’s historical realms, the early medieval age, spanning from 600 to 1200 CE, reveals a landscape of regional kingdoms and cultural diversity. During this period, the Indo-Gangetic Plain and north-western regions witnessed the emergence of 16 major oligarchies and monarchies, known as the mahajanapadas. However, attempts at territorial expansion by rulers like Harsha of Kannauj faced resistance, resulting in fragmented control beyond core regions.

The societal landscape during this era accommodated pastoral peoples within the caste system, showcasing regional variations. Devotional hymns in the Tamil language, crafted between the 6th and 7th centuries, spurred the resurgence of Hinduism and influenced the development of modern languages across the subcontinent. Urbanization flourished, with temple towns becoming economic hubs and centers of cultural patronage.

The impact of South Indian culture extended to Southeast Asia in the 8th and 9th centuries, fostering economic and cultural exchanges with lands that now constitute Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and more. This period witnessed the migration of Indian merchants, scholars, and even armies, contributing to the transmission of Indian culture.

Islamic Delhi Sultanate (10th-13th centuries):

The 10th century marked a pivotal shift with the incursion of Muslim Central Asian nomadic clans. Swift-horse cavalry and vast armies led to the establishment of the Islamic Delhi Sultanate in 1206. Despite initial disruptions for the Indian elites, the sultanate largely allowed its non-Muslim subjects to follow their own laws and customs.

The sultanate’s resilience against Mongol raiders in the 13th century saved India from the devastation witnessed in West and Central Asia. This era set the stage for centuries of migration, resulting in the synthesis of Indo-Islamic culture in the north. The weakening of regional kingdoms in South India paved the way for the indigenous Vijayanagara Empire, known for embracing Shaivite traditions and influencing the region’s society.

Early Modern India and the Mughal Empire:

Transitioning to the early 16th century, northern India fell to a new generation of Central Asian warriors, leading to the rise of the Mughal Empire. Unlike previous conquerors, the Mughals adopted inclusive ruling practices, fostering diverse elites and administrative innovations. Under leaders like Akbar, the empire found unity through loyalty expressed in a Persianized culture.

Economically, the Mughal state’s policies, focused on agriculture and a regulated silver currency, expanded markets, leading to economic growth. This era saw a flourishing of art, literature, textiles, and architecture, contributing to India’s cultural richness. Social groups like the Marathas, Rajputs, and Sikhs gained prominence during Mughal rule, setting the stage for their future roles in Indian history.

As the Mughal Empire faced disintegration, new Indian commercial and political elites emerged along the coasts, shaping their destinies. The complex interplay of collaboration and adversity during Mughal rule laid the foundation for the rise of these groups, marking a transformative phase in India’s history.

The Shift to Colonialism: Early 18th Century Onwards

As we step into the early 18th century, the dynamics in India underwent a significant transformation. The distinctions between commercial and political dominance blurred, and European trading companies, including the formidable English East India Company, established coastal outposts. The East India Company, with its control of the seas and superior resources, gradually asserted military strength. This allure attracted a portion of the Indian elite, leading to the Company gaining control over Bengal by 1765 and sidelining other European competitors. By the 1820s, its strengthened army allowed the Company to annex or subdue much of India, marking the onset of India’s colonial period. Instead of exporting manufactured goods, India now supplied raw materials to the British Empire. With its economic power constrained by the British parliament, the East India Company extended its influence into non-economic realms, including education, social reform, and culture.

The Dawn of Modern India

The modern age in India is often deemed to have begun between 1848 and 1885, marked by Lord Dalhousie’s appointment as Governor General of the East India Company in 1848. This period witnessed crucial changes, including the consolidation of sovereignty, population surveillance, and citizen education. Technological advancements, such as railways, canals, and the telegraph, were introduced, mirroring developments in Europe. However, discontent grew, leading to the Indian Rebellion of 1857 fueled by various grievances, including British-style social reforms, oppressive land taxes, and mistreatment of landowners. Although suppressed by 1858, the rebellion prompted the dissolution of the East India Company, putting India under direct British government administration. The new rulers proclaimed a unitary state with a limited parliamentary system, safeguarding princes and gentry as a feudal countermeasure against potential unrest. Public life gradually emerged, culminating in the establishment of the Indian National Congress in 1885.

