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India Today

Economy

India's independence from British rule in 1947 had huge repercussions throughout the country, which was then divided into India and Pakistan. The Indian National Congress party took control of India, and its socialist economy that ensued was characterized by government-controlled industry and limited international trade. While many beneficial policies were put into action, especially in respect of increased food production, the economy lagged, and in 1991 the International Monetary Fund bailed out the nearly bankrupt nation. Realizing the need for a new approach, the country opened its doors to economic reforms and began to embrace capitalism; significant economic changes were enacted, such as relaxed rules on foreign investment in trade, tax reforms, and inflation-curbing measures. Since then, the economy has been growing at an average pace of about 7% per annum.

Although agriculture is still the predominant occupation in India, employing 52% of the work force, the country's economy has diversified a great deal since independence in 1947: manufacturing, tourism, the hospitality industry, and the service sector have become major sources of economic growth.

In 2012 India had the second fastest-growing economy in the world, following burgeoning domestic demand for consumer goods and durables, as well as global demand for information technology and India's skilled, English-speaking software force.

For the most part, the Indian economy managed to dodge the economic slowdown that sent world economies into a downward spiral starting in 2008. Thanks to a relatively low dependence on exports, the GDP stayed at around 6.5% per annum, putting it among the highest growth rates of the major world economies. On the downside, though, with a population of more than a billion people and counting, issues like widespread poverty and inequality of resources continue to be a major concern. Maintaining and building new roads, creating equitable housing, countering sanitation issues, empowering women, and battling widespread corruption continue to be major challenges for the government.

Politics

In 2009 the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), a coalition of left-leaning national and regional parties was reelected, and Dr. Manmohan Singh, a veteran of the Congress party and a former finance minister, was chosen for the second time to lead the country as prime minister.

For much of the UPA's first term, the pressures of coalition politics influenced the central government's domestic and foreign policy—for instance, the Communist parties that were a part of the UPA until 2008 blocked the Indo-US bilateral accord on civilian nuclear cooperation, legislation that seeks to place India's civil nuclear facilities under international safeguards.

In the UPA's second term, the Congress party—the largest constituent party—has had a stronger presence in parliament.

Bilateral ties between India and Pakistan are a major focus of India's foreign policy, but peace talks between the two countries have been suspended since the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November 2008, carried out by suspected Islamic terrorists from Pakistan.

Technology and Science

In recent years India has made large advances in information technology and software services, and thanks to a large, English-speaking workforce, the country has also emerged as a major hub for the outsourcing industry in general. Indeed, the country's software companies alone earn up to 90% of their revenue by providing technical support to companies from Europe and the United States. Although the global economic slowdown marginally affected the galloping growth of the software sector, the industry continues to drive India's economic growth.

Despite some failures, such as the loss of India's first unmanned moon orbiter in August 2009, India is pursuing significant milestones in space technology. The government announced that the Indian Space Research Organization aims to orbit Mars by 2014 and launch a manned mission to the moon by 2015.

Religion

India is a secular country, as laid down by the Indian Constitution, but the vast majority of the population is religiously observant. Eighty percent are practicing Hindus, and the remaining 20% is made up of various religions, including Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Jainism, and Buddhism. In Mumbai there is a small but vibrant community of Parsis, as the Zoroastrians who settled in India several centuries ago are called. India also has as many as five native Jewish communities, who immigrated thousands of years ago and have their own unique customs. Religious festivals of many persuasions, such as Diwali (the Hindu Festival of Lights), the Muslim festival of Eid-ul-Fitr (which takes place at the end of Ramadan), and Christmas, are all celebrated with fervor.

The Arts

India has a rich cultural heritage dating back several thousand years. Classical music and dance have always been an important part of the social fabric, and each state has its own distinct folk styles as well, such as the Punjabi folk dance form of bhangra. The most popular of the modern-day performing arts, however, are the high-budget, song-and-dance extravaganzas that come out of Bollywood, as the Hindi film industry is popularly known. It is not unusual for India to produce nearly 3,000 movies a year, of which around a third would be feature films. In addition to Hindi films, many states also have thriving regional cinema industries. For instance, Chennai is home to the Tamil film industry, and Tamil superstar Rajnikanth is widely considered the highest-paid actor in the country.

India has had a rich legacy of literature, both in English and in regional languages. Since the early 1900s, when Bengali author Rabindranath Tagore won the Nobel Prize for Literature for the English translation of his collection of Bengali poems, Gitanjali, Indian writing has evolved and acquired a distinct voice of its own. British-Indian author Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children (1981), which dealt with the coming of age of the country following independence, also marked the coming of age of contemporary Indian writing in English. His narrative style, which combines historical fiction with magic realism, has had a major influence on postcolonial Indian literature. Authors like Vikram Seth, Arundhati Roy, Amitav Ghosh, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Kiran Desai have powerfully conveyed the idea of a dynamic, ever-changing nation through their writing.

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