Post-Independence History of India

The history of the Republic of India began on 26 January 1950. The country had earlier become an independent dominion within the British Commonwealth on 15 August 1947.

At the time of granting independence, the Muslim-majority northwest and east of British India was separated into the Dominion of Pakistan, by the partition of India. The partition led to a population transfer of more than 10 million people between India and Pakistan and the death of about one million people. Jawaharlal Nehru became the first Prime Minister of India and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel became the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs. The new Constitution of 1950 made India a secular and a democratic State.

Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi: The celebrations of independence had hardly died down when on 30 January 1948, a radical minded Hindu, Nathuram Godse, assassinated Gandhiji at Birla House, just before his evening prayers.

Refugee Problem: The Indian government had to stretch itself to the maximum to give relief to and resettle and rehabilitate the nearly six million refugees from Pakistan. By 1951, the problem of the rehabilitation of the refugees from West Pakistan was fully tackled.

However, the task of rehabilitating and resettling refugees from East Bengal was made more difficult by the fact that the exodus of Hindus from East Bengal continued for years. While nearly all the Hindus and Sikhs from West Pakistan had migrated in one go in 1947, a large number of Hindus in East Bengal had stayed on there in the initial years. However, as violence against Hindus broke out periodically in East Bengal, there was a steady stream of refugees from there year after year until 1971. Providing them with work and shelter and psychological assurance, remained a continuous and a difficult task.

Because of linguistic affinity the resettlement of the refugees from East Bengal could take place only in Bengal and to a lesser extent in Assam and Tripura. As a result, a very large number of people who had been engaged in agricultural occupations before their displacement were forced to seek survival in semi-urban and urban contexts as the underclass.

Political Integration of India: At the time of independence, India was divided into two sets of territories—the first being the territories of “British India”, which were under the direct control of the Governor-General of India, and the second being the “Princely States”, the territories over which the Crown had suzerainty, but which were under the control of their hereditary rulers. In addition, there were several colonial enclaves controlled by France and Portugal. The political integration of these territories into India was a declared objective of the Indian National Congress, which the government of India pursued over the next decade. Through a combination of factors, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel convinced the rulers of almost all of the hundreds of princely States to accede to India. Having secured their accession, they then proceeded to, in a step-by-step process, secure and extend the central government’s authority over these States and transform their administrations until, by 1956, there was little difference between the territories that had formerly been part of British India and those that had been part of princely States. Simultaneously, the government of India, through a combination of diplomatic and military means, acquired de facto and de jure control over the remaining colonial enclaves, which too were integrated into India.

The process, however, was not as successful in relation to the former princely State of Jammu & Kashmir, the accession of which to India was disputed by Pakistan, the State of Hyderabad, whose ruler was determined to remain independent, and the States of Tripura and Manipur, where active secessionist movements existed.

The Instruments of Accession were limited, transferring control of only three matters—Defence, Communication and External Affairs—to India, and would by themselves have produced a rather loose federation, with significant differences in administration and governance across the various States.

The first step in the process of complete merger, carried out between 1947 and 1949, was to merge the smaller States that were not seen by the government of India to be viable administrative units either into neighbouring provinces, or with other princely States to create a “princely union”. The bulk of the larger States, and some groups of small States, were integrated through a different, four-step process. In return for agreeing to the extinction of their States as discrete entities, the rulers were given a privy purse and guarantees similar to those provided under the Merger Agreements.

First General Elections: Democracy took a giant step forward with the first general election held in 1951-52 over a four-month period. These elections were the biggest experiment in democracy anywhere in the world. The elections were held based on universal adult franchise, with all those twenty-one years of age or older having the right to vote. There were over 173 million voters, most of them poor, illiterate, and rural, and having had no experience of elections. The big question at the time was how would the people respond to this opportunity.

Reorganisation of States: Potti Sreeramulu’s fast-unto-death, and consequent death for the demand of an Andhra State in 1953 sparked a major re-shaping of the Indian Union. Pt Nehru appointed the States Reorganization Commission, upon whose recommendations, the States Reorganization Act was passed in 1956. Old states were dissolved and new States created on the lines of shared linguistic and ethnic demographics. The separation of Kerala and the Telugu-speaking regions of Madras State enabled the creation of an exclusively Tamil-speaking State of Tamil Nadu. On 1 May 1960, the States of Maharashtra and Gujarat were created out of the Bombay State.