Economic and Agricultural Shifts in the Late 19th Century

The latter half of the 19th century witnessed a rush of technological advancements and the commercialization of agriculture. However, economic setbacks occurred, with many small farmers becoming vulnerable to distant market fluctuations. Large-scale famines increased, and despite infrastructure development funded by Indian taxpayers, industrial employment for Indians remained limited. The newly canalled Punjab experienced a boost in food production, and the railway network played a crucial role in famine relief and reducing the cost of moving goods, benefiting nascent Indian-owned industries.

This period laid the groundwork for the complex tapestry of India’s colonial history, with economic, political, and social changes shaping the trajectory of the nation into the modern era.

India’s Journey Post-World War I: Struggles and Triumphs

The aftermath of World War I witnessed a transformative period for India, marked by a convergence of British reforms and repressive legislation. Approximately one million Indians had served in the war, setting the stage for a new era characterized by heightened Indian calls for self-rule and the emergence of a nonviolent movement led by Mahatma Gandhi.

1930s: Legislative Reform and Political Victories

In the 1930s, the British enacted slow legislative reforms, and the Indian National Congress achieved victories in subsequent elections. However, this period was also fraught with crises, including India’s participation in World War II, the Congress’s final push for non-cooperation, and a surge in Muslim nationalism. The culmination came in 1947 with the advent of independence, but this triumph was tempered by the partition of India into two states: India and Pakistan.

Post-Independence: Crafting a Nation

India’s identity as an independent nation crystallized with the crafting of its constitution in 1950, establishing a secular and democratic republic. India retained its membership in the Commonwealth, making it the first republic within the organization. Economic liberalization, initiated in the 1980s and bolstered by collaboration with the Soviet Union for technical expertise, propelled India into becoming one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, enhancing its geopolitical influence.

Challenges and Complexities: A Nation in Flux

While economic strides were made, India grappled with persistent challenges. Poverty, both rural and urban, remained a stubborn issue. Religious and caste-related violence posed ongoing concerns, as did Maoist-inspired Naxalite insurgencies and separatist movements in Jammu and Kashmir and Northeast India. Unresolved territorial disputes with China and Pakistan added geopolitical complexities to India’s landscape.

Unique Democratic Freedoms and Aspirations

India’s sustained democratic freedoms set it apart among newer nations. However, despite economic successes, addressing the needs of the disadvantaged population remains an ongoing goal. The country’s unique journey unfolds against a backdrop of diverse challenges, shaping its narrative of progress, resilience, and the pursuit of a more inclusive and equitable future.

Geography

Geography and Climate of India: A Tapestry of Diversity

India, encompassing the bulk of the Indian subcontinent, rests atop the Indian tectonic plate, a fragment of the larger Indo-Australian Plate. The country’s geological saga commenced 75 million years ago when the Indian Plate, part of the ancient supercontinent Gondwana, initiated a north-eastward drift. This movement, fueled by seafloor spreading, contributed to the creation of the Indian Ocean and the eventual collision with the Eurasian Plate, giving rise to the towering Himalayas.

South of the emerging Himalayas lies the Indo-Gangetic Plain, formed by river-borne sediment. The original Indian plate appears in the ancient Aravalli range, extending from the Delhi Ridge. The Thar Desert lies to the west, and to the south, the Deccan Plateau, flanked by the Western and Eastern Ghats, constitutes the geologically stable peninsular India.

India’s coastline spans 7,517 kilometers, with sandy beaches, rocky shores, and mudflats defining its diverse shorelines. Major rivers, including the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Godavari, and Krishna, shape the landscape, draining into the Bay of Bengal or the Arabian Sea. Marshy regions like the Rann of Kutch and the Sundarbans delta contribute to India’s unique coastal features.

The Indian climate is profoundly influenced by the Himalayas and the Thar Desert, guiding the pivotal summer and winter monsoons. The Himalayas shield the subcontinent from cold Central Asian winds, maintaining higher temperatures. The Thar Desert draws the moisture-laden summer monsoons, crucial for India’s rainfall. Four predominant climatic groups—tropical wet, tropical dry, subtropical humid, and montane—diversify India’s weather patterns.

