History and Historiography

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HISTORY AND HISTORIOGRAPHY For over four thousand years, the Indian subcontinent has sustained a brilliant civilization, rivaled in its longevity only by that of China, attracting "conquerors" from every part of the world to its fertile plains and singular riches. From the earliest invading Aryans to its most recent Western colonialists, India has absorbed the elements of other cultures but retained its distinctive identity. India's history is the record of that process of assimilation and transformation over time.

Indus Valley Culture

The roots of India's history lie buried more than four thousand years deep under the fecund soil of the valley of the River Indus, for which India and its great civilization were named by ancient Persian invaders. Over a thousand villages and five major urban sites have been excavated around the Valley of the Indus and its tributary "Five Rivers" (Punjab) that flow into it from the perennially snow-covered Himalayas. Remains of those Indus Valley cities date back to at least 2300 b.c. That technologically sophisticated and artistic Bronze Age of Indian history lasted until about 1700 b.c. Artifacts of Hindu Shiva and Mother-Goddess worship, as well as of ancient yogic practice, have been unearthed in Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, the two richest Indus sites, and fragments of woven cotton, India's most important handicraft, and of dice and chess, its most ancient popular games, have all been found there, as have the bones of domesticated chickens, India's culinary gift to global appetites.

Aryan Invasions

From about 1500 b.c. seminomadic Indo-European Aryan tribes—the most powerful of which was called Bharata, modern India's Sanskrit name and root of the epic poem Mahābhārata (Great Bharata)—invaded and conquered the Indus Valley. They came over the high Khyber and Bolan passes in the Hindu Khush from the Afghan plateau, galloping down on their horses and in royal chariots, driving herds of cows, which would later be worshiped by Hindus, long after functioning as Aryan currency. Hearty Aryan warriors also brought deadly arrows and hafted axes, but those would not have sufficed to conquer the more advanced cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro had their walls not earlier been breached and their citadels shattered by severe earthquakes, leaving them vulnerable to Aryan cavalry assaults and conquests. Pre-Aryan peoples of the Indus, called Dasas (dark-skinned), were mentioned by Aryan Brahman bards, in their most sacred Rig Veda, as living in "walled cities." Dasas later came to mean "slaves," reflecting their fate after they were conquered prior to 1000 b.c., by which time tribal Aryans had crossed the Punjab and reached the plateau around Delhi, settling in cities and kingdoms.

The longer epic, Mahābhārata, tells the tale of Aryan tribal cousins in deadly conflict over land near urban Delhi's earliest capital incarnation, Indra-Prastha. The shorter epic, Rāmāyaṇa, tells the story of divine King (Raja) Rāma, reflecting Aryan advances eastward into the forests of the Gangetic Plain around Rama's Kosala capital of Ayodhya, the center of so much Hindu-Muslim tension and conflict over his presumed "birth temple." By 1000 b.c. iron had been discovered in such profusion that it could be peeled off the Barabar Hills of Magadha. The Gangetic thick forests were either burned or cut down, the sedimentary soil turned up for planting by iron plows, and wealthy rajas were arming their soldiers with cheap swords and spears, and erecting capitals of wood with high timber walls and towers over newly planted fields in that richly watered region of North India's powerful, populous plain, modern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Between 800 and 500 b.c. a number of radical new ideas came to light in that Eastern Gangetic heartland of North India, reflecting both orthodox and heterodox rejections of the Vedic Brahmanism taught by Brahman priests, who claimed the privileges of "gods on earth." Princely authors of the orthodox Upanishads (To Sit Down in Front of), also called Vedānta (End of Vedas), philosophic dialogues on the nature of "reality" and ways of controlling it, speculated on how best to understand and escape from the "torture" of rebirth, and attain "release" (moksha) from this world's pain and violence. Optimistic early Aryans had poured libations of clarified butter (ghee) and gold onto ritual fires, carrying the bright sparks of their gifts to Vedic Gods-on-high like Indra and Varuna, believing they would answer all prayers for long life, strong sons, and rich harvests. But skeptical Upanishadic princes asked "Who has ever seen Indra?" losing faith in Brahmanic rituals that cost them herds of fine cattle, bringing scant rewards, daily faced as they were with tigers, snakes, mosquitoes, and savage enemies. They turned inward, swayed perhaps by wise pre-Aryan "yogis" or munis (silent ones), who sat cross-legged and naked in forest clearings, seeking through meditation to control their inner "breath," their "souls" (ātman), equating those with a mighty transcendental principle called Brahman, originally meaning "sacred utterance."

