86 The End Of The Raj 1947 "THE JEWEL in the crown," the British called their most prized possession, to which they first traveled for spices and silks 300 years ago. And once it was no longer theirs, in 1947, the world's most powerful empire began to unravel.
Colonial rule of the vast South Asian subcontinent didn't officially begin until 1857, after Indian soldiers led an unsuccessful revolt against the British East India Company, which had effectively controlled the country. But India's Western-style schools only fired the nationalist movement, creating a middle class that questioned its dependent, "racially inferior" status. In 1930, Mohandas Gandhi, who preached nonviolent resistance, led thousands of followers on a 200-mile march to the sea, where they made salt in defiance of British tax laws. By the mid-1940s, Britain's resources had been sapped by World War II, and the country's slogan, "The sun never sets on the British Empire," had lost its moral certainty. After India gained its independence, there was little to stop the dominoes from toppling: Palestine in 1948; Ghana, the first of Britain's African colonies to go, in 1957; and in 1997, its last significant outpost, Hong Kong.
Fifty years after winning their independence, more than 900 million Indians--many still mired in poverty--make up the world's largest parliamentary democracy.