However, India faces climate challenges. Rising temperatures, attributed to climate change, have increased by 0.7 °C between 1901 and 2018. The retreat of Himalayan glaciers impacts major rivers, while projections suggest a rise in the number and severity of droughts by the end of the century. The delicate balance of India’s geography and climate underscores the intricate interplay shaping the nation’s physical and environmental tapestry.

Biodiversity

India’s Rich Biodiversity: A Tapestry of Endemism and Conservation Efforts

India stands as a megadiverse country, a term reserved for nations displaying extraordinary biological diversity with numerous species exclusively indigenous or endemic. This vibrant nation is a haven for biodiversity, hosting 8.6% of all mammal species, 13.7% of bird species, 7.9% of reptile species, 6% of amphibian species, 12.2% of fish species, and 6.0% of flowering plant species. A significant proportion, one-third of India’s plant species, proudly claims endemism.

Diverse ecosystems in India contribute to its biodiversity, with four biodiversity hotspots signaling regions facing habitat loss amidst high endemism. Forests play a crucial role, covering 21.71% of India’s total land area. They can be categorized based on canopy density, ranging from very dense tropical forests in the Andaman Islands to open forests in the Deccan Plateau.

Notable indigenous trees, like the neem and peepul, showcase India’s rich botanical heritage. Many species trace their roots back to Gondwana, the ancient supercontinent. India’s collision with Eurasia triggered a significant exchange of species, but climatic changes and volcanic activity led to the extinction of some. Despite challenges, conservation efforts have expanded with national parks, protected areas, and acts like the Wildlife Protection Act and Project Tiger.

India harbors 172 IUCN-designated threatened animal species, including the Bengal tiger and the Ganges river dolphin. Conservation initiatives, such as biosphere reserves and wildlife sanctuaries, underscore India’s commitment to preserving its diverse flora and fauna. Despite the pressures of human encroachment, the country persists in its dedication to safeguarding the natural wonders that define its ecological identity.

Politics and government

Politics

India’s Political Landscape: A Tapestry of Democracy

India, a parliamentary republic with a vibrant multi-party system, has played host to a dynamic political scene since it became a republic in 1950. Six nationally recognized parties, including the centre-left Indian National Congress (INC) and the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), along with over 50 regional parties, contribute to the nation’s political fabric.

For much of the post-independence period until the late 1980s, the Congress party dominated Indian politics. However, the landscape shifted, and the BJP emerged as a formidable player. The political stage has often seen multi-party coalition governments at the center, showcasing the diverse and intricate nature of Indian politics.

The early years witnessed Congress’s consistent victories in general elections, with leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and his successors leading the way. The political dynamics shifted with the Janata Party briefly taking power in the late 1970s. The 1980s saw the Congress return to power, with Rajiv Gandhi at the helm after his mother Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

Subsequent years witnessed a series of changes in government, with brief tenures for various parties. The BJP formed a successful coalition in 1998, marking a departure from Congress’s historical dominance. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA), led by the Congress, gained prominence in 2004 and 2009, with Manmohan Singh serving consecutive terms.

In 2014, the BJP, led by Narendra Modi, achieved a historic victory, securing a majority without coalition support. The trend continued in 2019, reinforcing the BJP’s political influence. Narendra Modi remains the incumbent prime minister, steering the nation through complex political terrain.

The presidency saw a recent change, with Droupadi Murmu elected as India’s 15th president in July 2022. This political tapestry reflects India’s commitment to democratic values, where diverse voices contribute to shaping the nation’s destiny.

Government

India’s Constitutional Framework: A Federal Parliamentary Republic

India, a federal parliamentary republic, operates under the Constitution of India, its paramount legal document. Adopted on January 26, 1950, it initially characterized India as a “sovereign, democratic republic.” In 1971, this was amended to label India a “sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic,” showcasing the evolving nature of the nation.