By the fifth century b.c. heterodox princes, like Siddhartha Gautama (563–483 b.c.) and Mahavira (540–468 b.c.), rejected the authority of the Vedas and their Brahman priests entirely. Gautama, who left his royal palace at the age of thirty, sought wisdom wandering in the forests of Kosala and Magadha for six years, attaining enlightenment in a deer park in Sarnath, near modern Varanasi (Benares). As the Buddha (Enlightened One), he set in motion his Wheel of the Law, preaching the four noble truths of this earliest type of Theravada (Teachings of the Elders) Buddhism. The ultimate Buddhist goal is nirvāna (blowing out), much the same "liberation" from life's misery and sorrow as the Hindu goal of moksha. Both Buddhism and sage Mahavira's Jainism stressed another important new idea, ahimsa (nonviolence), which was later also adopted by Hinduism and, together with cow worship, led to almost universal vegetarianism throughout pre-Muslim India.

Mauryan Imperial Unification

India's first imperial unification came in the wake of Alexander the Great's invasion of Punjab in 326 b.c. Alexander's dream of universal conquest ignited a similarly glorious ambition of North Indian unification in the mind of a "young stripling" who met him on the banks of the River Beas. Chandragupta Maurya was thus inspired to found his Mauryan dynasty in 324 b.c. That first mighty Indian Empire flourished for 140 years. Chandragupta ruled from Pataliputra (modern Patna), his capital on the south bank of Mother Gangā, aided in his empire building by a wise old Brahman minister, Kautilya, author of India's realpolitik "Text on the Science of Material Gain," the Artha Shāstra, which may well have inspired Niccolō Machiavelli's The Prince. A powerful prince, Kautilya advised, must be "ever wakeful," carefully controlling all of his subjects, including his beautiful "queens" and his mighty "ministers," trusting no one, keeping an army of "spies" as well as soldiers and civil bureaucrats. The "Circle" (mandala) system of foreign policy was also first articulated in this text, warning every Indian prince from this time on that his neighboring monarch was always his "enemy," while his neighbor's neighbor was his "friend," and so forth, until in the final circle a "neutral mediator" might at last be found, too remote to have to worry about fighting.

Chandragupta's grandson Ashoka, who reigned from 269 to 232 b.c., was the greatest Mauryan emperor. The first eight years of his reign were no different from his father Bindusara's three violent decades of martial expansion, but after Ashoka's most bloody conquest of tribal Kalinga (modern Orissa), "He of Gentle Visage," as he was called, had a remarkable change of heart, converting to nonviolent Buddhism. Instead of annual imperial hunts, Ashoka undertook "pilgrimages of Religious Law" (dharma), planting shade trees along new highways he had constructed, erecting tall sandstone pillars all over India, inscribing them with wise edicts, commending Laws of Nonviolence and Love to his people, rather than hatred and war. Ashoka was hailed as Chakravartin (He by Whom the Wheel of the Law is set in Motion), the first universal monarch in history to advocate peace as his primary platform. Between 250 and 240 b.c. Ashoka hosted the Third Great Council of Buddhism, soon after which he withdrew from public life and appears to have died as a Buddhist monk, in 232 b.c. Many claimants followed him, but none proved as wise. The last of the Mauryan monarchs, Brihadratha, was murdered by his Brahman general Pushyamitra Shunga, who founded the Shunga dynasty in 184 b.c. It lasted in much diminished form only until 72 b.c., ruling little more than the old kingdom of Magadha.

