In cooperation with the FEFU Center of Expertise and Analysis (CES)
Independence Day of India while being a national holiday, is also a great opportunity for a reflection over the progress that India as a nation has achieved. Dmitriy Shelest, Vlad Shafransky specially for the Pan Pacific Agency.
This year’s celebration coincides with the “perfect storm,” which brings together a global economic crisis, COVID-19 pandemic, smoldering international conflicts, and a change in the configuration of the world order. At that point, the nation of the Indian subcontinent presents itself a certain enigma, the answer to which may be important not only for the Indians themselves, but also for the entire human civilization.
Before we began to work on this article about India, we had tried to outline and to understand what we would be talking about: about India as the most ancient of the existing civilizations or about a young state of India; about the ethnic groups for whom three-thousand-year-old hymns of Samaveda are a part of today’s culture or about a nation integrated in the global economy. The University of Cambridge professor and a native Indian Jaideep Prabhu described his compatriots as a meta-nation in 2014. We suggested India to be a community that is superior in organization of the structure of the European nations. Such an argument, in turn, is based on the assertion that India is not just a country. It is a civilization that exists within the framework of a young state. And accordingly, there are legitimate questions, which require answers both from the Indian government and from the citizens of the country. First, how is a state-civilization different from a nation-state? Second, what is more preferable for survival and development in our world: society as a civilization or society as a nation? At the same time, we might want to abandon an academic approach even within the framework of this opinion column. In fact, the answers to these questions can be found in Indian daily life even in the duration of the “perfect storm.”
In 2020, India was bombarded by problems and troubles as if they were gifts from Pandora’s box, and they can be described as “terrible”, “unexpected” or even “quite expected.” Nassim Taleb’s term “black swan” concept, which is used by the experts so often, well describes the notion that individually most of these problems were quite expected, but their totality took the shape of Black Swan spelled in the capital letters.
It is worth pointing out that this troublesome year began in December 2019, when the Indian parliament opposition put forward complaints to the government of Narendra Modi regarding the problems accumulated since the Bharatiya Janata Party has won the parliamentary elections in spring. These complaints capitalized on the nationalistic feelings of fellow citizens and on the disregard for the opinion of the opposition parties. That included the change of the status of Kashmir and adoption of a number of policies on citizenship, which elicited a mixed reaction in the Indian society. The problem of Kashmir is not new and has been previously exploited by India’s contestants, specifically by China and Pakistan. Shortly after that, in January 2020, a scandal, initiated by the Indian National Congress, broke out, where the country’s leadership was accused of transferring a defense contract to an affiliated company Adani Defense for a total of 45 thousand lakh (one lakh is one hundred thousand) rupees. According to opposition politicians, such a decision has gone into a direction contradicted the Defense Procurement Procedure of 2016. And on top of that, of course, the issues on the Indian national political landscape were complemented by the intensification of party confrontation at the level of Indian states.
Against this background, it would appropriate to recall a Russian proverb, “There would be no fortune, but misfortune helped.” From this perspective, the emergence of coronavirus pandemic has lowered the intensity of passions in the political space of India. This new problem has mapped out a new vector of action by both the government and the people. In some ways, it is surprising that a country with the population of over a billion people has been able to control the spreading of the COVID-19 outbreak and to minimize the death toll more effectively than many developed countries. Despite such consequences as the economic recession and the migration crisis, it can be argued that the Indian state has coped well with the first wave of the viral pandemic.
The next crisis has emerged as an armed conflict on the Indian-Chinese border, where both sides have suffered casualties. The death of servicemen on the Line of Actual Control in the Eastern part of Ladakh and the difficult conflict settlement by New Delhi and Beijing has clearly demonstrated the need to revise relations with the PRC and confirmed a peaceful nature of Indian foreign policy while India rigidity defends its national interests. Moreover, both India and China are interested in relieving tensions as violent attempts to resolve territorial disputes become a serious threat to the global development.
