Here is an “Indian Realist” exclusive! I present to you the transcript of the talk given by Rajiv Malhotra as part of the Ram Krishna Hegde Memorial Lecture at Delhi’s India Habitat Centre on February 2, 2009.
It is a brilliant peice. Here goes:
Where is India in the Encounter of Civilizations?
By Rajiv Malhotra
Thank you very much for inviting me. It is honor to be here. And thank you very much for the invitation.
I did not have the honor of knowing or meeting Mr. Hegde personally. But Bharadwaj gave me some reading material which was very informative and very impressive. And in fact the rise of disruptive forces, which was already referenced, is an extremely important lecture he gave in 1992. It resonates with lot of my own work.
How much I wish he were here as a collaborator! Because I am trying to take forward the same sort of ideas which he mentioned in 1992 and a lot of what I am going to talk about is where these disruptive forces are today.
It turns out that the disruptive forces have become stronger and more institutionalized and more organized but worst of all they have become internationalized and linked with global forces. So while Hegde talks about Khalistan movement, North East movement, Dravidian movement and various other disruptive movements, in that era before the globalization, they were contained locally within certain space and there were no connections with forces outside of the country, global nexuses, which now exist. And that would be an important part of what I want to talk about.
“Disruptive forces” – Centrifugal forces
Some of my research interests, which I am presenting in this lecture, have to do with India’s centrifugal forces, which are what Hegde would call the disruptive forces. Centrifugal forces are as you know anything that tears the system apart. And these are both external and internal. Internal disruptive forces are today known as communalism and also socio-economic disparities of various kind.
There is another dimension of centrifugal forces which are external. It is not just Pakistan stirring up disruptive forces in India; it is not just China linking up with Maoist forces in India; it is not just Baptist church in North America stirring up separatism in North Eastern India and Dravidian separatism in South India. It is all of these and more.
So the centrifugal forces are more complex and globalized. But there are also centripetal forces which are opposite which bring the nation together – for instance, development of the corporate kind, infrastructure building, and national governance – these kinds of things. They bring the nation together.
Nation’s Sovereignty and the Role of Civilization
I am interested in what is the role of civilization in preserving a nation’s sovereignty. In other words, can a nation be sovereign very long if it does not have the cohesive shared civilization? Can a random collection of people continue to exist as a nation with all these centrifugal forces unless there is some cohesive sense of identity that can bring them together?
I am also interested in the role of Indian civilization as a positive force in the world. What are its contributions to the world? That is an important area of my work. And finally what are the prospects for India and what are the pre-requisites for India to harvest and harness these prospects.
A civilization briefly defined, as I am going to use it, is a shared identity or the collective images that we have of us as a people, a collective sense of history and shared destiny we have. It brings a deep psychological bond that makes citizens feel that the nation is worth defending. If this bond does not exist, then what is the “we” we are going to defend, that we are going to make sacrifices for? So civilization is that which gives you the sense of ‘We’ – in a positive sense. Breaking the civilization is like breaking the spine of a person. If the social spine is broken then the nation is crippled and also behaves unpredictably.
Cynical Attitudes in India
I come across cynical attitudes in India with this regard. For instance there are people who say that there is no such thing as Indian Civilization. It is a hotch-potch of many things put together and that the British gave us a nation. So there is a debate on whether India is five thousand years old or sixty years old and where you end up on that debate tells a lot about your views on Indian civilization.
There are others who say that if there is an Indian civilization, then it is a bad idea because it is responsible for all our problems. It is what makes us primitive, oppressive and so on. Then there are those who feel that civilization and identity, whatever they might have been, they are obsolete. Because what we have is a flat world like Thomas L. Friedman says and that you are an individual in today’s meritocracy and the concept of identity with groups does not matter. I disagree and I will explain later why.
There is another attitude that differences are a bad idea. Anything that makes you different is potential for trouble. Therefore differences are to be eliminated. I hear this quite a lot here. On the other hand one could say that differences are to be celebrated. That is a world view that Indians have. That is an ancient world view that says differences are inherent in nature. They are an inherent part of the fabric of reality of the Cosmos. Plants, animals, and seasons – everything has differences built in to them. Differences are built into the way human beings are composed – in their bodies and minds and their cultures and languages. So difference can be celebrated.
If you know how to celebrate differences which I see as the quintessential Indian contribution in civilization, then you do not have the problem which you have when you feel difference has to be eliminated. Because the moment you say difference has to be eliminated, well then how do you do that? Do you change to me, to my way, to eliminate difference? Or do I convert you to be like me so you do not have the anxiety over different?
Do I genocide you because it bothers me because you are different so that I can get rid of you? Do I enslave you? All these are things that happen in the name of eradicating difference and to have one world. And we actually face more problems as opposed to learning how to live with difference and celebrate it.
