About this series

I'm Sahaj Sankaran, winner of Yale’s South Asian Studies Prize and Diane Kaplan Memorial Prize for my historical research, and this is Today in Indian History. Four days a week, I'll dig into the context and consequences of an event in India's history that happened on that date. I'll walk you through what happened, what the world around looked like at the time, and how it shaped the India we live in today.

twitter: @SahajSankaran, email: sahaj [at] honestyisbest [dot] com.

August 23, 2020

The Lok Sabha Passes the MGNREGA

On 23 August, 2005, the Lok Sabha, the Indian lower house of Parliament, passed the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). The act was a sweeping piece of legislation meant to guarantee steady employment, and wages, for millions of workers in rural areas of the country…

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August 8, 2020

The Quit India Movement is Launched

On 8 August, 1942, at a park in Mumbai, the Indian independence activist and leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi gave a speech calling for the withdrawal of the British colonial government from India. The speech, which would later come to be called the ‘Quit India speech’, gave rise to a protest movement across the country…

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August 2, 2020

The Complex Past and Present of Indian Fighter Jet Purchases

After years of delays and renegotiations, 36 Dassault Rafale fighter jets are being delivered to India, to become part of the Indian Air Force’s efforts at modernization. While many in India are celebrating the delivery, many others are questioning the costs involved, delays, reduced size of the final purchase, and the Rafale’s utility against hostile neighbors that may well have already passed it by. This post isn’t an attempt to take a side in the debate, but rather to illuminate some of the unique history behind the Indian Air Force’s fighter jets – and, above all, to show that the current Rafale drama isn’t anything new. India’s aircraft purchases have always been complex and bizarre things, mired in tangled international and domestic politics…

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July 22, 2020

India Accepts an Emergency Loan from the International Monetary Fund

On 22 July, 1991, India accepted an emergency loan of $220 million from the International Monetary Fund. The loan was meant to keep the country’s economy afloat during an acute financial crisis, and signalled to the world that India was willing to open its economy and adopt reforms to manage the crisis and strengthen its economy. The implications of that acceptance…

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July 19, 2020

India Closes its Borders to Migrants from West Pakistan

On 19 July, 1948, the government of the new nation of India ceased allowing the free transit of migrants from the new nation of Pakistan. By ordinance, a permit system was instituted, and prospective migrants were scrutinized and filtered, ending the mass movement of migrants from then-West Pakistan to India and bringing one chapter of the bloody Partition of India to a close…

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July 17, 2020

Madras is Renamed Chennai

On 17 July, 1996, the Chief Minister of the Indian State of Tamil Nadu, M. Karunanidhi, announced that the state capital, Madras, would henceforth be known as Chennai. The immensely popular move followed decades of assertions of Tamil independence…

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July 15, 2020

Morarji Desai Resigns as Prime Minister

On 15 July, 1979, Prime Minister Morarji Desai resigned his position. After two years in power following the fall of the Congress Party administration in 1977, Desai’s Janata Party was rife with internal splits that forced Desai out of power. The Janata Party would dissolve shortly afterward…

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July 13, 2020

The Panshet Dam Bursts, Flooding the City of Pune

On 12 July, 1961, following a night of heavy rainfall around the city of Pune, in the Indian state of Maharashtra, the Panshet Dam burst. The resulting flood killed around 1,000 people, led to the displacement and relocation of tens of thousands more…

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July 7, 2020

The First Cotton Textile Mill in Bombay is Established

On 7 July, 1854, the Bombay Spinning and Weaving Company was established in Tardeo, in Bombay, British India. The first mechanised cotton textile mill in the city, the company was founded by the Parsi businessman and banker Cowasjee Nanabhoy Davar. Its success would lead to a profusion of textile mills in the city…

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July 5, 2020

The First Indian Submarine Arrives

On 5 July, 1968, the Indian submarine INS Kalvari sailed into the dock at Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam. The submarine had undergone a long voyage from the port at Riga, Latvia (then in the Soviet Union) when it arrived in India…

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July 3, 2020

British India and Tibet Sign the Simla Convention

On 3 July, 1914, the British and Tibetan governments signed the Simla Convention clarifying the semi-autonomous status of Tibet and demarcating the border between Tibetan territory and British India. The treaty followed years of political plays in the region between the British Empire, Russia, China, and Tibet, and was meant to solidify British India’s North-Eastern borders…