Mauryan imperial collapse left the North-West frontier, the classic highroad for India's invaders, unguarded. From 180 b.c. Greco-Bactrians were the first to gallop over those passes, capturing Punjab. King Menander, a Greek converted to Buddhism by a monk named Nagasena, ruled the Indus Valley's "Land of Five Rivers." Another Greek, Heliodorus, erected a stone pillar proclaiming himself a "worshiper" of "Vasudeva," a Hindu god identified with Krishna (Black), one of Vishnu's ten "earthly emanations" (avatāras). From earliest historic times, India has always thus in some measure conquered its "conquerors," luring them with its rich crops, fabled jewels, and artistic beauty, converting them by the warmth, charm, and wisdom of its glorious civilization. The Bactrian bridge erected before the dawn of Christianity between India and the West served as a vital passageway for merchants as well as Buddhist monks, who brought not only their monastic beads and yogic practices to the West, but also the Buddha's wisdom of nonviolence.

Persian Pahlavas and Central Asian Scythian Shakas followed the Bactrians over the same North-West passes, displacing them. They too converted to Buddhism and Hinduism after having settled down in Punjab. The fiercest Central Asian invaders to gallop down from their frozen plateaus to India's fecund plains were Kushans, whose greatest maharaja (Great-King) Kanishka ruled over Punjab almost two decades around a.d. 100. Thanks to their metal stirrups, Kushana archers could brace themselves on their saddles, arms and hands free as they galloped to fire their deadly crossbows. They, too, ultimately were converted to nonviolent Buddhism.

While northern invaders thus followed one another for centuries over the Hindu Kush, South India broke free of Pataliputra's hegemony, with competing provincial dynasties carving out independent kingdoms. The great Andhras ruled most of central India from the second century b.c. for nearly four hundred years. Their modern reincarnation is the Telugu Dravidian state of Andhra on the east coast of India's peninsula. Just south of Andhra is India's largest Dravidian-language state, Tamil Nadu, "Land of Tamils." South India's four Dravidian-linguistic states (the other two being Kerala and Karnataka) were probably where the ancient pre-Aryan Indus Valley people originally fled, settling south of central India's Vindhya mountain range, to escape being enslaved by Aryan invaders. Three Tamil kingdoms are mentioned in ancient texts: the Cheras (or Keralas) on the west (Malabar) coast; the Cholas, who became South India's greatest sea power and bronze artists on the east (Coromandal) coast; and the southernmost Pandyas, whose famed "pearls" were coveted by the West when King Solomon was still building his temple. Madurai, the Pandyan capital as early as the second century b.c., remains one of South India's greatest Hindu temple cities, its Meenakshi Temple containing icons of the three most powerful Hindu divinities: Shiva, Vishnu, and Mother Goddess Meenakshi (Devī). The Chola capital, Kanchipuram, home to a much larger walled temple "city," whose giant gopuram (towers) are visible for miles in every direction, was captured in the fourth century by a new "robber" dynasty, the Pallavas. These may have originally been Persian Pahlavas, driven south by the Kushanas.

Guptan Reunification

India's second era of imperial unification under the Guptan dynasty was a golden age of classical Hindu glory and power. Chandragupta I was crowned in a.d. 320 at Pataliputra, and assumed the exalted title "Great King of Kings." He doubled his domain by marrying his powerful Lichavi neighbor's daughter, controlling the rich lands to the north and south of North India's Ganges commercial artery. His son Samudra ("Ocean") Gupta reigned from a.d. 335 to 375, conquering Kashmir to his north, and Maharashtra's Deccan to the south, and exacting tribute from the last of the Kushana and Shaka monarchs of Punjab. To celebrate his Napoleonic conquests, Samudra ordered performance of the year-long royal "horse sacrifice" (ashva-medha). The pinnacle of Guptan glory, however, was attained in its third reign under Chandragupta II (r. 375–415). Hailed as Vikramaditya (He Whose Splendor Equals That of the Sun), his court patronized India's greatest authors and artists, including the Shakespeare of Sanskrit drama, Kalidasa, whose beautiful Shakuntala is still staged to world acclaim. Hindu temples were erected in growing numbers from this time. Buddhist and Jain caves continued to accommodate many thousands of monks, who adorned their ceilings and walls with stunning frescoes, whose portraits still dazzle visitors with their vivid vitality. Countless Roman coins were shipped East to pay for tons of precious Indian silks and cottons, jewels and spices, ivory and perfumes. Alaric's ransom for Rome in 410 included three thousand pounds of Indian pepper.

