The world's largest democracy and second most populous country emerged as a major power in the 1990s. It is militarily strong, has major cultural influence and a fast-growing and powerful economy.
A nuclear-armed 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.
HOW should one judge the lot of women in India, a country that is in many ways progressive, modern, tolerant and yet by turns repressive and hostile? Women hold the highest political positions (the presidency, speaker of parliament, leader of the ruling party, leader of the opposition in parliament, several chief ministers of large states) and in theory they are protected by a variety laws promoting equality.
Though development indicators remain dire, just about all statistics show their lives improving. Women are more literate than ever (last year’s census suggests two-thirds of them can read, compared with fewer than two-fifths in 1991).
Indians now consume more tea than their plantations throughout the north-east of the country in West Bengal and Assam produce.
But although tea had grown wild in India since at least the 12th century, when it was used as medicine by tribes in Assam, it did not start to become popular until it was discovered by the Scottish explorer, Robert Bruce, in the 1820s.
India one of the largest and most populous countries in the world, has a great diversity of cuisines. Madhur Jaffrey (1985) put a dramatic spotlight on this diversity when she pointed out that India is larger than the whole of Europe (excepting Russia), that it embraces at least five major faiths, fifteen major languages, and over 1,500 minor languages and dialects; and that the seventeen states which were created within the country after it achieved independence were based on existing linguistic and cultural regions.
The following year, in 2009, India had more polio cases than any other country in the world. But much has changed since then, and this Friday will mark a full year since the last case of wild poliovirus was detected in India. This is a huge milestone in the history of global health.
With a huge and growing population, hard-to-reach migrant communities, and sanitation and health conditions that limit the effectiveness of polio vaccines, this remarkable achievement in India marks clear progress in the fight against polio.
Only a quarter of the population can afford Western medicine, with the rest relying on traditional remedies or alternative treatments, such as acupuncture and Ayurvedic medicine (which can at least boast fewer adverse reactions).
Eighty-one per cent of health care across India is paid from private funds, mainly individual pockets. To compound the problem, the booming economy has attracted millions into the cities and away from the country’s rural network of hospitals.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, in 2009 lower-income groups in India had less access to health care than 15 Asian countries surveyed, where, on average, only 55 per cent of health care is paid from private funds.
Since independence from British colonial rule in 1947, protracted territorial and political disputes have led India and Pakistan to engage in three full scale and three quasi-wars. Cross-border skirmishes are common. Indian allegations concerning Pakistan’s involvement in a number of terrorist attacks inside its territory complicate relations further.
The intractable Kashmir conflict, the core of the strained relationship, makes it a veritable nuclear flashpoint. But the contention over Kashmir should not prevent India and Pakistan from solving problems on a host of issues of less strategic concern.
India and the United States, the world’s two largest democracies, are trying not to let the issue of Iranian oil imports divide them. The confrontation springs from the fact that, as of January, India is Iran’s largest customer for crude oil. It gains that rank even as the US is using oil as a means to pressure Iran to end a nuclear program that the West and Israel see as a major proliferation threat. Under new legislation that takes effect June 28, the US can cut off from its financial system countries that do not substantially reduce their reliance on Iranian oil.
India is a net importer of petroleum, and millions of its citizens still live in poverty, needing kerosene for daily survival.
India imports nearly 80% of its oil and is under pressure to secure new resources as its economy will continue to grow, albeit at slightly slower pace than in recent years. Demand is increasing across every energy market in India, but both the domestic nuclear energy sector and the coal sector have run into controversies in different parts of the country that have bogged down their development.
Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari met with the Indian prime minister in New Delhi on Sunday -- the first visit to India by a Pakistani head of state in seven years.
Both leaders described their brief meeting as satisfactory, with Zardari extending an invitation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singhfor a reciprocal visit.
"I would be very happy to visit Pakistan on a mutually convenient date," Singh said after hosting Zardari at his official residence.