The constitutional structure defines the distribution of powers between the union and the states. Traditionally considered “quasi-federal” with a strong central authority, India’s federalism has evolved since the late 1990s, reflecting political, economic, and social transformations.

  • National Symbols:
  • Emblem: Sarnath Lion Capital
  • Anthem: Jana Gana Mana
  • Song: “Vande Mataram”
  • Language: None
  • Currency: ₹ (Indian rupee)
  • Calendar: Shaka
  • Bird: Indian peafowl
  • Flower: Lotus
  • Fruit: Mango
  • Mammal: Bengal tiger, River dolphin
  • Tree: Banyan
  • River: Ganges

Government Structure:

  1. Executive: The President of India, elected indirectly for a five-year term, serves as the ceremonial head of state. The Prime Minister, the head of government, is appointed by the president and leads the executive branch. The Union Council of Ministers, including the cabinet, operates under the prime minister’s leadership.
  2. Legislature: India’s bicameral parliament consists of the Rajya Sabha (Council of States) and the Lok Sabha (House of the People). The Rajya Sabha has 245 members serving staggered six-year terms, while the Lok Sabha’s 545 members are elected directly by popular vote.
  3. Judiciary: India’s independent judiciary comprises the supreme court, 25 high courts, and numerous trial courts. The supreme court, led by the Chief Justice of India, holds original and appellate jurisdiction, including the power to strike down laws contravening the constitution and invalidate unconstitutional government actions.

This tripartite division—executive, legislature, and judiciary—underscores India’s commitment to democratic principles within a federal framework, reflecting its diverse and dynamic political landscape.

Administrative Structure of India: States and Union Territories

India, a federal union, is composed of 28 states and 8 union territories, each with elected legislatures and governments adhering to the Westminster system of governance. Jammu and Kashmir, Puducherry, and the National Capital Territory of Delhi also fall under this governance model. The central government directly administers the remaining five union territories through appointed administrators.

The States Reorganisation Act of 1956 initiated the reorganization of states based on linguistic criteria. This resulted in the present configuration of states and union territories, reflecting the linguistic and cultural diversity of the nation.

States:

  1. Andhra Pradesh
  2. Arunachal Pradesh
  3. Assam
  4. Bihar
  5. Chhattisgarh
  6. Goa
  7. Gujarat
  8. Haryana
  9. Himachal Pradesh
  10. Jharkhand
  11. Karnataka
  12. Kerala
  13. Madhya Pradesh
  14. Maharashtra
  15. Manipur
  16. Meghalaya
  17. Mizoram
  18. Nagaland
  19. Odisha
  20. Punjab
  21. Rajasthan
  22. Sikkim
  23. Tamil Nadu
  24. Telangana
  25. Tripura
  26. Uttar Pradesh
  27. Uttarakhand
  28. West Bengal

Union Territories:

  1. Andaman and Nicobar Islands
  2. Chandigarh
  3. Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu
  4. Jammu and Kashmir
  5. Ladakh
  6. Lakshadweep
  7. National Capital Territory of Delhi
  8. Puducherry

This administrative framework ensures governance at various levels, with a multitude of local government bodies at the city, town, block, district, and village levels, totaling over a quarter of a million. The diversity in administrative divisions mirrors the rich cultural tapestry and geographical vastness of India.

Foreign, Economic, and Strategic Relations of India

Foreign Relations:

  • In the 1950s and 60s, India played a crucial role in the Non-Aligned Movement, advocating for decolonization in Africa and Asia.
  • India went to war with China in 1962 and had subsequent conflicts. Tensions with Pakistan led to wars in 1947, 1965, 1971, and 1999.
  • India has had notable military interventions abroad, including peacekeeping in Sri Lanka (1987-1990) and preventing a coup in the Maldives (1988).
  • India has strong defense ties with Russia, Israel, and France. It actively participates in international forums and provides significant UN peacekeeping personnel.

Strategic Relations:

  • China’s nuclear test in 1964 and threats during the 1965 war prompted India to develop nuclear weapons. India conducted nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998.
  • India maintains a “no first use” nuclear policy and is developing a nuclear triad capability. It is working on a ballistic missile defense shield and a fifth-generation fighter jet.
  • India increased cooperation with the United States and the European Union post-Cold War. The 2008 civilian nuclear agreement with the U.S. granted India exceptions from certain nuclear restrictions.

