In a time of fear and turmoil, we must remember the true identity of India
Barely a few months ago India was in an optimistic mood, echoing Robert Browning’s confidence in his poem:
The year's at the spring
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn:
God's in his heaven—
All's right with the world!
But today we are more with WB Yeats, who wrote:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre,
The falcon cannot hear the falconer,
Things fall apart,
The centre cannot hold,
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world!
The time has come, therefore, to examine whether the panic is real or it is only symptomatic of the political division of India, because of which some have begun to look at even reasonable reforms in Jammu and Kashmir and citizenship rules as disasters. It is also time to look at the inherent strengths of India, which have stood India in good stead over centuries of crises.
I recall a book written by a veteran Japanese diplomat, Ichiro Kawasaki, in 1970, when Japan was at the height of its popularity and prosperity and was nursing super power ambitions. Japan showcased itself at the Expo 70 in Osaka to celebrate its resurrection. But the book, ‘Japan Unmasked’ made it clear that Japan did not have many of the ingredients that a super power must have like vast territory, huge population, unlimited natural resources, a strong military with nuclear capability and others. The book deflated the ego of Japan, but they decided to limit their ambitions to be an economic power.
Dr Abdul Kalam had Kawasaki’s prescription in mind when he predicted that India would have super power status by 2020. India has the inherent strength to overcome any crisis because of the strengths of a civilisation, which has outlived many other civilisations, which have gone into the dustbins of history.
It is universally recognised that India’s spiritual values and culture are its biggest strength. Even when India was a colony, a fledgeling democracy, which could not feed itself, or a defeated nation at the hands of China, the world praised us for the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Buddha and the Mahatma. Even today, when India is one of the world’s technology leaders, people speak of the Indian wisdom, its strategy and the Chanakya approach. We can fall back upon them in times of need.
Another unique feature of India is the fact that Gandhiji brought moral values and ahimsa into national and international politics. The newly independent world was dazzled by our freedom struggle, our championship of decolonisation, disarmament, development, non-alignment and human rights and acknowledged India as the leader. These remain our strengths in the eyes of the world.
India’s big and diverse population is no more considered a liability, but an asset. We will soon have a young population, with 402 million people between 15 and 59 years, the youth, which has been redefined. The demographic dividend will be a strength in the years to come as India will have enough people to manage the world. We do not speak of the brain drain anymore, we speak of brain gain and brain overflow these days and our economy has grown with the remittances of Indians from abroad.
Education is most important in gaining from the demographic dividend. India has a long tradition of education, but we have lagged behind in recent years and we have to catch up with the fast pace of education reform. We still have a 19th century mindset and a 20th century syllabus to train the youth for the 21st century. But the strong traditions of Nalanda and Thakshasila can be revived for the benefit of the country.
Democracy, secularism and non-alignment were natural choices for India at the time of independence and they still remain our strengths. No other democracy of our size and complexities exist in the world and the challenges of the past have resulted in the strengthening of democracy. Similarly, the constitution of India is a mix of the many provisions of the best constitutions in the world, together with provisions which are germane to our own genius and requirements. Many suspect that the present government might change the constitution, but nobody swears by the constitution as much as the present Prime Minister does. The Fundamental Rights have new devotes now, but no party can upstage the constitution as ours is not a banana republic. The constitution is India’s main strength.
The caste system in India has been widely criticised, but we should not forget that it was a social framework for various professions to flourish. Much has changed since Indian education has progressed, but it is the minorities who want to retain the reservation system. The caste system will disappear only if the society is ready to give up the benefits of the caste based reservation system.
Agriculture is still the backbone of the country and a major strength. Similarly, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) have been developed to match even the most advanced countries. All these give India the muscle to build India and to deter enemies.
Last, but not least, is our robust foreign policy, which has evolved over the years. We have been very inventive and innovative in dealing with the various crises which have challenged us. The Chinese aggression, the establishment of the Non-aligned Movement, the Bangladesh war, the nuclear tests of 1974, self-sufficiency in food grains, the developments in Afghanistan, the end of the Cold War, the nuclear tests of 1998, the nuclear deal of 2008 and many other opportunities and challenges were met by various governments with a broad consensus in foreign policy. The foreign policy of India is well understood around the world and our friends have been loyal to India, regardless of the ideology of the party in power.
President Donald Trump’s speech at the Namaste Trump event was testimony to the inherent strengths of India. He said: “India’s rise as a prosperous and independent nation is an example to every nation all over the world and one of the most outstanding achievements of our century. It is all the more inspiring because you have done it as a democratic country, you have done it as a peaceful country, you have done it as a tolerant country, and you have done it as a great free country.
“There is all the difference in the world between a nation that seeks power through coercion, intimidation, and aggression, and a nation that rises by setting its people free and unleashing them to chase their dreams. And that is India.”
President Trump went on to speak about Swami Vivekananda and other spiritual leaders and even Bollywood and cricketeers. If only he had pronounced the names of Vivekananda and Sachin Tendulkar correctly, it would have been a perfect catalogue of India’s strengths.
The strengths of India will endure, whether they are recognised by the world or not. They will sustain us through the challenges and crises that a nation of its size and complexity must face. Leaders come and go, they are mere custodians of the great heritage at particular times in history, but India will prevail.