Half a century after Chandragupta II died in 415, fierce Central Asian Hsiung-nu "Hunas" (Huns) reached India's Khyber Pass. Toramana first conquered Persia in 484, then took Punjab; his son, Mihirakula, captured Kashmir after 515. North Indian reunification was then briefly achieved under Harsha Vardhana (r. 606–647), who seems to have been a wise and tolerant king, as supportive of Buddhism as Ashoka, yet equally generous to Hindu Brahmans. He ruled his mighty empire from Kanauj, which after his death remained the capital of several later North Indian dynasties.

Most of India reverted, however, to its most common historic pattern of feudal fragmentation, many competing monarchs fighting one another. Political unity has proved the exception rather than the rule of Indian history. Vakatakas of Bundelkhand established their martial grip over the Nagpur-Vidarbha region of Maha-Rashtra, the "Great Country," where Hindu Maratha power would later attain primacy. Hindu Marathas challenged both Mughal Muslim warriors and British East Company Christian merchants alike for hegemony over South Asia. Shivaji Maharaj, father of sixteenth-century Maratha national resurgence, would be crowned at the top of his Deccan "Fortress of the Tiger" as ten thousand Brahmans chanted their Vedic Sanskrit mantras. The Chalukyas of Badami had earlier claimed the Deccan themselves, as did their feudal "Country-Lord" Rashtrakutas in 752. Powerful Rashtrakuta monarchs continued to rule the Deccan until the early tenth century, when another Chalukya dynasty emerged to defeat its old rivals.

The Impact of Islam

After 711 a totally new foreign force, called Islam ("submission" to the will of Allah), born in the desert sands of Saudi Arabia in 622, entered India from the Arabian Sea to conquer the province of Sind, in what is now Pakistan. That wave of Muslim invaders was but the first of a series of Islamic conquests to spread the faith of their Prophet to India, but many more Islamic invasions followed later, most of them over the North-West passes—Turko-Afghans, Persians, and Central Asian Mughals, the last of whom finally conquered virtually all of South Asia by the end of the seventeenth century. Throughout the tenth and eleventh centuries it was Afghan Ghaznavids and Ghors, who plundered the Hindu temple cities of Punjab and Sind on their annual raids against "infidel" Hindus and the naked statues they worshiped, "abominations" to Allah. The great temple city of Somnath, "protected," its people thought, by a jewel-filled magnetized Shiva-lingam, was reduced to rubble, thousands of its inhabitants slaughtered or taken prisoner by Mahmud of Ghazni, who slashed the lingam with his sword, on his last raid in 1025. A legacy of Muslim hatred, never fully erased from the memory of Kathiawar's Hindus, was thereafter inscribed.

Until the thirteenth century Muslims continued to treat India as a land fit only for periodic plunder, a domain at "war," rather than in "submission." However, after 1206—the dawn of the Delhi sultanate, when the first of five Muslim dynasties established dominance over North India—Muslim rule remained an integral part at least of some portion of South Asia, if not its entire length and breadth. The Afghan "Slave" (Mamluk) dynasty lasted less than a century, followed by tougher Turkish Khaljis, who brought the faith of Islam to the Deccan, looting and plundering Devagiri, capital of pastoral Yadavas, worshipers of Krishna. Under Alaʾ-ud-din Muhammad Khalji (r. 1296–1316), the sultanate reached its peak of power, but his sons were unable to consolidate their father's phenomenal conquests. Turkish Tughluqs ruled for most of the fourteenth century, during which India suffered one of its worst prolonged periods of drought, bringing deadly famine to much of the Deccan, as the sultans in Delhi ignored the plight of dying peasants, impervious to pleas for aid. Farther south, Hindu warriors joined forces to start a "City of Victory" (Vijayanagar), ruled in 1336 by Harihara I (r. 1336–1357), who defeated his neighbors, the Hoysalas, and seven years after taking his throne, controlled most of South India's peninsula. In 1345 rebellion against the Tughluqs spread from Daulatabad, led by Hasan Gangu, who adopted as his reign name Bahman Shah, founding the Deccan's first Muslim kingdom, the Bahmani dynasty.

