On August 15, 1947, Lord Mountbatten, the last British viceroy, by transferring powers to the authorities of the new states of the Indian Union and Pakistan, put an end, after about two centuries, to the British rule of India. The protagonist of the struggle for independence was the Indian National Congress (INC), a party founded at the end of the nineteenth century with the aim of extending the representative institutions and claiming the internal autonomy of the Indian provinces. In the period between the two world wars, under the leadership of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (called Mahatma, “Great soul”) and by adopting its policy of non-violence and civil disobedience, the INC led a protest movement against the narrowness of the reforms granted by England and the slowness with which they were carried out. After 1939, due to the resentment against the British who had engaged India in the war on their side without consulting the provincial autonomous governments, the struggle for independence became more intense. Meanwhile, the gap between Hindus and Muslims had deepened, whose sense of identity and desire for autonomy had found expression in the proposal put forward in 1930 by the poet Muhammad Iqbal to form in north-western India – the only region with a Muslim majority – a separate political unit, for which the name of Pakistan (“land of the pure”) was coined. For India history, please check historyaah.com.
The climate of dissension created between Muslims and Hindus culminated in 1947 in a series of riots in which thousands of people on both sides lost their lives. Ethnic and religious rivalries made inevitable the split that Gandhi had opposed in the name of the unitary ideals that had inspired his vision of independence. Once the borders between the two states were established, seven to eight million Indians left their homes to move to Pakistan and as many made the reverse journey; many, however, on both sides, failed to reach the goal. The Indian Union became a federal republic in January 1950 with the entry into force of the Constitution, approved the previous year by an Assembly elected by the old provincial legislatures in which the INC enjoyed an overwhelming majority. The central government was given exclusive control of defense, railways, ports, currency and foreign policy. In the social field, the Constitution intervened with the formal abolition of caste discrimination, which nevertheless continued to exist in fact even in the following decades. The reorganization of the state system, already complex in itself, was aggravated by the problems arising from the separation from Pakistan. Another serious problem was represented by the position of the Indian princes, that the already complex in itself, it was aggravated by the problems deriving from the separation from Pakistan. Another serious problem was represented by the position of the Indian princes, that the already complex in itself, it was aggravated by the problems deriving from the separation from Pakistan. Another serious problem was represented by the position of the Indian princes, that the Independence Act left them free to remain independent or to join one of the two states. Most joined the Union, giving up their powers in exchange for a prerogative and the maintenance of titles and honors, but there were cases of difficult solution, such as that of Kashmir, consisting of a population with a Muslim majority, but with a Hindu leader. who had opted for the Union: the serious unrest that ensued culminated in a conflict with Pakistan which was resolved only thanks to the intervention of the UN. Even the adoption of an official language, in the crowded Indian linguistic constellation, was a source of conflict; the Hindi idome was adopted, a local language of the North, already supported by Gandhi, but other linguistic areas, especially in the South.
Nehru and the early years of the Union
In 1947 the head of the government became Javaharlal Nehru, who had directed the final negotiations with England for the independence of the Indian state. Coming from an ancient Brahmin family, on his return to India after his studies in England, Nehru had joined the INC, of which he was secretary and president at various times and within which he led the left wing of the socialist tendency, operating constantly as a close associate of Gandhi. The assassination of the Mahatma, which took place in January 1948 by a Hindu extremist, helped to strengthen Nehru’s charisma and his power within the party against the right wing, which had opposed Gandhi’s policy of non-violence and the conciliation between Hindus and Muslims. Under the leadership of Nehru, the government launched the first economic and social reorganization programs. In 1950 a programming commission was established (planning commission), which elaborated three successive five-year plans, aimed at the development of agriculture, in order to reduce the Union’s dependence on foreign supplies, and at a large-scale industrialization project, carried out with foreign technical and financial aid. On the international level, Nehru actively contributed to the formation of the movement of non-aligned countries and attempted a difficult equidistance between the two blocs, which he planned to oppose a third force as an element of peace. The policy of peaceful coexistence towards China failed, however, in 1962 following the crisis that broke out between the two countries due to the problem of defining the Himalayan borders. Nehru, who died in May 1964, was succeeded as prime minister by Lal Bahadur Shastri, who had previously served as a minister several times.