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A defence ministry document noting Chinese ‘transgressions’ in eastern Ladakh that was hurriedly disowned last week has reignited the debate on the extent of territory that India may have lost to China. Chinese incursions in the region have revived memories of the bloody 1962 war, and brought the world’s two largest armies face-to-face in a tense stand-off along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) separating the two countries.

The current bone of contention may be in Ladakh, but India’s border dispute with China extends all along the Himalayan range. China still claims large parts of Arunachal Pradesh on its official maps. Although the eastern Himalayan border has been largely peaceful this time, it faced the brunt of the Chinese attack in 1962. Chinese troops had then advanced up to Tezpur in Assam, handing India a humiliating defeat, before moving back. The 1962 war allowed China to consolidate its position in Aksai Chin. India claims Aksai Chin as part of Ladakh but China claims it as its own territory, and had been making incursions since the 1950s, before cementing its hold in 1962.

Northern borders

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Graphic: Mint


After the mid-June Galwan valley clash that claimed the lives of 20 Indian soldiers, China claimed the entire valley as its own territory. It has also claimed other disputed parts of the border along the Depsang plains and Pangong Tso lake as its own, positioning its troops to mark its claims. India has demanded that Chinese troops move back to their old positions, and status quo ante be restored. If that does not happen, it will mark one of the most significant border changes in decades.

India’s external boundaries have been relatively stable since the mid-eighties but there was considerable flux till that time. Through conquests, wars, and accessions, India both gained and lost significant chunks of territories in the first few decades following India’s independence in 1947.

Timeline

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Graphic: Mint


On 15 Aug 1947, when India gained freedom, its map was still unclear. Several princely states had yet to decide how and on what terms they would join the Indian Union. The Indian army played a key role in annexing Hyderabad in September 1948 but integration of independent territories through other means also led to changes in its map. Junagadh in Gujarat joined India through a plebiscite in February 1948. The north-eastern states of Manipur and Tripura joined India following merger agreements in 1949.

The first major crack in India’s territory appeared in January 1949 when the United Nations intervened in the Indo-Pak war. India retained two-thirds of the Kashmir valley while Pakistan was granted control over Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK). In 1963, Pakistan would hand over a part of the territory it had acquired in the Ladakh region - the Trans Karakoram tract - to China.

Western borders

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Graphic: Mint


In 1984, the Indian Army seized control over the Siachen glacier as part of Operation Meghdoot. While Siachen was considered part of India in its official documents, Pakistan had begun showing it as part of its territory in its official maps since the 1960s, following up with travel expeditions in the 1970s. Operation Meghdoot put an end to Pakistani ambitions by seizing control over the entire glacier just when the Pakistani army was reportedly planning to move into the area.

Since then, the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan has remained largely unchanged. Although Pakistani infiltrators did manage to secure a toe-hold in Kargil in 1999, they were evicted in the war that followed.

There were also several additions to India’s territory till the 1970s. The Indian Army was deployed to annex Goa in 1961. The French enclaves of Pondicherry and Chandernagore joined India through referendums. Sikkim joined India the same way in 1975, and remains the last territory to merge with India.

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Graphic: Mint


In several cases, India has deployed quiet diplomacy to resolve its border issues with friendly neighbours. In 1953, India handed over the Kabaw valley in Manipur to the Burmese government as a goodwill gesture. In 1974, India handed over the island of Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka.

India was also able to solve a major border dispute with Bangladesh in 2015, with mutual exchange of territories. India’s boundary dispute with Nepal has flared up now as a new source of friction in the neighbourhood. But that may still be easier to resolve than India’s deep-rooted conflicts with its two nuclear-armed neighbours.

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