In 1398 a Central Asian army led by Timur the Lame (Tamerlane) poured over the Khyber, galloping across Punjab to Delhi, which was put to the torch, dragging tens of thousands of Indian slaves back to Samarkand. That dreadful sack of Delhi presaged the demise of the sultanate, though two more dynasties laid claim to its tattered mantle. Turkish Sayyids ruled from 1414 to 1450, displaced by Afghan Lodis, who reigned over North India until 1526. The Lodis were replaced by the mightiest and longest of all South Asia's Muslim dynasties, founded by Central Asia's Mughal (Mongol) Padishah (Emperor) Babur, who skillfully defeated the massive Afghan army that faced him on the field of Panipat on 21 April 1526.

Great Mughals dominated most of India for some two centuries. The dynasty's wisest monarch, Akbar (r. 1556–1605), conquered not only by the power of his Central Asian artillery and crushing elephant corps, but also by the enlightened tolerance with which he won the support of India's Hindu majority by removing the most offensive Islamic taxes demanded by previous Muslim monarchs. Akbar won over several powerful Hindu Rajput monarchs by marrying their daughters, and brought a number of clever Hindu Brahman "land-tax collectors" as well as mighty Rajput princes into his multicultural Mansabdari (administrative "office") system of imperial rule. His heirs were less tolerant, however, than their "Great" (Akbar) progenitor. The mightiest and most bigoted, Aurangzeb (r. 1658–1707), expanded Mughal dominance to its greatest limits over South India, but lost the support of most of his subjects. Hindu Marathas and Rajputs rallied and rose in revolt against Aurangzeb's narrow Muslim intolerance, and a new powerful religious force, Sikhism, earlier founded by Guru Nanak in Punjab, turned from a passive faith of disciples into an "Army" (Khalsa) of "Lions" (Singhs) led by Guru Govind Singh.

Impact of the West

Portuguese Western European sea captains were first lured to India by the rich scent of spices and the prospect of vast profits to be made by venturing around the Cape of Africa in their cannon-bearing caravels, clearing the Indian Ocean of all competing Arab and Venetian merchant vessels. Lisbon grew wealthy from the peppers and cloves of India and the Banda and Molucca Islands of Indonesia, and for most of the sixteenth century, tiny Portugal held a virtual monopoly over the lucrative Indian Ocean trade with its powerful fleet. By the dawn of the seventeenth century, however, Protestant Dutch and English sea captains and merchants pooled their wealth, forming their own East India Companies, arming fleets to challenge and defeat the Catholic Portuguese monopoly. The Dutch were initially stronger than the English, driving them away from the richest Spice Island plantations of Southeast Asia, obliging English merchant ships to fall back on India's Malabar Coast as their second best choice. At Surat they also built their own factory, and ventured to appeal to the "Great Mogor" in Agra for permission to enjoy "quiet trade" with his empire. Other than gold, horses, and watches, however, the West really possessed nothing that Mughal India wanted or needed. India, of course, had so many things the West desired that before very long the bitter complaint of London's merchants and monarchs was that "India doth drain us of our wealth." The Indian nationalists would later reverse that cry, lamenting the "drain" of "India's wealth by the rapacious West."

