Fact or Fiction: India Never Invaded Any Other Country
Fact or Fiction: In early 2022, the defence minister of India, Rajnath Singh, asserted that India, in its long history, had never invaded or tried to conquer another country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also said the same in 2016 in response to Pakistani terrorists’ Uri attack.
The presumption that India never attempted to colonise or conquer another nation is widespread in the country. On the other hand, the notion that India is one of the most invaded countries in the world is also true to some extent. On that note, we take a brief look at India’s history and try to determine if the belief that India never invaded another country is fact or fiction.
The Indian Subcontinent
India as a united country didn’t exist before 1947. There were several autonomous factions that frequently waged war on each other. However, during the reigns of the Marathas, Rajputs, Mughals, and Mauryas, the Indian subcontinent was mostly governed as one.
The northern plains have always remained a true part of India, along with the southern peninsula, even though they may have been governed by different rulers. However, at the peak of its power, the Maurya empire stretched from present-day Afghanistan in the west to the Himalayas in the north and Assam to the east. Indian influence is also found in southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia.
Historians still aren’t clear about what constituted India in ancient times, so it gets challenging to ascertain how and if India invaded other empires. But it’s safe to assume that any conquest by an Indian ruler outside the Indian subcontinent or on never-governed territory counts as an invasion.
India before 1947
Several powerful empires, including the Greeks, Mongols, and Persians, tried to conquer ancient India. All of them failed. During the numerous wars, there was back and forth transfer of land. Sometimes, a foreign invader would defeat an Indian state and claim its territory. Then, with help from other states, the land would be reclaimed by the same or some other Indian ruler a few years down the line.
Chandragupta Maurya even annexed the area beyond the Indus River after defeating Seleucus I Nicator. However, it was Seleucus who sparked the war and later surrendered the Hindu Kush after losing. That’s how most Indian empires gained new territory.
In the southern region, the Chola dynasty reigned supreme for 1500 years. The Cholas had a massive and powerful navy, which they used for maritime trade and defending their overseas territory and trade routes from pirates. However, the Cholas also invaded the ancient kingdoms of Srivijaya (present-day Sumatra) and Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
India After 1947
India claimed independence from the British Raj in 1947. After 90 years of official rule and 200 years of colonisation by the British, India was partitioned into two countries based on the dominant religions: India and Pakistan.
India and Pakistan have had strained relationships ever since, which have resulted in four full-blown wars. The Kashmir region is disputed and often attributed as proof of India’s misdeeds, but the truth is that parts of it are occupied by both China and Pakistan. And the only time India has ventured into the foreign territory is due to provocation or during wartime.
Although India gained independence in 1947, some regions still remained under foreign control. The Portuguese refused to cede Goa to India. On December 6, 1961, the Indian Army invaded Goa in Operation Vijay, resulting in the incorporation of Goa and the Daman and Diu islands into India.
Why India never attempted to colonise other regions?
Most wars happen out of necessity or greed. Indian rulers have always had enough resources to satisfy both. India’s northern plains have one of the most fertile lands in the world, the country has a huge coastline, and there is no dearth of coveted natural resources like coal and essential metals and precious metals. Plus, India was a major global trade hub throughout history.
However, the abundant resources and location were reasons why foreign powers sought to conquer India. After all, there is a reason India was called the "golden bird" in ancient times.
India’s influence on the World
Religion is another major reason for conquests. Whether it’s the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, or later Christians and Muslims, kingdoms have invaded other kingdoms to spread their religion and culture. India’s influence can also be seen in southeast Asia, where it grew due to trade and alliances.
Indian rulers sent emissaries to spread Buddhism and Hinduism, but the campaigns were peaceful. Mauryan Emperor Ashoka even gave up fighting and embraced Buddhism after witnessing rampant bloodshed during his conquest of Kalinga. Buddhism is today the majority religion in Myanmar, Cambodia, China, Japan, Mongolia, Thailand, and Vietnam.
After thorough research, it can be concluded that the belief that India never invaded another country is untrue. If going by the definition of invasion, India has done so plenty of times. However, what PM Modi and Rajnath Singh said is also true. India never invaded another sovereign country for territory or colonisation on the scale that the Europeans did. And Indians have sacrificed their lives to maintain global peace on many occasions as well, like in the World Wars.
Most of the attacks took place as precautionary measures, for self-defence, to reclaim old territory, or due to strained relationships, like in the case of the Chola attack on Srivijaya. But technically, they were invasions. Hence, it’s fiction that India never invaded or attacked another sovereign state.