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India Historical Legacy
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    During the British colonial period, India was a large political entity bordered by the buffer states of Afghanistan, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, and Tibet to the north and Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was then called) to the south. The withdrawal of the British and partition in 1947, which created India and Pakistan, resulted in geographical boundaries that cut across regional religious, social, ethnic, and linguistic groups, and disrupted economic and cultural ties. A slice of eastern India and the westernmost part of India became the East Wing and West Wing of Pakistan, respectively, and in 1971 the East Wing became Bangladesh.

    After independence India's leaders attempted to build a secular state in which national identity would supersede regional, religious, or cultural identities. They regarded the movements for regional autonomy or independence in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, and Assam as threats to Indian unity, particularly because Indian leaders believed that their neighbors--Pakistan, later Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka--supported these movements. Furthermore, despite the commitment of Congress (I) leaders to the secular ideal, communal tensions and the rising influence of Hindu political parties pushed the Indian government increasingly to identify Indian greatness with Hinduism. The inability of Indian leaders to restrain anti-Muslim communal violence and the Kashmir policy of the Indian government resulted in continual tensions in relations with its Muslim neighbors. Thus, internal security and domestic political considerations, which stemmed from the perceived goals of building national identity and preserving national unity, permeated India's relations with its neighbors.

    Security Perceptions

    The British colonial rulers regarded most of South Asia as a strategic unit and endeavored to exclude external powers from the region (see The British Empire in India, ch. 1). In defending this strategic unit, the British established a barrier of buffer states around India, attempting to cut off India from Russia and China, which could threaten from the north, and used naval power to protect India from the south. India's postindependence leaders adapted this concept by defining a position in cultural as well as geographical terms. This view led them to view India as the region's preeminent power whose right to involve itself in its neighbor's affairs was justified in terms of the common ethnicity and common security needs of South Asia.

    This geostrategic perception affected India's foreign relations in three ways. First, India endeavored, by treaty, alliance, or threats of force or economic embargo, to overturn any move by its neighbors that it deemed inimical to its own security interests. Of its neighbors, only Pakistan and China have been able to resist or thwart Indian actions. The Indian elite regarded their country as a regional peacekeeper whose moves were entirely defensive, rather than as a regional enforcer who imposed onerous conditions on its neighbors by virtue of its size and military might. Second, India viewed the intrusion of extraregional powers into South Asia as a threat to Indian security and to India's position as the predominant country in the region. India opposed any attempts by powers external to the region, whether by invitation of New Delhi's neighbors or not, to involve themselves or to establish a presence in the region. Therefore India was critical of Pakistan's alliance with China, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the United States naval presence on Diego Garcia in the central Indian Ocean and its military relations with Pakistan. India also resisted Moscow's entreaties to grant the Soviet navy base rights despite the 1971 friendship treaty with the Soviet Union.

    India's program to build the military might necessary to defend its territory and security interests became intertwined in its foreign policy. New Delhi's defense buildup--particularly its covert nuclear weapons program and its drive to develop ballistic missiles--affected relations with Pakistan, China, and the United States. India's refusal to sign the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons stemmed as much from Pakistan's similar stance as from India's belief that the treaty discriminated against the development of peaceful nuclear technology by nonnuclear weapons states and failed to prevent the qualitative and quantitative vertical proliferation of nuclear weapons among the nations already possessing nuclear arms. In 1995, when 174 other nations approved an indefinite extension of the treaty, India continued to refuse to sign, denouncing the treaty as "perpetuating nuclear discrimination." In addition, in the early 1990s India's sizable defense expenditures became an issue in New Delhi's attempts to secure assistance from developed countries and multilateral lending bodies (see Defense Spending, ch. 10).

    Data as of September 1995

    NOTE: The information regarding India on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of India Historical Legacy information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about India Historical Legacy should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 10-Nov-04
Copyright © 2004 Photius Coutsoukis (all rights reserved)