While considering only the challenges listed above, it can be argued that the actions of New Delhi, its regional governments, and the citizens of India have shown that both government and society are quite capable of addressing problems using modern political and economic methods along with traditional solutions. The phrase from the ancient scripture, Skanda Purana, “He is revered who thinks…” is quite compatible with the policy of modern development of the nation. The responses to these challenges were not so much reactive but rather thoughtful, strategic, and forward-looking. The likelihood of a political crisis was eliminated by numerous negotiations held and consensus achieved with the opposition forces. The problem of the spreading coronavirus pandemic was solved both by tightening the mechanisms of social control, and by doing painstaking work to explain the community the need of necessary preventive measures. The border conflict with one of the leading world powers, China, is also being resolved by holding five meetings of representatives of the armed forces of the neighboring countries, which presupposes a long-term unraveling of the tangle of the border conflicts. Economic problems are always a key factor in addressing of most of the issues of any developing country. In this regard, raising of both foreign direct and portfolio investments in the amount of over US$ 20 billion can be considered an obvious success. It should be borne in mind that the amount of cash injections against the background of the coronavirus pandemic is a fairly indicative evidence of the safety margin of the Indian economy. First of all, we are talking about the high-tech industry where the “record holders” are Google and Facebook who invested about US$10 and US$5.7 billion, respectively. The Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund also joined such projects with an investment of US$1.6 billion. No less significant are injections into industrial production from the Japanese Hitachi, as well as South Korean Hyundai Mobis and Kia Motors, as well as other investments in the manufacturing sector. *
Of course, many Indians might disagree with such an optimistic assessment of the current situation in the economy. And, to a certain extent, they might be right. But we are talking about the progressive development of the economy, where the differences in favor of India in 2020 as compared to India in the 1990s, 1970s, 1950s are certainly noticeable. And in this context, it is obvious that the “historical mandate” (in the words of Narendra Modi) of the incumbent prime minister is still in effect this year. Moreover, the credit of trust that people have no matter what they think of Modi himself, is associated not so much and not only with his specific political figure, but with the direction of where the society moves itself. This year’s celebration of Indian independence remains the standard that helps to see the degree of achievement of the ideal state of affairs by the government, by the society, and by individual citizens. The Republic of India has both enormous potential for the development and quite tangible threats that can throw the country back.
And in this regard, it is worth returning to the questions of the discussion of the current state of India: What is it – a civilization or a nation? A state that is a continuation of the Harappan period (three thousand years BC) or the nation that appeared on the contemporary world map as an independent country on August 15, 1947? In our opinion, synthesis of both of these dichotomies is obvious. Of course, we are talking about a tradition that exists both in the form of “normative documents,” such as the Vedic texts, and in the form of everyday cultural practices linked by the continuity of hundreds of generations, which is conveyed in other words in the Bhagavad-gita: “This great science was transmitted along the chain of spiritual teachers” (Chapter 4, 2), as the basis of a corresponding worldview and a way of life. In turn, the concept of dharma is based on the foundation of the Vedas and Upanishads, as a universal law personalized for each individual. In fact, we are talking about a unique civilizational code, which implies coordination of the steps taken by an individual person with the general order of the Universe. Of course, it cannot be said that all Indians are concerned in their daily practices only with the conformity to dharma. Nevertheless, the presence of this kind of concept in culture provides a key to the contemporary understanding of society. This is a combination of pragmatic activities of every individual with a certain personal humility, with the perception of oneself as a part of the whole (family, state, world), and with an ongoing constant search for personal boundaries. In general, this notion is based on the understanding of the relativity of any short-term decisions, any legal policies, or any given opinion in a stream of life, which is a subject to a single law. Dharma is for everyone and everything.
Another component of the synthesis is a civil society, which is fully consistent with the order and democratic values of the developed countries. The traditions of secularism laid down by the efforts of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, as well as many other Indians, defined the Indian nation as a community of all people inhabiting it who are not divided by linguistic, religious, or ethnic features. In turn, this approach is fancifully combined with the Hinduism-based communal approach as a system-forming factor and Hindutwa as its social embodiment. And everything discussed above, makes modern Indian society related to its millennial traditions. It is possible that Jawaharlal Nehru was thinking about such a combination when he wrote: “a certain dream of unity lived in the Indian soul, starting from the very birth of civilization.”
Thus, today we see a young state, which is based on a historical foundation of more than five thousand years. In the case of India, we witness the prevalence of the positive civilizational inertia over those adjustments that have been introduced, at best, within a recent century. We see democratic institutions drawing strength from the teachings of the wise rishis, high-tech businesses building on the relationships that are more kinship than a corporate subordination. Perhaps, Indians themselves might not see such a thing in their world order, perhaps they might be able to even give enough critical arguments about the current state of affairs in India. Nevertheless, the citizens of the Republic of India themselves, from a tea merchant on the street to a federal government official, always proudly appeal to the history of their country, giving their own understanding of the events that have taken place three hundred or even three thousand years ago.
Happy Independence Day, India!
Materials for this opinion column are provided by the Consulate General of India in Vladivostok. Text by Dmitriy Shelest and Vlad Shafransky. English editing by Ivan Pisarev