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India in the 1950s


Nehru in India
Nehru in India

The constitution of India came into force on January 26, 1950, a date celebrated annually as Republic Day. The constitution provided for a federal union of states and a parliamentary system, and included a list of “fundamental rights” guaranteeing freedom of the press and association. Nehru had become India’s first prime minister in 1947 and remained its leader until his death in 1964. Under Nehru’s leadership, the government attempted to develop India quickly by embarking on agrarian reform and rapid industrialization. A successful land reform was introduced that abolished giant landholdings, but efforts to redistribute land by placing limits on landownership failed. Attempts to introduce large-scale cooperative farming were frustrated by landowning rural elites, who—as staunch Congress Party supporters—had considerable political weight. Agricultural production expanded until the early 1960s, as additional land was brought under cultivation and some irrigation projects began to have an effect. The establishment of agricultural universities, modeled after land-grant colleges in the United States, also helped. These universities worked with high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice, initially developed in Mexico and the Philippines, that in the 1960s began the Green Revolution, an effort to diversify and increase crop production. At the same time a series of failed monsoons brought India to the brink of famine, prevented only by food grain aid from the United States.

The planning commission of the central government inaugurated a series of five-year plans in 1952 that emphasized the building of basic industries such as steel, heavy machine tools, and heavy electrical machinery (such as power plant turbines) rather than automobiles and other consumer goods. New investment in those industries, as well as investment in infrastructure, especially railroads, communications, and power generation, was reserved for the public sector.

Most other economic activity was in private hands, but entrepreneurs were subject to a complex set of licenses, regulations, and controls. These were designed to ensure a fair allotment of scarce resources and protect workers’ rights, but in practice they hampered investment and management. The central government controlled foreign trade stringently. Substantial progress was made toward the goal of industrial self-reliance and growth in manufacturing during the 1950s and early 1960s.

India’s large diversity of languages contributed to internal political problems during the 1950s and early 1960s.

Although Gandhi had reorganized the Congress movement in 1920 to reflect linguistic divisions, and although the nationalist movement had always promised a reorganization of provincial boundaries once independence was achieved, Nehru resisted a demand to bring together the Telugu-speaking areas of the former British province of Madras and Hyder?b?d state. He yielded only when the leader of the movement fasted to death, and severe riots broke out. A States Reorganization Commission was appointed, and in 1956 the interior boundaries of India were redrawn along linguistic lines. In 1960 much of the land making up Bombay state was divided into Mah?r?shtra and Gujar?t states, with the remainder going to Karn?taka state. In 1966 most of Punjab was split into the states of Punjab and Hary?na after significant public protest. Aside from some minor border disputes, and with additional states formed mainly in northeast India, the reorganization generally strengthened India’s unity. The thorny problem of a national language for the country remained. The constitution specified that Hindi, spoken in many dialects by 40 percent of Indians, would become the official language in 1965, after a transition in which English, spoken by the educated elite of the country, would serve. Non-Hindi speakers, especially in the south Indian state of Madras (later renamed Tamil N?du), mobilized against central government efforts to impose Hindi. To settle the dispute, the government allowed continued use of English for states that wished to keep it. "India" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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