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European traders had established outposts in the Indian subcontinent by the 17th century. Through overwhelming military strength, the British East India company subdued local kingdoms and established themselves as the dominant force by the 18th century. Following the First War of Independence of 1857, the Government of India Act 1858 led the British Crown to assume direct control of India. In the decades following, civic society gradually emerged across India, most notably the Indian National Congress Party, formed in 1885. The period after World War I was marked by British reforms such as the Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms, but it also witnessed the enactment of the repressive Rowlatt Act and calls for self-rule by Indian activists. The discontent of this period crystallised into nationwide non-violent movements of non-cooperation and civil disobedience, led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
During the 1930s, reform was gradually legislated by the British; Congress won victories in the resulting elections.:195–197 The next decade was beset with political turmoil: Indian participation in World War II, the Congress’ final push for non-cooperation, and an upsurge of Muslim nationalism led by the All-India Muslim League. The escalating political tension was capped by Independence in 1947. The jubilation was tempered by the bloody partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan.