India's recent historical experience and development have been remarkable. Events in the subcontinent have been significant not just for those whose home India now is, who number between 800 and 900 million. They concern us all because they mirror many of the critical issues facing the whole world of the later twentieth century--a world marked by increasing interaction of peoples and continents, wracked by political and social turbulence within nations and major international conflicts, yet a world concerned with the dignity of human life and the worth of the earth's resources. India also reflects many of the forces which have created this world. For example, it was the first non-white nation to emerge from colonial control, and its independence from Britain in 1947 undermined the whole fabric of the British empire which had dominated world affairs in the preceding decades. Standing at a sensitive juncture of the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, it has not only retained its territorial integrity, but has in contrast to most African ex-colonies proved politically stable. Moreover it has become adept at organizing its government and politics through democratic institutions and a civil service built, somewhat ironically, on foundations left by its imperial rulers. Yet it has still to solve major economic and human problems, as its population soars and the fabric of its political, social, and economic infrastructure creaks and threatens to crack as it is sorely strained in an environment of scarcity and social conflict.
This book introduces some of the major themes in modern Indian history. It investigates the origins of India's independence and democratic political system, which lie in the historical processes of interaction between a stable society and venerable culture and forces of change created both within India and brought to bear on it from beyond its borders in the circumstances of British rule. Although the main focus of the study is political it sets its analysis of changing political patterns in a broad socio-economic context. The structure and economic base of society are fundamental. We need to know who lived on the subcontinent, how they earned their living, how authority and power were distributed among them, in what groups people felt they belonged, and the strength both of the linkages and the divisions between them. For these are the very stuff of politics, and stability or change here will have fundamental repercussions in political life. We