Economic Relations:

  • India has expanded economic ties globally and follows a “Look East” policy, strengthening partnerships with ASEAN nations, Japan, and South Korea.
  • It has signed agreements involving civilian nuclear energy with the U.S., Russia, France, the UK, and Canada.
  • India increased economic, strategic, and military cooperation with the U.S. and the EU since the Cold War.

Military Strength:

  • The President of India is the supreme commander of the armed forces, with 1.45 million active troops, making it the world’s second-largest military.
  • India’s defense budget was US$70.12 billion for fiscal year 2022–23, representing 1.83% of GDP.
  • India is the world’s second-largest arms importer, with a focus on defense against Pakistan and countering Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean.

Space and Defense Developments:

  • The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched the South Asia Satellite in 2017, a gift to neighboring SAARC countries.
  • India signed a US$5.43 billion agreement with Russia in 2018 for four S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile defense systems.

India’s foreign, economic, and strategic policies reflect a multifaceted approach, engaging with various nations and international organizations to secure its interests and contribute to global stability.

Economy

Indian Economy Overview:

Economic Size and Growth:

  • According to the IMF, India’s nominal GDP in 2022 was $3.46 trillion, making it the fifth-largest economy by market exchange rates and the third-largest by purchasing power parity (PPP), around $11.6 trillion.
  • India has been one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, with an average annual GDP growth rate of 5.8% over the past two decades.
  • Despite rapid growth, India ranks 139th in the world in nominal GDP per capita.

Labor Force and Sectors:

  • India has the world’s second-largest labor force, with 522 million workers as of 2017.
  • The service sector contributes 55.6% to GDP, followed by the industrial sector at 26.3%, and agriculture at 18.1%.
  • Foreign exchange remittances in 2022, totaling $100 billion, were the highest globally, contributed by 32 million Indians working abroad.

Trade and Industries:

  • India’s external trade share in GDP increased from 6% in 1985 to 24% in 2006.
  • India is the world’s ninth-largest importer and the sixteenth-largest exporter.
  • Major industries include textiles, telecommunications, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, food processing, steel, transport equipment, cement, mining, petroleum, machinery, and software.
  • India is the world’s second-largest arms importer and the second-largest textile exporter after China in 2013.

Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction:

  • Averaging a growth rate of 7.5% before 2007, India has doubled its hourly wage rates in the first decade of the 21st century.
  • Around 431 million Indians have moved out of poverty since 1985, with the middle class projected to reach 580 million by 2030.

Future Economic Projections:

  • A PwC report suggests that India’s GDP at PPP could surpass that of the United States by 2045.
  • The World Bank emphasizes the need for public sector reform, infrastructure development, agricultural and rural development, labor regulation removal, education, energy security, and public health for India to achieve its economic potential.

Consumer Market and Global Rankings:

  • As of 2023, India’s consumer market was the world’s fifth-largest.
  • While ranking 68th in global competitiveness, India stands out in financial market sophistication (17th), banking sector (24th), business sophistication (44th), and innovation (39th).

Industries and Technological Advancements:

  • India’s telecommunication industry is the second-largest globally with over 1.2 billion subscribers.
  • The Indian automotive industry is the world’s second-fastest growing, and the IT industry employed 2.8 million professionals at the end of 2011.
  • India is a global player in the pharmaceutical industry, with the third-largest production capacity and a significant role in vaccine supply.
  • The country’s energy capacity is 300 gigawatts, with 42 gigawatts from renewable sources, but coal usage remains a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Socio-Economic Challenges in India:

