Following its semi-independence under the British crown in 1947, India's parliament wrote a constitution that became law on 26 January 26 1950 and removed India from dominion status to a fully independent republic, a federated nation and a union of states. Some 275 principalities had been merged into five new states. The stated goal of the constitution was: "to secure for all" of India's citizens "social, economic and political" justice; to establish "liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;" to establish "equality of status and opportunity;" and to promote among all citizens a "fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity of the Nation."
The nation was to have a president, the first of whom was Dr. Rajendra Prasad, a Sanskrit scholar and longtime activist for independence and well being for the people of India. The nation's first prime minister was Nehru, a moderate or Fabian socialist, a progressive who had often denounced India's caste system and priest-ridden society. Nehru would tell a US ambassador to India, John Kenneth Galbraith, that he, Nehru, would be "the last Englishman to rule India." The British had left behind in India some of its values in the organization that had been created to throw it out. India's constitution created a parliamentary system similar to that of the United Kingdom, but with nearly 4,000 representatives, elected by a society that in the 1940s was 80 percent illiterate.
In April 1951, India's first five year economic plan was inaugurated, which proposed an 11 percent rise in national income by 1956. It was a success. Production in general increased 25 percent. Power and irrigation projects were undertaken. Food production increased. But increases were diminished by a growth in population, and by 1959 the government was endorsing family planning.
A second five-year plan began in 1956, which put more emphasis on advancing industrial capacity and infrastructure. Coal production increased from 38 million tons to 54, and India's power capacity doubled. The second five-year plan involved three times the spending of the first plan, with money borrowed from abroad, much of it from the United States. From the US, India had been receiving assistance in the form of food, but, with the rise in food production during the second five-year plan, India neared self-sufficiency and food aid from the US diminished.
Meanwhile, India's government created a limit as to how big one's land holdings could be, and it transformed millions who had been tenant farmers into farmers owning their own land. And the government was making life better for women. The new constitution had given women the right to vote and to rise to any position in the nation, including prime minister. People were free to marry people from different castes. In 1955, the government had raised the minimum age of marriage to fifteen. Also, Hindu women now had the right of divorce, including the right to sue for divorce if their husbands had acquired other wives – while Muslim men were still allowed their four wives. But husbands who took more than one wife were not allowed to divorce a previous spouse. Attitudes toward women in India were changing, more among the middle and upper classes than among the rural poor – rural folk in India, as in the rest of the world, being more conservative culturally.
A third five-year plan was begun in 1961. New steel factories were built, and India was on its way to being one of the seven most industrially advanced nations, accomplished by a combination of government initiative and private enterprise, despite a modicum of waste and individual corruption.
India was the first country to recognize the People's Republic of China, which took power in December, 1949. India expressed sympathy with China's fears of US military retaliation against the Chinese revolution.
Tibet had arisen as an issue between China and India. Tibetans had hoped that the transfer of British power to India would give them an opportunity to regain the territory that, in their view, the British had taken from them a century before: the area of Sikkim and other mountainous places between Tibet and India. India ignored Tibet's claims.
In 1950, India increased its influence in Nepal. It encouraged Tibetan separatism from Chinese authority and attempted to increase its influence in Tibet – traditional self-interest geopolitics. The United States was also interested in Tibet remaining independent of Chinese control, and in 1950 a load of American weaponry was shipped into Tibet through Calcutta.
In late 1950, as China was beginning to send troops into Korea, 40,000 Chinese troops took Tibet's provincial capital of Qamdo, from eight directions. The small Tibetan force, consisting of 8,000 troops and militia, were defeated and 4,000 of Tibetan forces killed. India was upset while China was describing the People's Liberation Army as liberating all Chinese territories, including Tibet and, in September 1951, Chinese troops were marching into Tibet's capital, Lhasa.
India's position in the Cold War was neutrality. It signed a treaty with China, recognizing that the Tibetan people were returned to the "big family of the Motherland," in other words, China. As a member of the United Nations, India, along with Norway and Sweden, was providing medical units for the United Nations forces fighting the Chinese and North Koreans in Korea.
In 1954, India signed a treaty of friendship with China, which included recognition of each others territorial integrity and sovereignty. Border area territorial disputes remained. In June 1954, Zhou Enlai came to New Delhi where he received a grand welcome, but, in July, China was protesting the existence of Indian troops in mountainous Barahoti, which it called Wu-je.
In 1955, India took a lead in the meeting of representatives of twenty-nine African and Asian nations held at Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955. The aim of the conference was to promote economic and cultural cooperation and to oppose colonialism. Zhou Enlai also played a prominent part in the conference, while not invited to the conference were South Africa, Israel, Taiwan, South Korea and North Korea.
The Soviet Union's Nikita Khrushchev visited India in 1959 and received a big welcome. And to compete with the Russians it was decided in Washington that Eisenhower should also go to India. Eisenhower was well received. He was showered with flowers, and millions of citizens gathered at New Delhi's fairgrounds to hear him speak. It was the first of India's televised live broadcasts.
By 1961, Portugal's colonialist wars in Africa had increased the likelihood of its loss of the small state of Gao on Indian subcontinent. Portugal's ruler, Antonio Salazar, was in no mood to negotiate a peaceful transfer of Goa to India. On 19 December 1961, India sent land, sea and air forces against Goa. The people of Goa had not been warned, nor had President Kennedy. Portugal was a United States ally in the Cold War and a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Kennedy was annoyed with Nehru for not having mentioned a word of his intentions to him. The United Nations was never to recognize India's seizure of Goa, but in India the move was accepted as a rightful liberation of one more part of India from colonial rule.
In 1962, Nehru ran into trouble with Maoist China. Nehru had been criticized in China as a stooge for the capitalist imperialists. China viewed India's control of mountainous Arunachal (in India's far northeast) as a continuation of British imperialism's theft of land that belonged to China. Having failed to win India's acceptance of its point of view, China moved troops into Arunachal that began on 20 October 1962. By November 18 the Chinese had reached the outskirts of Tezpur. India asked the United States for support, and on November 21 the Chinese declared a unilateral cease-fire. Each side had lost around 500 men, and any attempt by the Chinese to press farther into the plains of Assam would have exposed them to more difficult lines of supply and a more powerful resistance. The Chinese withdrew their troops from the area. India returned to administrative control over the area, and disagreement over whose land it was continued for years to come.
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