French and English merchants, who had established colonial fortress toeholds at neighboring ports along India's eastern Coromandal Coast in the early eighteenth century, battled one another at sea as well as on Indian soil in the wake of Europe's war over Charles's Austrian succession and the subsequent Seven Years' War (1756–1763). The historic revelation of that brief but sharp colonial conflict, between small forces trained by France's brilliant Joseph François Dupleix and British bully Robert Clive on the fragmenting fringe of Mughal power, was that modern European cannon and musket fire sufficed to defeat huge undisciplined armies of South India's nizams and nawābs. As Mughal hegemony fragmented into provincial principalities, British company merchant-plunderers like Clive moved into those vacuums of power in Bengal as well as Madras, playing the "Nabob Game" devised by Dupleix, who could have won India for France had he not lost the support of his own company's directors in Versailles. Clever Warren Hastings soon placed his British company's Raj onto a sounder financial base, little more than a decade after Clive's looting of its treasury, and then vigorously integrated the company's remote presidency ports of Bombay and Madras under his own martial and administrative control from Fort William, his Bengal headquarters in Calcutta, capital of the British company's Raj. Britain's Parliament, however, impeached Hastings instead of thanking him, and sent out Lord Cornwallis to restore British confidence in the sound security of their new Indian empire. Landlord Whig that he was, Cornwallis hammered a British "steel-frame" Regulation System down onto the naked body politic of Bengal, knowing nothing of India before he sailed east to secure a new empire for his king and country, to replace the one just lost in North America.

The British Raj

The East India Company and Britain's Parliament jointly ruled distant India from 1773 until 1858. British trained Indian Sepoy armies fought under British officers against Marathas as well as the remnants of Mughal provincial power and periodically invading Afghans from the northwest. In 1761, at Panipat, the mightiest Hindu Maratha army of Pune's Peshwa confronted a flood tide of invading Muslim Afghan cavalry. Both armies so brutally destroyed one another's finest fighters that the much smaller British force, hitherto no match for either contesting indigenous army, was left to claim the remnant of Great Mughal hegemony over South Asia. In 1818 the last of the Peshwa's Maratha force was finally defeated by the company's Sepoy army. The British Raj thereafter emerged as India's "New Mughal" paramount power, virtually unchallenged by any indigenous competitors until the "Mutiny" of 1857. By the time India's once powerful monarchs, its padishahs, maharajas, rajas, nizams, and nawābs, awoke to realize what had become of their vast continental domain—"stolen" from them by a Christian band of British merchants, reducing the greatest of them to suppliants and beggars in their own capitals—it was too late to recapture the powers they had lost. In desperation, an uneasy triple alliance of the last Mughal emperor's Delhi courtiers and garrison, the "mutinied" Sepoy Bengal Muslim troops loyal to their ousted Muslim nawāb of Oudh, and Hindu dependents of the pensioner Peshwa of Pune living in a castle outside Cawnpore, sought with insufficient coordination to drive the foreign "usurpers" out of India. But by that time Britain was fully aware of India's unique value to its global prestige and power. The War of 1858 was won by British Crown troops, with the aid of sturdy Sikh soldiers of the Punjab, and Nepalese Gurkhas, who thereafter remained the most trusted "native" recruits to the army of Britain's Crown Raj, which replaced the discredited old company Raj on 2 August 1858.

India's Nationalist Movement

Though British company merchants were initially lured to India for profit or plunder, English missionaries later ventured to the East to "save" souls, remaining to translate their Bibles into Indian languages, opening schools and hospitals, preaching social reform as well as scripture. Still other secular missionaries of Western civilization, Utilitarians and liberal social reformers, swiftly followed as the company secured more territories, drafting civil laws for those "protected" under its Regulation Raj, planning new cities, laying down railroads, putting up telegraph wires, bringing all the blessings, virtue, and barbarism of Great Britain's "civilization" to ancient India's conquered subcontinent. The English language itself proved a potent national unifier of India's new elite who learned it, taking advantage of Britain's "penny-post" that helped to convert India from a divided continent of remote strangers into an inchoate nation-state, unleashing winds of rapid radical change, much too strong for the company's rickety Raj, and ultimately even too powerful for Britain's stronger Crown Raj to withstand.