  1. Poverty and Malnutrition:
  • In 2006, India had the largest number of people living below the World Bank’s international poverty line of $1.25 per day.
  • The proportion of people below the poverty line decreased from 60% in 1981 to 42% in 2005 and further to 21% in 2011.
  • Despite progress, 30.7% of children under the age of five in India are underweight, and 15% of the population is undernourished, as reported by the Food and Agriculture Organization in 2015.
  1. Child Labor and Modern Slavery:
  • In 2018, a Walk Free Foundation report estimated nearly 8 million people in India were living in various forms of modern slavery, including bonded labor, child labor, human trafficking, and forced begging.
  • The 2011 census indicated 10.1 million child laborers, showing a decline from 12.6 million in 2001.
  1. Economic Inequality:
  • Since 1991, economic inequality among India’s states has consistently increased. In 2007, the per-capita net state domestic product of the richest states was 3.2 times that of the poorest.
  • This economic disparity poses challenges to balanced development across regions.
  1. Corruption:
  • Corruption in India has been a persistent challenge, although there is a perception of improvement. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index, India ranked 78th out of 180 countries in 2018, with a score of 41 out of 100, an improvement from 85th in 2014.
  1. Epidemic and Pandemic Diseases:
  • India has faced significant challenges due to epidemic and pandemic diseases, including COVID-19 and cholera.
  • These health crises not only strain the healthcare system but also impact the socio-economic fabric of the nation.

While India has made strides in various sectors, these socio-economic challenges highlight the need for continued efforts and targeted interventions to ensure inclusive and sustainable development. Initiatives addressing poverty, malnutrition, child labor, economic disparities, corruption, and health crises are crucial for the nation’s overall well-being.

In summary, India’s economy reflects a dynamic mix of traditional and modern sectors, showcasing robust growth, global competitiveness, and a significant impact on various industries worldwide.

Demographics, languages and religion

Population and Demographics of India:

  • Population Growth:
  1. In the 2011 provisional census report, India had a population of 1,210,193,422 residents, making it the world’s second-most populous country.
  2. The population grew by 17.64% from 2001 to 2011, a slight reduction from the 21.54% growth observed in the previous decade (1991–2001).
  • Gender Distribution and Age:
  1. The human sex ratio, according to the 2011 census, is 940 females per 1,000 males.
  2. The median age of the population was 28.7 as of 2020.
  • Life Expectancy and Healthcare:
  1. The life expectancy in India is around 70 years, with 71.5 years for women and 68.7 years for men.
  2. There are approximately 93 physicians per 100,000 people, reflecting healthcare availability.
  • Urbanization and Migration:
  1. Migration from rural to urban areas has been a significant dynamic, with the urban population growing by 31.2% between 1991 and 2001.
  2. In 2011, over 70% still lived in rural areas, but the level of urbanization increased from 27.81% in 2001 to 31.16% in 2011.
  • Literacy Rate:
  1. The literacy rate in 2011 was 74.04%, with a rural-urban literacy gap decreasing from 21.2 percentage points in 2001 to 16.1 percentage points in 2011.
  2. Kerala is the most literate state with 93.91% literacy, while Bihar has the least with 63.82%.
  • Language and Religion:
  1. Among Indian language speakers, 74% speak Indo-Aryan languages, 24% speak Dravidian languages, and 2% speak Austroasiatic or Sino-Tibetan languages.
  2. Hindi, with the largest number of speakers, is the official language, and English is a subsidiary official language.
  3. The 2011 census reported that Hinduism is the religion with the largest number of followers (79.80%), followed by Islam (14.23%), Christianity (2.30%), Sikhism (1.72%), Buddhism (0.70%), Jainism (0.36%), and other religions (0.9%).

India’s population and demographics showcase the country’s diversity in terms of languages, religions, and socio-economic factors, emphasizing the need for inclusive policies and development strategies.

Culture

Indian Cultural History and Visual Art:

  • Cultural History:
  1. Indian cultural history spans more than 4,500 years.
  2. During the Vedic period (c. 1700 BCE – c. 500 BCE), the foundations of Hindu philosophy, mythology, theology, and literature were established, giving rise to concepts like dhárma, kárma, yóga, and mokṣa.
  3. India is known for its religious diversity, with Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam, Christianity, and Jainism as major religions.
  • Visual Art:
  1. Ancient Traditions: India has an ancient tradition of art, exchanging influences with Eurasia. Buddhist art spread across Central, East, and Southeast Asia, while Hindu art greatly influenced Southeast Asia.
  2. Indus Valley Civilization: Seals from the Indus Valley Civilization (third millennium BCE) have been found, depicting animals and human figures. Notable is the “Pashupati” seal from Mohenjo-daro.
  3. Mauryan Art: The Mauryan period in north India marks the first imperial movement in art, with a focus on religious sculpture in durable materials and coins.
  4. Buddhist Art: In the first millennium CE, Buddhist art spread to Central, East, and Southeast Asia. A distinctly Indian style of sculpting the human figure emerged, emphasizing smoothly flowing forms expressing prana.
  5. Gupta Art: Gupta art (c. 300 CE – c. 500 CE) is considered a classical period with a dominance of Hindu sculpture. It influenced art for centuries, with examples like the Elephanta Caves.
  6. Ajanta Caves: Ancient painting survives at sites like the Ajanta Caves, featuring crowded scenes of court life and demonstrating highly developed artistic skills.
  7. Medieval Period: Medieval painting includes manuscripts of religious texts from Eastern India. Deccan painting, influenced by Persian art, led to the Mughal miniature tradition, showcasing portraits and courtly scenes.
  8. 19th Century: The 19th century saw the rise of Kalighat paintings and the Bengal School of Art, reflecting modern influences and Western styles in Indian painting.

Indian visual art reflects a rich tapestry of traditions, blending religious influences and artistic innovations across different periods, regions, and cultural contexts.

Architecture:

  • Indo-Islamic Influence: Indian architecture, exemplified by iconic structures like the Taj Mahal and other Indo-Islamic Mughal buildings, combines ancient local traditions with imported styles.
  • Vernacular Architecture: Regional flavors are evident in vernacular architecture. Vastu Shastra, a science of construction, explores cosmic constructs’ impact on human dwellings.
  • Hindu Temple Architecture: Influenced by Shilpa Shastras, Hindu temple architecture employs precise geometry, directional alignments, and the Vastu-Purusha mandala concept.
  • Taj Mahal: Constructed between 1631 and 1648, the Taj Mahal in Agra is a UNESCO-listed masterpiece, described as “the jewel of Muslim art in India.”
  • Indo-Saracenic Revival: Developed by the British in the late 19th century, this architectural style draws on Indo-Islamic influences.
  • Ancient Dravidian Architecture: In South India, Dravidian architecture, characterized by intricately carved temples like the ones in Mahabalipuram and Madurai, showcases a unique regional style.
  • Chola Dynasty Art: Under the Chola dynasty, especially during the 10th to 12th centuries, there was a pinnacle in bronze and stone sculptures, exemplified by the Brihadeshwara Temple in Thanjavur.
  • Rajput Architecture: In North India, the Rajputs contributed to architectural marvels like forts and palaces. Rajasthan’s Amer Fort and Jaipur’s City Palace are enduring examples.

Literature:

  • Early Literature: The earliest Indian literature (1500 BCE–1200 CE) was in Sanskrit, including the Rigveda, Mahābhārata, Ramayana, and works of Kalidasa.
  • Tamil Literature: Sangam literature (c. 600 BCE–300 BCE) in Tamil is an early example of regional literary traditions.
  • Medieval Period: Devotional poets like Kabir, Tulsidas, and Guru Nanak brought change to literary traditions from the 14th to the 18th centuries.
  • 19th Century: Indian writers, influenced by Rabindranath Tagore, explored social questions and psychological descriptions.
  • Bhakti and Sufi Poetry: The Bhakti and Sufi movements led to a surge in devotional poetry. Sant Kabir, Mirabai, and Rumi are prominent figures who contributed significantly.
  • Dalit Literature: Modern Indian literature includes the exploration of marginalized voices. Dalit literature, addressing issues of caste discrimination, has gained recognition with writers like B.R. Ambedkar.