Post-Nehru India: Jawaharlal Nehru died on 27 May 1964. Lal Bahadur Shastri succeeded him as Prime Minister. In 1965 India and Pakistan again went to war over Kashmir, but without any definitive outcome or alteration of the Kashmir boundary. The Tashkent Agreement was signed under the mediation of the Soviet government, but Shastri died on the night after the signing ceremony. A leadership election resulted in the elevation of Indira Gandhi, Nehru’s daughter, as the third Prime Minister.

Birth of Naxalism: The CPM had originally split from the united CPI in 1964 on grounds of differences over revolutionary politics, (equated with armed struggle) and reformist parliamentary politics. A section of the party, consisting largely of its younger cadres and inspired by the Cultural Revolution then going on in China, accused the party leadership of falling prey to reformism and parliamentary politics and, therefore, of betraying the revolution. They argued that the party must immediately initiate armed peasant insurrections in rural areas, leading to the formation of liberated areas and the gradual extension of the armed struggle to the entire country. To implement their political line, the rebel CPM leaders launched a peasant uprising in the small Naxalbari area of northern West Bengal. The CPM leadership immediately expelled the rebel leaders accusing them of left-wing adventurism, and used the party organization and government machinery to suppress the Naxalbari insurrection. The breakaway CPM leaders came to be known as Naxalites and were soon joined by other similar groups from the rest of the country. The Naxalite movement drew many young people, especially college and university students, who were dissatisfied with existing politics and angry at the prevailing social condition.

India goes nuclear: India achieved a major success in terms of a breakthrough in science and technology when the Atomic Energy Commission detonated an underground nuclear device at Pokhran in the deserts of Rajasthan on 18 May 1974. The Indian government, however, declared that it was not going to make nuclear weapons even though it had acquired the capacity to do so. It claimed that the Pokhran explosion was an effort to harness atomic energy for peaceful purposes and to make India selfreliant in nuclear technology.

Green Revolution and Operation Flood: India’s long-standing food crisis was resolved with greatly improved agricultural productivity due to the Green revolution. The government-sponsored modern agricultural implements, new varieties of generic seeds and increased financial assistance to farmers that increased the yield of food crops such as wheat, rice and corn, as well as commercial crops like cotton, tea, tobacco and coffee. Increased agricultural productivity expanded across the States of the IndoGangetic plains and Punjab. Under Operation Flood, government encouraged production of milk and improved rearing of livestock across India. This enabled India to become self-sufficient in feeding its own population, ending two decades of food imports.

Emergency: Economic and social problems, as well as allegations of corruption caused increasing political unrest across India, culminating in the Bihar Movement. In 1974, the Allahabad High Court found Indira Gandhi guilty of misusing government machinery for election purposes. Leading strikes across India, that paralyzed its economy and administration, Jay Prakash Narayan even called for the Army to oust Mrs. Gandhi. In 1975, Mrs. Gandhi advised President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to declare a state of emergency under the Constitution, which allowed the Central government to assume sweeping powers to defend law and order in the nation. Many civil liberties were suspended and elections postponed at national and State levels. Non-Congress governments in Indian states were dismissed, and nearly 1,000 opposition political leaders and activists were imprisoned and programme of compulsory birth control was introduced.

Although, India’s economy benefited from an end to paralyzing strikes and political disorder, many organs of government and many Congress politicians were accused of corruption and authoritarian conduct. Police officers were accused of arresting and torturing innocent people.

Post Emergency: Mrs. Indira Gandhi called for general elections in 1977, only to suffer a humiliating electoral defeat at the hands of the Janata Party, an amalgamation of opposition parties. Morarji Desai became the first non-Congress Prime Minister of India. The Desai administration established tribunals to investigate Emergency-era abuses, and Indira and Sanjay Gandhi were arrested after a report from the Shah Commission. But in 1979, the coalition crumbled and Charan Singh formed an interim government. The Janata Party become intensely unpopular due to its internecine warfare, and the fact that it offered no leadership on solving India’s serious economic and social problems. Ultimately, the Janata Party split in to its original constituents. The January Sangh emerged in its new avatar as Bhartiya Janata Party.