After 1885, when the Indian National Congress was born in Bombay, brilliant leaders of a "New India" emerged, eager to play some role in administering their own nation, willing at first to work under and in cooperation with British Indian civil servants to rectify all the ills of ailing India's society, to raise their Motherland from depths of poverty to sunny plains of health and happiness. Some Englishmen were wise enough to welcome those overtures, but most of the others were either too fearful or narrow-minded to view Congress's leaders as anything but "terrorists," "anarchists," or "troublemakers," seeking only to take their jobs away, "useless natives" hoping to run their country without the help of over-burdened white men! Nonetheless, the first two decades of India's Nationalist Movement proved remarkably moderate and cooperative, but after the partition of Bengal in 1905 a new revolutionary wing of the Congress emerged, and cries of "boycott" of British goods and "freedom" (swaraj) were raised by leaders of a "New Party," eager to send the British home and to claim all the keys to their "own country" (swadeshi).

After World War I, India's Congress was transformed into a mass revolutionary movement under the charismatic leadership of Mahatma (Great-Soul) Mohandas K. Gandhi, who returned home after two decades in South Africa, introducing his satyagraha ("Hold Fast to the Truth") movement of nonviolent noncooperation to India. Gandhi's impact was unique, at once mobilizing India's peasant power by the potency of his Hindu religiously based appeal, but alienating many moderate Anglophile Indians, including Muslim-minority leaders like M. A. Jinnah. The Muslim League, which Quaid-i-Azam ("Great Leader") Jinnah transformed into his vehicle leading to the birth of Pakistan, evolved in the last decade of Britain's Crown Raj as a constant counter to Gandhi's and Congress's claim to represent the "Indian nation." South Asia's Muslims, Jinnah insisted, were no mere minority but a "nation" worthy of their own state.

On the eve of their departure from India, after World War II, exhausted Britain agreed, for by that time India's restless Raj had become more of a liability than an asset. British fears of facing a possible civil war in South Asia made them opt for the most hasty, ill-conceived partition of the subcontinent it had taken them more than a century to unify. In mid-August 1947 that "shameful flight" of British troops and withdrawal of any protective cover for unarmed Indians, ordered by vainly impatient Lord Mountbatten, the Raj's last viceroy, triggered a mass migration of over 10 million terrified Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs of Punjab and Bengal, which left at least a million innocents dead.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, welcomed the midnight birth of his nation as "in some measure" the historic fulfillment of Congress's long-deferred "tryst with destiny." Mahatma Gandhi left Delhi on the eve of Nehru's most famous speech, traveling to Calcutta, where he sought valiantly to calm rising tides of communal hatred and violence that threatened to drown all of Bengal and Bihar in a sea of Hindu-Muslim blood. A few months later, rivers of blood did flow through the Punjab, which was divided through the heartland of its Sikh population. Freedom brought with it the first of three wars between India and Pakistan over Kashmir state, draining both newborn nations of so much precious wealth each of them needed for their impoverished peoples. Gandhi returned to Delhi, trying again to heal wounds of ancient hatred that refused to respond even to that wise old Mahatma's messages of "Love" (ahimsa) as God. Angry young Hindus shouted at Gandhi whenever he tried to read prayers from the Qurʾan at his nightly meetings, or called for an end to the murder of Muslims in Delhi and the stealing of their property. Then he, too, was murdered, early in 1948. "The light has gone out of our lives," Nehru cried that night, but India carried on, and under his dynamic leadership soon emerged as a secular democratic republic.

Stanley Wolpert

See alsoAkbar ; Aurangzeb ; British Crown Raj ; British East India Company Raj ; British Impact ; Buddhism in Ancient India ; Clive, Robert ; Congress Party ; Cornwallis, Lord ; Dupleix, Joseph François ; French Impact ; Gandhi, Mahatma M. K. ; Guptan Empire ; Harappa ; Hastings, Warren ; Indus Valley Civilization ; Jainism ; Jammu and Kashmir ; Jinnah, Mohammed Ali ; Mohenjo-Daro ; Mountbatten, Lord ; Muslims ; Nehru, Jawaharlal ; Portuguese in India ; Satyagraha ; Sculpture: Mauryan and Shunga


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