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June 29, 2020

The East India Company Crowns Mir Jafar Nawab of Bengal

On 29 June, 1757, Robert Clive of the English East India Company entered the city of Murshidabad, capital of the Nawabs of Bengal, accompanied by some 200 European officers. He was there to greet his new ally, Mir Jafar Ali Khan, a general under Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah who had betrayed him shortly before that day, and who expected to be named the new Nawab of Bengal for his service to the East India Company…

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June 28, 2020

The Times of India Carries an Obituary for Democracy

On 28 June, 1975, the Mumbai edition of the Times of India carried a small obituary for a Mr. “D.E.M O’Cracy”, who had perished three days earlier on June 26. The Indian Express, meanwhile, carried a blank editorial. On the night of the 25th of June, India had entered a state of Emergency in response to ‘internal threats’ to India’s democracy. Civil liberties were suspended and censorship of the media was imposed…

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June 26, 2020

Madhya Pradesh is Declared the 'Tiger State' of India

On 26 June, 1995, the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh was declared the preeminent ‘Tiger State’ of India. The government of Madhya Pradesh was lauded for its conservation efforts; its tiger population constituted some 10% of all living tigers…

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June 24, 2020

The Indian Opposition Resigns from Parliament to Protest the Bofors Scandal

On 24 June, 1989, 73 Members of Parliament in the Lok Sabha, the Indian lower house, resigned their positions and walked out of the chamber en masse. The move was a public protest of the government’s handling of a massive scandal centered around arms procurement. Their actions would shake faith in the Indian government, radically affect the results of the general election held that year, and change the face of Indian politics for decades…

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June 22, 2020

Humayun Wins the Battle of Sirhind

On 22 June, 1555, the armies of the Mughal Emperor Humayun and the warlord Sikandar Shah Suri met near Sirhind, in what is now the Indian state of Punjab. After 15 years in exile from India, Humayun had come to reclaim the territories in India conquered by his father, Babur

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June 21, 2020

India and China Agree to Reopen the Nathu La Pass

On and around 21 June, 2006, news agencies in India, China, and across the world began reporting that trade between India and China through the Nathu La Pass would be reopened. Connecting the Indian state of Sikkim to the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, the Pass had been closed to civilian and commercial travel since the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962

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June 19, 2020

ISRO Launches India's First Communications Satellite

On 19 June, 1981, the European Space Agency launched an Ariane-1 rocket from their Guiana Space Center in South America. Among its payload was India’s first communications satellite, the Ariane Passenger Payload Experiment or APPLE, meant as a testbed for the technological capabilities of the Indian Space Research Organization, ISRO…

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June 14, 2020

Congress Passes the Partition Resolution

On 14 June, 1947, members of the All-India Congress Committee of the Indian National Congress met in New Delhi to vote on a resolution. The resolution was about the acceptance of the Mountbatten Plan for the Partition of India into two sovereign entities; a Hindu-majority nation and a Muslim-majority nation. The Congress delegates present on June 14 overwhelmingly voted ‘yes’.

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May 28, 2020

The First Pakistani Nuclear Test

On the 28th of May, 1998, there were minor earthquakes in parts of Balochistan Province, in Pakistan. The cause became clear a day later, when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif addressed the nation; Pakistan had just successfully tested a nuclear weapon.

Truth be told, the test had been a long time coming. India had first detonated a nuclear explosive over 20 years previously in 1974, the famous ‘Smiling Buddha’ test. One would expect Pakistan to have wasted no time conducting their own test, to bring a certain equilibrium back to the power balance of the subcontinent….

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May 24, 2020

The beginnings of the Naxal insurgency

On 24 May, 1967, in West Bengal, dozens of laborers and tribals armed only with bows and arrows attacked a force of 50 police officers, killing their commander. The resulting uprising across the state would grow into the larger Naxalite-Maoist insurgency in India. Since then, the Naxals have aimed to violently overthrow the Indian state and replace it with a Communist government on Maoist lines. The resulting conflict has claimed some 15,000 lives since 1996.

Uniquely for its time, India’s far-left uprising wasn’t a response to a right-wing government. The economic Right in India was nonexistent as a political force, lingering only through the occasional magazine or think tank; exactly two years after the Naxalbari uprising, in 1969, The Economist referred to India’s ideological spectrum as ‘left, lefter, leftest’ where economic policy was concerned. The question at hand in West Bengal, and indeed all over India, was not “Should India be socialist?” so much as “What kind of socialism?”…

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