Indira Gandhi and her Congress party splinter group, Congress (Indira) were swept back into power with a large majority in January 1980. But the rise of an insurgency in Punjab jeopardized India’s security. In Assam also there were many incidents of communal violence between native villagers and refugees from Bangladesh, as well as settlers from other parts of India. When Indian forces, undertaking Operation Blue Star, raided the hideout of Khalistan militants in the Golden Temple—Sikhs’ most holy shrine— in Amritsar, in June 1984, the inadvertent deaths of civilians and damage to the temple building inflamed tensions in the Sikh community across India. Northeast India was also paralyzed owing to the ULFA’s clash with government forces.

On 31 October 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s own Sikh bodyguards assassinated her, and anti-Sikh riots erupted in Delhi and parts of Punjab, causing the deaths of thousands of Sikhs.

Post Indira Gandhi: After the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi, the Congress party chose Rajiv Gandhi, her older son, as the next Prime Minister. The Parliament was dissolved and Rajiv led the Congress party to its largest majority in history (over 415 seats out of 545 possible) in the general elections, reaping a sympathy vote over his mother’s assassination.

Rajiv Gandhi initiated a series of reforms—the license raj was loosened, and government restrictions on foreign currency, travel, foreign investment and imports decreased considerably. This allowed private businesses to use resources and produce commercial goods without government bureaucracy interfering, and the influx of foreign investment increased India’s national reserves. Rajiv’s encouragement to science and technology resulted in a major expansion of the telecommunications industry, India’s space program and gave birth to the software industry and information technology sector.

In 1987, India brokered an agreement between government of Sri Lanka and rebel LTTE, and agreed to deploy troops for peacekeeping operation and to disarm the Tamil rebels. Butm the Indian Peace Keeping Force became entangled in outbreaks of violence—ultimately ending up fighting the Tamil rebels itself, and becoming a target of attack from Sri Lankan nationalists.

Rajiv Gandhi’s image as an honest politician was shattered when the Bofors scandal broke, revealing that senior government officials had taken bribes over defence contracts with the Swedish manufacturer. As the Defence minister in Rajiv Gandhi’s government, Mr V.P. Singh had unearthed the Bofors scandal, and was sacked from the party and office. Becoming a popular crusader for reform and clean government, he led the Janata Dal coalition to a majority in 1989 elections. He was supported by BJP and the Leftist parties from outside. Becoming Prime Minister, Singh started to implement the controversial Mandal commission report, to increase the quota in reservation for low caste Hindus. The BJP protested these implementations, and took its support back, following which he resigned. Chandra Shekhar split to form the Janata Dal (Socialist), supported by Rajiv’s Congress. This new government also collapsed in a matter of months, when Congress withdrew its support.

Post Rajiv Gandhi: On 21 May 1991, while former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi campaigned in Tamil Nadu on behalf of Congress (I), a Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) female suicide bomber assassinated him and many others. In the elections, Congress (I) won 244 Parliamentary seats and put together a coalition, returning to power under the leadership of Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao. This Congress-led government, which served a full 5-year term, initiated a gradual process of economic liberalisation and reform, which opened the Indian economy to global trade and investment. India’s domestic politics also took new shape, as traditional alignments by caste, creed, and ethnicity gave way to a plethora of small, regionally-based political parties.

In 1992, India was rocked by communal violence between Hindus and Muslims that killed over 10,000 people, following the Babri Mosque demolition by Hindu extremists in the course of the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute in Ayodhya. The final months of the Rao-led government in the spring of 1996 suffered the effects of several major political corruption scandals, which contributed to the worst electoral performance by the Congress Party in its history as Bharatiya Janata Party emerged as largest single party.

