Parts of India

I believe that my fondness for travel comes in part from my fondness for maps. I love all sorts of maps, from atlases to subway maps, a love that I believe came from my childhood, when my father would spend time with me looking through the world atlas. I think we may have it somewhere still, published by the Hammond company. Looking through the atlas as a young boy the world seemed to me very static–there were countries in print, with specified colors and capitals. Not that I was a big memorizer, but the political boundaries and information could be memorized if desired, and known, just like the climate charts that appeared on the back pages.

But as we get older we of course recognize that national boundaries are not static, but subject to change. Even after World War II, by which time many nations had become defined including through membership in the United Nations, conflict continues and so does change. This became even more real to me on September 11–things that seem so solid and permanent to us can collapse in an instant, and end up mere ephemera in the span of time.

The most significant set of changes, in terms of national boundaries, during my lifetime, is of course those related to the collapse of the Soviet Union, and related changes in Eastern Europe. But there have been many others, from East Timor to the handover of Hong Kong. And other changes if not in my lifetime occurred not much long before. In this post, I wanted to review in brief the history of independent India, to consider how various parts came to join the whole, to form the nation we know today.

The history of South Asia is long and complex, in part because so many different states and rulers controlled various parts of the subcontinent over the centuries. Although in certain periods substantial portions of the subcontinent were united under a single rule, at no time before the British did any one sovereign control nearly all of what is now India. The British were able to patch together its Indian Empire, as it was called, starting from the establishment of a trading base in now Madras in 1639, through the abolition of the British East India Company in 1858 and up to Indian independence in 1947.

Just prior to Indian independence, the British Indian Empire included almost all of what are now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (but not what are now Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan, although the first was a separate British colony). Much of these lands were controlled directly by Britain while the remainder, called the princely states, were locally controlled by monarchs subject to British suzerainty. There were hundreds of princely states all over the subcontinent, ranging from substantial territories, such as the state of Hyderabad (which included much of what is now Andhra Pradesh state), to minor localities. There also remained Portuguese and French colonial holdings, including principally Goa and Pondicherry, respectively.

The greatest conflict leading to independence was of course the partition, or the division of the British Indian Empire into the two states of India and Pakistan (the latter which in the 1960s divided into now Pakistan and Bangladesh). The process leading to the partition led to the deaths of thousands and the displacement of millions (Hindus moving to India and Muslims to Pakistan). At the same time, however, there also remained the question of how the princely states’ and the Portuguese and French colonies’ territories would be resolved, as India felt strongly that at least the parts that were geographically enclosed by India should join the Indian Union (while parts bordering Pakistan would be given a choice between joining India or Pakistan).

It took time and negotiation, but “Instruments of Accession” were signed by nearly all of the rulers of the princely states to join either India or Pakistan. The Instruments of Accession reserved certain rights to the princely states and their rulers, which were gradually phased out, including by the redrawing of state boundaries in the 1950s. There were, however, a few special cases.

Kashmir is of course the most lingering conflict. At the time of Indian independence, Kashmir although largely Muslim was ruled by a Hindu prince, who wished Kashmir to remain independent. Both Pakistan and India refused this, but full accession to either never came, resulting in war and the division of Kashmir into Pakistani and Indian administered regions. As you will see on maps today, the borders here are still not defined.

Hyderabad, with a Hindu majority and a Muslim ruler, also wished to remain independent. Hyderabad was the largest of the princely states and had enjoyed a unique status under the British Indian Empire. A large portion of the south central portion of the subcontinent, the princely state of Hyderabad was too significant for India to forego. In 1948, the Indian army entered and took forceful control of the state, and the prince (or nizam) of Hyderabad conceded defeat. Junagadh, a smaller majority-Hindu princely state located in now Gujarat, was also ruled by a Muslim prince. India rejected his decision to join Pakistan, because Junagadh was majority Hindu and surrounded by India with no frontier with Pakistan. India used force to cause accession, which was confirmed by a referendum in 1948.

French India included Pondicherry as well as several smaller cities on both the Eastern and Western coasts of India. The French agreed to a democratic resolution, and each locality eventually voted to join India, leading to the special Union Territory of Pondicherry in 1954. The Union Territory of Pondicherry has its own legislature and could potentially become a state in the future, although it remains non-contiguous.

Portuguese India included what is now Goa state, as well as several smaller possessions also on the Western coast of India. Portugal resisted handing these over to India, leading finally to military action by India in 1961. Goa is now a state of the Republic of India while the other Portuguese colonies are part of Gujarat state.

Sikkim became in effect a protectorate of India in 1950 but resisted union until 1975, when a referendum was held to join India.

India is an interesting case of a country recently patched together, because to a certain extent the boundary was determined by a colonial power, but the process of unification was in many ways forged by the newly independent nation, which had a functioning government of sorts even prior to independence that was able to take an active role. For a country that was not historically unified, India forms a logical whole, especially after the redrawing of state boundaries to match linguistic groups. It would be interesting to do a comparison of the formation of India and Indonesia, which are both huge amalgamations of culturally and linguistically heterogenous territories that were brought together in part due to colonial history, and to compare secessionist movements in the two. I imagine a key difference would be the contiguousness of India and the huge distances separating the islands forming the archipelagoes of Indonesia. I also imagine that the political institutions set in place or formed under British/Dutch rule differ in meaningful ways.

2 thoughts on “Parts of India

  1. Very interesting history, and I speak as a fellow map lover. As an aside, my Indian friends have told me that the Muslims and Hindus of the region got along together just fine before the British came along.

  2. Pingback: Parts of France | Paul's Travel Blog

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