Government and Politics in South Asia

By Craig Baxter; Yogendra K. Malik et al. | Go to book overview
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Political Culture and Heritage

INDIA'S DIFFICULTIES IN NATION BUILDING, economic development, and political stability have been strongly influenced by a host of complex factors. Of these the most prominent are its geographic setting and its sociocultural history. India is the largest state on the South Asian subcontinent. One-third the size of the United States--about 1,266,595 square miles--it is a country of great distances: From the Himalayan mountains in the north to the Indian Ocean in the south the distance is 2,000 miles, and it is some 1,700 miles from the western border with Pakistan to the eastern border with Burma. These distances and elevational changes mean that India has a wide variety of climates and landscapes, from snow-covered mountains and lush green forests to dry brown plains and sandy deserts.

Geographically, India is divided into three main regions, each having its own culture, traditions, and history. The various subregions add to the country's variety of lifestyles and traditions. The first region consists of the vast plains of north India, irrigated by the Ganges River and its tributaries. Originating in the Himalayas, the sacred Ganges runs more than 1,500 miles through several states of India until it reaches the Bay of Bengal. The silt deposited by the river enriches the soil of the vast northern plains, where agriculture is the main livelihood of the people. It was in the Ganges Valley in ancient times that the Hindu civilization flourished.

The second region, the Deccan plateau, is separated from the north by the Vindhya Mountains and from the coastal areas by the Eastern and Western Ghats, which form a kind of mountain wall. Although rich in mineral resources, the plateau receives little rainfall; hence it is not heavily populated, in contrast to the other regions of India. In this region the people and the cultures of north and south intermingle.

The third region, farther south near the port city of Madras, is the ancient land of the Tamils and the heartland of the Dravidian people. This

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