Era of Coalitions: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged from the May 1996 national elections as the single-largest party in the Lok Sabha but without enough strength to prove a majority on the floor of the Parliament. Under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP coalition lasted in power 13 days. With all political parties wishing to avoid another round of elections, a 14-party coalition led by the Janata Dal emerged to form a government known as the United Front. A United Front government under former Chief Minister of Karnataka H.D. Deve Gowda lasted less than a year. Congress (I) withdrew support in March 1997.

Inder Kumar Gujral replaced Deve Gowda as the consensus choice for Prime Minister of a 16-party United Front coalition. In November 1997, the Congress Party again withdrew support for the United Front. New elections in February 1998 brought the BJP the largest number of seats in Parliament (182), but this fell far short of a majority. On March 20, 1998, the President inaugurated a BJP-led coalition government with Mr Vajpayee again serving as Prime Minister.

First Sikh Prime Minister of India: In January 2004, Prime Minister Vajpayee recommended early dissolution of the Lok Sabha and general elections. The Congress Party-led alliance won an surprise victory in elections held in May 2004. Manmohan Singh became the first Sikh Prime Minister of India.

First Female President of India: In 2007, Ms Pratibha Patil became India’s first female President. Long associated with Nehru–Gandhi family, Pratibha Patil was a low-profile Governor of Rajasthan before emerging as the favoured Presidential candidate.

2009 Elections: In the 2009 General Election, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance won a convincing and resounding 262 seats, with Congress alone winning 206 seats. Mr Manmohan Singh was re-elected as the Prime Minister.

2014 Elections: On 16 May 2014, ending the BJP’s 10-year political ‘vanvaas’, Narendra Damodardas Modi scripted a never-before win for the party, helping it cruise to power on its own steam at the Centre by breaking a three-decade old trend of fractured mandates. BJP attained a comfortable majority of 282 seats on its own.


Louis Mountbatten: (15 August 1947 to 20 June 1948)
(The first Governor-General of Free India)

C. Rajagopalachari: (21 June 1948 to 25 January 1950) (The first Indian Governor-General of Free India).


  • Dr Rajendra Prasad: (1950-62) The first President of the Indian Republic.
  • Dr S. Radhakrishnan: (1962-67) The Philosopher-President of India.
  • Dr Zakir Hussain: (13 May 1967 to 3 May 1969) The first President of India to have died while in office.
  • V.V. Giri: (24 August 1969 to 23 August 1974) The first President to be elected in contest against a Congress nominee.
  • Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed: (24 August 1974 to 11 February 1977) The fifth President of the Republic of India.
  • Neelam Sanjiva Reddy: (25 July 1977 to 24 July 1982) The sixth President of the Republic of India.
  • Zail Singh: (25 July 1982 to 24 July 1987) The first Sikh and seventh President of the Republic of India.
  • R. Venkataraman: (25 July 1987 to 24 July 1992) The eighth President of the Republic of India.
  • Shankar Dayal Sharma: (25 July 1992 to 24 July 1997) The ninth President of the Republic of India.
  • K.R. Narayanan: (25 July 1997 to 24 July 2002) The tenth President of the Republic of India.
  • A.P.J. Abdul Kalam: (25 July 2002 to 24 July 2007) The 11th President of the Republic of India.
  • Pratibha Devisingh Patil: (25 July 2007 to 24 July 2012) The 12th President of the Republic of India and first woman to become President of India.
  • Pranab Mukherjee: (25 July 2012 to 24 July 2017) The 13th President of the Republic of India.
  • Ram Nath Kovind (25 July 2017 to ____ ) The 14th and current President of the Repulic of India.


  • Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan: (1952-1962)
  • Dr Zakir Hussain: (1962-1967)
  • Varahagiri Venkatagiri: (1967-1969)
  • Gopal Swarup Pathak: (1969-1974)
  • B.D. Jatti: (1974-1979)
  • Justice Mohammad Hidayatullah: (1979-1984)
  • R. Venkataraman: (1984-1987)
  • Dr Shanker Dayal Sharma: (1987-1992)
  • K.R. Narayanan: (1992-1997)
  • Krishan Kant: (1997-2002)
  • Bhairon Singh Shekhawat: (2002-2007)
  • Mohammad Hamid Ansari: (2007-2017)
  • Muppavarapu Venkaiah Naidu: (2017-______ )