By Joya Scarlata

November 6, 2015

Photo Credit: Sandeep Santra


India is the world’s largest democracy with 1.25 Billion inhabitants which boasts of over 800 million people eligible to vote. It is the second largest populous country, and one of the fastest growing economies. It is a country with enormous ethnic, linguistic, and cultural diversity.

India shares land borders with Pakistan, China, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. India is bounded by the Indian Ocean in the South, the Arabian Sea in the South-West, and the Bay of Bengal in South-East.

The country is home to the ancient Indus Valley Civilization. In the early 18th century, India was administered by the British East India Company and eventually by the United Kingdom in 1858. India finally received independence in 1947.


The Indian subcontinent is considered the birthplace of some of the world’s major religions – Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism. Click on the religions to read more about the connection India has had with these religions. Religion has and continues to play an important role in shaping India’s culture and identity. According to the latest census taken in 2011, “Hindu population is 96.63 crore (79.8 percent); Muslim 17.22 crore (14.2 percent); Christian 2.78 crore (2.3 percent); Sikh 2.08 crore (1.7 percent); Buddhist 0.84 crore (0.7 percent); Jain 0.45 crore (0.4 percent), Other religions and persuasions (ORP) 0.79 crore (0.7 percent) and religion not stated 0.29 crore (0.2 percent).


India is a constitutional democracy, made up of 29 states and seven union territories. Parliament is bicameral, consisting of the Lok Sabha or ‘Lower House’ and the Rajya Sabha or ‘Upper House.’

The Lok Sabha consists of 543 members, known as Members of Parliament (MPs). MPs are elected by universal suffrage and a first-past-the-post system to represent their respective constituencies. The Rajya Sabha, on the other hand, is limited to a maximum 250 members by the Constitution, with most members indirectly elected by state and territorial legislatures.

The current President of India is Mr. Pranab Mukherjee; he is the formal head of the executive and legislature of India and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

The 2014 National Elections:

The 2014 national elections saw the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) form a new government with its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners. The BJP alone won 31% of all votes and 282 seats in the Lok Sabha, while the NDA took 336 seats. The leader of the BJP, Mr. Narendra Modi, was sworn in as Prime Minister of India on May 26, 2014.


The Indian Armed Forces consists of three services – the Indian Army, the Indian Navy, and the Indian Air Force – led by the President. The Armed Forces is also supported by three paramilitary organizations – the Assam Rifles, the Indian Coast Guard, and the Special Frontier Force.

India has one of the world’s largest military forces. Since 1947, the Indian Armed Forces were involved in a number of military operations, the most major including four wars with Pakistan wars of 1947, 1965, and 1971, and 1999 Kargil War, and one war with China in 1962. Click on the years to find out more about the conflicts. For more information on the 1965 War, Hudson Institute held a panel event to understand more about the relationship between India and Pakistan 50 years since the war.


India’s economy after independence was heavily regulated. Domestic policy leaned towards protectionism, with emphasis on a government-run public sector, central planning, economic interventionism, and business planning. By the mid-1950’s, many major industries were nationalized.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, which in turn, lead to a massive balance-of-payments crisis in India, Prime Minister, Mr. Narasimha Rao and his Finance Minister, Mr. Manmohan Singh, launched a number of economic reforms in 1991. These reforms ignited a process of economic liberalization, transforming India into a more market-based economy.

India’s main economic sectors include agriculture, manufacturing, and services (such as IT, education, healthcare, software, and retail).

Foreign Relations

After independence, India’s influence on the world stage varied over the years. Influenced by its own colonial experience and struggle for independence, India became a leading proponent of the Non-Alignment Movement during the Cold War. During the 1960s and the 1970s, India became closer to the Soviet Union, signing the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in 1971. This lead to India receiving substantial military and economic aid from the Soviet Union.

With end of the Cold War and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, India was forced to reassess its foreign policy. It started to improve relations with a number of countries, to include the United States, France, Japan, Germany, and Canada.

India is viewed as a major player in South Asia. India’s strategic interests has traditionally focused on South Asia. Over the years, however, it has been broadening its interests and tilting towards East and South-East Asia.

India has been a founding member of several international organizations, to include the UN and the Asian Development Bank. India is also an influential member of the WTO and the IMF. Regionally, it is a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). India is currently seeking a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

Recommended Readings:

Wonder That Way India by A.L. Basham

India after Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy by Ramachandra Guha

India: A History by John Keay

The Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru

As we continue to update this country profile, follow current news on India and South Asia.