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The world's largest democracy and second most populous country emerged as a major power in the 1990s. It is militarily strong, has a big cultural influence and a fast-growing and powerful economy.

A nuclear weapons state, it carried out tests in the 1970s and again in the 1990s in defiance of world opinion. However, India is still tackling huge social, economic and environmental problems.

The vast and diverse Indian sub-continent - from the mountainous Afghan frontier to the jungles of Burma - was under foreign rule from the early 1800s until the demise of the British Raj in 1947.

Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple, New Delhi; said to be the world's largest Hindu temple
Economy: Fast-growing economy; large, skilled workforce but widespread poverty
Politics: 344m people voted in 2019 election - Congress-led alliance of PM Manmohan Singh won second mandate
International: Ongoing dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir region; nuclear weapons state; world's most prolific film industry - Bollywood


The subsequent partition of the sub-continent - into present-day India and Pakistan - sowed the seeds for future conflict. There have been three wars between India and its arch-rival Pakistan since 1947, two of them over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

A peace process, which started in 2004, stayed on track despite tension over Kashmir and several high-profile bombings until the Mumbai attacks of November 2008, which police blamed on Pakistani militants. India announced that the process was on pause the following month.

Communal, caste and regional tensions continue to haunt Indian politics, sometimes threatening its long-standing democratic and secular ethos.

In 1984 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was gunned down by her Sikh bodyguards after ordering troops to flush out Sikh militants from the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

And in 1992, widespread Hindu-Muslim violence erupted after Hindu extremists demolished the Babri mosque at Ayodhya.

Independent India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, dreamed of a socialist society and created a vast public infrastructure, much of which became a burden on the state.

From the late 1980s India began to open up to the outside world, encouraging economic reform and foreign investment. It is now courted by the world's leading economic and political powers, including its one-time foe China.

The country has a burgeoning urban middle class and has made great strides in fields such as information technology. Its large, skilled workforce makes it a popular choice for international companies seeking to outsource work.

But the vast mass of the rural population remains impoverished.

Their lives continue to be influenced by the ancient Hindu caste system, which assigns each person a place in the social hierarchy. Discrimination on the basis of caste is now illegal and various measures have been introduced to empower disadvantaged groups and give them easier access to opportunities - such as education and work.

Poverty alleviation and literacy campaigns are ongoing.

Nuclear tests carried out by India in May 1998 and similar tests by Pakistan just weeks later provoked international condemnation and concern over the stability of the region.

The US quickly imposed sanctions on India, but more recently the two countries have improved their ties, and even agreed to share nuclear technology.

India launches its own satellites and in 2008 sent its first spacecraft to the moon. It also boasts a massive cinema industry, the products of which are among the most widely-watched films in the world.

* Full name: Republic of India
* Population: 1.2 billion (UN, 2019)
* Capital: New Delhi
* Most-populated city: Mumbai (Bombay)
* Area: 3.1 million sq km (1.2 million sq miles), excluding Indian-administered Kashmir (100,569 sq km/38,830 sq miles)
* Major languages: Hindi, English and at least 16 other official languages
* Major religions: Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism
* Life expectancy: 62 years (men), 65 years (women) (UN)
* Monetary unit: 1 Indian Rupee = 100 paise
* Main exports: Agricultural products, textile goods, gems and jewellery, software services and technology, engineering goods, chemicals, leather products
* GNI per capita: US $1070 (World Bank, 2008)
* Internet domain: .in
* International dialling code: +91

Indian broadcasting has flourished since state TV's monopoly was broken in 1992. The array of channels is still growing.

Hand-painted Bollywood film posters, Mumbai, 2005
Billion-dollar film industry produces hundreds of movies each year

BBC Asian Network: Bollywood

Private cable and satellite stations command large audiences. News programmes often outperform entertainment shows. Many 24-hour news channels are up and running and more are planned.

Doordarshan, the public TV, operates 21 services including its flagship DD1 channel, which reaches some 400 million viewers.

Multichannel, direct-to-home (DTH) TV has been a huge hit. Five operators - Dish TV, Tata-Sky, Sun Direct, Big TV and Airtel Digital TV - have attracted millions of subscribers. State-owned Doordarshan Direct offers a free-to-air DTH service.

Some industry sources say the number of DTH subscribers could reach 60 million by 2015. The cable TV market is one of the world's largest.

Since they were given the green light in 2000, music-based FM radio stations have proliferated in the cities. But only public All India Radio can broadcast news.
Indian newspapers
Established newspapers are slugging it out with new rivals

India's press is lively. Driven by a growing middle class, newspaper circulation has risen and new titles compete with established dailies.

Internet use has soared; by September 2007, around 60 million Indians were online (ITU figure).

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders says press freedom is threatened by "the violence of political parties as well as religious and separatist groups" (India - Annual report 2008).

The press

* Deccan Herald - Bangalore-based daily
* The Hindu - Madras-based daily
* The Hindustan Times - New Delhi-based daily
* The Pioneer - New Delhi-based daily
* The Indian Express - New Delhi-based daily
* The Statesman - Calcutta-based daily
* The Times of India - Mumbai-based daily
* The Asian Age - New Delhi-based daily
* India Today - New Delhi-based news magazine
* Outlook - New Delhi-based news magazine


* Doordarshan Television - public TV; operates national, regional, local and satellite services
* Zee TV - satellite, cable TV services operated by Zee Group
* STAR TV - operates satellite, cable TV services including STAR News, owned by News Corporation
* Sony Entertainment TV - commercial channel
* Aaj Tak - 24-hour news in Hindi
* New Delhi TV (NDTV) - operates NDTV-India and NDTV 24x7 news channels
* Sun Network - commercial multi-channel broadcaster


* All India Radio - public, operates domestic and external networks
* Radio Mirchi - commercial network, stations in Mumbai, Delhi and other cities, mainly music, operated by The Times Group
* Radio City - commercial, FM stations in Delhi, Mumbai and other cities, owned by News Corporation
* Red FM - commercial, operated by India Today Group

News agency
Press Trust of India - non-profit, owned by newspaper titles


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