Performing Arts and Media:

  • Music: Indian music includes classical traditions (Hindustani and Carnatic) and popular forms like filmi and folk music. Bauls represent a syncretic folk tradition.
  • Dance: Diverse folk and classical dance forms exist. Eight forms, including Bharatanatyam, Kathak, and Odissi, hold classical status.
  • Theatre: Indian theatre blends music, dance, and dialogue. Bhavai, jatra, nautanki, and ramlila are influenced by Hindu mythology and historical events.
  • Cinema: The Indian film industry, producing Bollywood, is globally significant. Regional cinema thrives in languages like Bengali, Tamil, and Telugu.
  • Television: Television broadcasting started in 1959, evolving from a state-run to a diverse satellite-driven medium, shaping popular culture.
  • Classical Music Maestros: India has produced maestros in classical music, such as Ravi Shankar (sitar), Zakir Hussain (tabla), and Lata Mangeshkar (playback singing), influencing both classical and film music.
  • Classical Dance Revival: The 20th century witnessed a revival of classical dance forms. Rukmini Devi Arundale played a pivotal role in popularizing Bharatanatyam, making it globally recognized.
  • Parallel Cinema: Alongside mainstream Bollywood, India has a rich tradition of parallel cinema, addressing social issues and experimental narratives. Satyajit Ray’s films are celebrated worldwide.

Society:

  • Social Hierarchy: Traditional Indian society exhibits social hierarchy, and the caste system remains influential, despite anti-discriminatory laws.
  • Family Values: Multi-generational patrilineal joint families were prevalent, but nuclear families are rising in urban areas. Arranged marriages are common, emphasizing lifelong commitment.
  • Challenges: Child marriages persist, and gender imbalances due to practices like female infanticide and dowry system remain societal challenges.
  • Festivals: Many festivals, such as Diwali, Eid, Holi, and Christmas, reflect India’s religious and cultural diversity.
  • Reservation System: Affirmative action extends to reservations in education and employment for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes, aiming to address historical injustices.
  • NGOs and Social Movements: Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and social movements, like those led by Anna Hazare and Medha Patkar, contribute to societal reforms and awareness.

Education:

  • Literacy: India’s literacy rate has increased over the years, with significant improvements since 1951. The education system is the world’s second-largest, with a focus on affirmative action.
  • IITs and IIMs: The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) are premier educational institutions globally recognized for their excellence in technology and management education.

Clothing:

  • Traditional Dress: Ancient attire included saris for women and dhotis for men. The influence of Muslim rule introduced stitched garments like shalwar kameez.
  • Modern Trends: Traditional attire like saris is less common in everyday wear. Urban women prefer churidars or jeans. Western influence is visible in contemporary clothing choices.
  • Regional Delicacies: Each Indian state boasts its culinary specialties. From the spicy Chettinad cuisine of Tamil Nadu to the flavorful Kashmiri Wazwan, regional diversity is evident.
  • Street Food Culture: India’s street food culture is vibrant, offering delights like chaat, pav bhaji, and vada pav, reflecting a blend of flavors and textures

Cuisine:

  • Foundation of Meals: Indian meals often include a cereal (rice or bread) complemented by savory dishes, spiced with a variety of herbs and spices.
  • Vegetarianism: India has a strong vegetarian tradition, influenced by religious beliefs such as ahimsa. Dairy is a preferred source of protein.
  • Culinary Imports: Cooking techniques, like marination and layered cooking, were introduced during the Mughal Empire, contributing to dishes like biryani.

Sports and Recreation:

  • Traditional Sports: Indigenous sports like kabaddi, kho kho, and martial arts remain popular. Chess, believed to have originated in India, has a strong presence.
  • Cricket Dominance: Cricket is the most popular sport, with India winning multiple World Cups. Other sports like field hockey, tennis, and shooting also have significant achievements.
  • International Sporting Events: India has hosted various international events, including the Asian Games, Cricket World Cups, and FIFA U-17 World Cup.
  • Kabaddi League Success: The Pro Kabaddi League has gained immense popularity, showcasing the traditional sport in a modern avatar and garnering a massive fan following.
  • Martial Arts Heritage: Kalaripayattu, an ancient martial art form from Kerala, and Gatka, a Sikh martial art, represent India’s diverse martial arts heritage.

India’s cultural landscape is diverse, encompassing rich traditions in architecture, literature, performing arts, society, education, clothing, cuisine, and sports. This diversity reflects the country’s historical, religious, and regional influences.

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