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India After Independence, Territorial Consolidation

Indian Independence Act, Kashmir situation, nizam of Hyderabad, majority Muslim population, Hari Singh

Under the provisions of the Indian Independence Act, India and Pakistan were established as independent dominions of the British Commonwealth of Nations, with the right to withdraw from or remain within the Commonwealth. At independence India received most of the 562 princely states, as well as the majority of the British provinces, and parts of three of the remaining provinces. Pakistan received the remainder. Pakistan consisted of a western wing, with the approximate boundaries of modern Pakistan, and an eastern wing, with the boundaries of present-day Bangladesh.

Before independence, Mountbatten had made clear to the Indian princes that they would have to choose to join either India or Pakistan at partition. In all but three cases, the princes, most of them ruling over very small territories, were able to work out an agreement with one country or another, generally a deal that preserved some measure of their status and a great deal of their revenue. The issue of Kashmir, Hyderabad, and the small and fragmented state of Junagadh (in present-day Gujarat), remained unsettled at independence, however. The Muslim ruler of Hindu-majority Junagadh agreed to join to Pakistan, but a movement by his people, followed by Indian military action and a plebiscite (people’s vote of self-determination), brought the state into India. The nizam of Hyderabad, also a Muslim ruler of a Hindu-majority populace, tried to maneuver to gain independence for his very large and populous state, which was, however, surrounded by India. After more than a year of fruitless negotiations, India sent its army in a police action in September 1948, and Hyderabad became part of India.

Hari Singh, the Hindu maharaja of Kashmir, a large state with a majority Muslim population and adjacent to both India and Pakistan, kept postponing the decision of whether to join India or Pakistan, hoping to explore the possibilities of independence. After tribal warriors supported by Pakistan invaded and threatened his capital in October 1947, Hari Singh finally agreed to join India in exchange for military support from the Indian army. The Kashmir situation, however, was complicated by a nearly 20-year-old movement against the maharaja—a movement that was likely supported by a large majority of Muslims of the Kashmir valley. Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, the leader of the movement against the maharaja, also explored the possibility of independence, but his friendship with Nehru prevented him from pursuing this idea. Sheikh Abdullah and Nehru made an arrangement whereby Abdullah became Kashmir’s first prime minister in 1948, and the new state was granted far more autonomy than any other princely state that had joined India.

The problems with Kashmir, however, were only beginning. As fighting continued between Indian and Pakistani forces, India asked the United Nations (UN) for help. A cease-fire was arranged in 1949, with the cease-fire line creating a de facto partition of the region. The central and eastern areas of the state came under Indian administration as Jammu and Kashmir state, while the northwestern quarter came under Pakistani control as Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas. Although a UN peacekeeping force was sent in to enforce the cease-fire, the dispute was not resolved.

France and Portugal still held territories on the Indian coast after India gained independence. The French territories, the largest of which was Pondicherry, had an area of about 500 sq km (about 200 sq mi); they were ceded to India in 1956. Portugal’s main Indian possession was Goa, a territory on the western coast of India. Goa had an area of about 3,400 sq km (about 1,300 sq mi) and a population of about 600,000 in 1959. Portugal refused to cede its territories to India, and in December 1961 the Indian army occupied them. Portugal eventually accepted India’s rule in the early 1970s. Goa became a state of India in 1987; Pondicherry became a union territory in 1962.



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