Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Diary : India's Asian Future

India is a strange country. It is truly central to Asia, sitting right between the Middle East and Far East from the modern European perspective. Indian scholars like to point out that it has always been the meeting ground of ideas and civilizations; we should add that this is primarily because of its geography than anything else. It was always easier to get into India than to get out of it, and India has accumulated an wealth of knowledge and possibilities from the various tribes that set foot on its land.

There was a distinct shift in India's history, however, during the last 500 years. The intruders of the age came from its south - via the sea - rather than across the Himalayas. This time, the Europeans sought to change India forever, by creating a country within a country, and by tearing a group of people apart and made them more like themselves rather than their fellow Indians. This was a brilliant strategy and it sure worked - for a while. While this contributed to a long term economic decline and destruction of India's military power, it also connected the country closely with Europe, where exciting technological and cultural developments will take place in quick succession, leading to unbroken hegemony of European powers over World affairs till the 1940s. This shift also prepared India to align itself well with the emerging American power, which essentially drew from the European culture and took advantage of the flight of knowledge and money during the destructive European wars in the Twentieth century. However, throughout this journey, when a class of Indians looked outward to the West and aligned themselves with the European/ Americans, the country moved away from itself, and its deep history and culture and its Asianness.

Now is a moment to rethink this once again, as the balance of power in the world has started shifting. The European/ American civilizations were structured to thrive in the world of plenty, and of individual enterprise and of pursuit of material wealth. There are three important changes today which is, however, exposing the shortcomings of these civilizations. First, we are entering an age of scarcity, where the earth's climate will put a limit to what we can materially have. The European/ American cultures are not prepared yet to adjust to this new world of scarcity and limited resources. Second, following on from this world of scarcity, cooperation and community feeling are suddenly gaining its lost importance. Individual action, while still important, is no longer enough to ensure progress. Here, the more communitarian Asian cultures are better prepared to address the requirements of the world compared to the more individualistic European ones. Third, the European/American societies, at the same time of reaching to the height of human achievement through individual enterprise, have hurled majority of their citizens to despair and nothingness. The social fabric has been maintained through the invention of Welfare state, but, to the new generation of policy-makers, it has become a drag and both the rhetoric and the reality point to severe reduction of the scope and depth of welfare provisions in near future. However, to a visitor to a Western society, it seems that the unsung idea of the Welfare state is indeed the point - that is exactly what sustained these societies and allowed enterprising individuals to pursue individual wealth without guilt - and the coming demise of the welfare state will severely undermine the social structure of these nations. So, over to Asia soon - when the Asian economies and Asian values may take the lead again.

Justify Full
India is not prepared for this shift. Besides, India has followed the Western model of social and political organization so far and incurred great internal costs in doing so. Indian democracy was a great achievement, but there exists no benchmark to tell us whether that is the best we could do. However, one thing is for sure: While India's economic progress is being celebrated, it is going through a terrible strife internally - not just the increasingly divisive civil war raged by the Maoists in the Indian heartland, but also the deep alienation of its Muslims and other minority religions, the regionalism which is standing on the way of true national integration and the very real economic discrimination among the states of India - and this needs to be resolved first if India is to continue its journey towards progress and economic development.

Part of the solution indeed lies in returning to Indianness, which is deeply embedded in India's asianness. One must start by looking at Indian values, and by no means, I am advocating a regressive traditionalism. Indian values as relevant to the modern world and there are plenty to draw from, indeed. One of the key things in this quest is a respectful, balanced assessment of India's past, but one should do this at peace and not to construct any thesis to discriminate against any community. But, also, India should look into future and try to connect to its Asian neighbours and partners.

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