Indian society has its roots in the civilisation that developed in Indus River valley in the third millennium BCE. During the first millennium BCE populations from the Indus Valley spread into the Indian subcontinent, bringing with them a sophisticated culture that sets the template for India's complex religious and social system. By the 7th Century CE Indian is composed of about a dozen independent kingdoms sharing common traditions based around Hindu religious beliefs.

From the end of the 10th Century Islamic raiders begin to encroach from the northwest. Delhi becomes the capital of an Islamic kingdom at the start of the 13th Century. Over the following 100 years the impact of the Delhi Sultanate is felt across all of India.

The Mughals invade India in the 16th Century and establish the Mughal Empire. The Mughals are followers of Islam with predominantly Turkish ancestry. Their leader, Barbur, is descended from Mongol emperor Genghis Khan and Turco-Mongol conqueror Timur. Most of India is unified under the Mughals in the 17th Century but their rule quickly begins to crumble beneath the weight of corruption, mismanagement and factionalism.

Direct exposure to Europe begins in 1498 when the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama arrives on the west coast. Portuguese spice traders and Christian missionaries follow, establishing control over the enclave of Goa in 1510.

British influence in India commences in earnest at the start of the 17th Century with the entry of the East India Company and gains a stranglehold in the last quarter of the 18th Century when the British Parliament begins to regulate the way the company operates. The first British governor general is appointed in 1773.

Following an attempted rebellion by Indian soldiers of the British Indian Army in 1857, the British exile the last Mughal shah, abolish the East India Company and introduce direct rule under the British crown. The British Raj reaches its zenith at the end of the 19th Century, just as the seeds of its eventual demise are sown.

The Indian National Congress is formed in Bombay in 1885 as a debating society and lobby group composed of concerned Indian professionals and British citizens. The Hindu-dominated Congress becomes radicalised after 1900 and is soon the leading organisation within a broad-based movement to expel the British and obtain Indian self-rule.

However, the Congress fails to gain the support of Muslim Indians, who found the All-India Muslim League in 1906 as the voice of a "nation within a nation".

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