Finally even discussing the topic of an encounter of civilization is often viewed with great suspicion. People think that there is some kind of a conspiracy theory going on or some kind of a negative thing going on and it would be better off if we talk about just how every thing is great and we are singing and dancing and doing Bhangratogether- kind of like a Bollywood ending. People often tell me to make sure to have a Bollywood ending in the talk. But I am not sure I would live up to that.
There is also another prevailing attitude which I call escapism. Escapism is this very lofty and apathetic kind of approach moralizing which says things like “There is no other” “We believe in everything. All paths lead to the truth” “We survived for five thousand years and will survive no matter what.” “We have the truth and the mantras and the deities on our side” and “in any case it is all maya / mithya so why bother” But even great spiritualists like Sri Aurobindo wrote aggressively against this mindset as defeatist, other-worldly, world-negating mindset which is not what true spirituality is about. True spirituality is about engaging the world and dealing with the issues.
Then there is another kind of escapism which accepts the problems but does not accept the responsibility and tends to see it as some one else’s problem like saying “USA will do this for us.” If not United States, then it is United Nations. It is like putting us for adoption and I keep saying an elephant is too big to be adopted. You cannot look into today’s world for a guardian parent. You have to look after your selves. That is the message of my today’s talk that looking at all the options, you have to come down and take responsibility in your own hands for India and its civilization.
“Disruptive forces – Fragments
I want you to recollect Hegde’s 1992 speech “The Rise of Disruptive forces,” in which he lists half a dozen, what he calls, “disruptive forces.” These forces I term as ‘fragments.’ These are identities, these are sub-nations within India that are having a hard time with the rest of the country. Hegde says that these groups for thousands of years did not have any problem with each other or the nation and they were Ok. It was too much interference into their internal affairs which has caused reaction from these groups and so they are becoming disruptive.
As this talk unfolds you will see that how I am actually picking that theme and observe how it has developed over the last sixteen or seventeen years. We will see how these disruptive forces have become fragments and how these fragments have become global movements with India as sort of epicenter for these global movements.
Three Scenarios for India’s Future
I will present three scenarios for India taking into account the global civilizational encounter and India’s internal fragments that are in tension with each other. Scenario A is where I shall spend lot of my time. It is a negative scenario. And this has to be discussed and understood before we can move on.
Scenario A is that India’s fragments get taken over as parts of the West, Pan-Islam and China. Scenario B is that Indian “culture” succeeds globally but Indian nation-state disappears. (“India is not a nation but a culture.”). Scenario C is that India emerges as a thriving nation-state with its own civilization and helps the world.
Scenario A says that India’s fragments, that is, all the disruptive forces will be taken over by others. Some parts will go to the West, some parts may belong to pan-Islamic expansion and some may be taken over by China. So India may actually disintegrate or large parts of it may be taken over by others. This I call “fragmentation and disintegration of India” scenario. And I will talk a fair amount about this.
There are people who say “India is not a nation but a culture. So why defend it?” We are not a nation, we are a grand new system, they argue. We are an idea. As long as the culture lives, whether the nation lives or not is immaterial, they say. I consider this scenario B as basically short-lived. If scenario B happens, then it will quickly be followed by scenario A . Soon, neither India will exist, nor its culture. This is because once the nation is not there to act as the container, as the vehicle or the vessel which nurtures and protects and projects its unique culture, then the culture sort of scatters and gets eaten up by various other civilizations. Soon that culture will also dissolve. It will become part of various other entities and lose its original self. So if Indian culture has to exist, it is important for the Indian nation to exist.
And then there is scenario C. It is a positive one which says that India emerges as a thriving nation-state with its own civilization and helps the world. Really, A and C are the only two real scenarios. Scenario B is sort of a very graceful and dignified way of ending up in scenario A. It is a way of saying “OK, we loose with honor. We are finished but we won because our culture thrives.” It is like the deer saying, “So what if the tiger eats me up. In the belly of the tiger, I will be alive and you know the tiger runs fast and I will be running fast and I will be part of his DNA and I will nurture him and make him a loving creature from within.”
But it does not work because after the deer has been eaten, the tiger remains a tiger. He is just a stronger tiger. So scenario B is kind of a delusionary kind of attitude that you hear very often, particularly from very spiritual minded people who would say: “What nation?! What do you want to defend? The culture is good. It is doing well. They eat our food and listen to our music and do our Yoga and wear our clothes and watch our Bollywood movies . So it does not matter whether there is India or not but as a culture we will survive.”
Globalization and Civilizational Competition
Globalization intensifies competition among civilizations because of factors such as scarcity of world resources, growth of population and increasing expectations of people, that is, everyone everywhere in the world wants to live the Page 3 American lifestyle though there are not enough resources to sustain this. There will be nine billion people on earth by the middle of this century. There are just not enough resources to make the American Page 3-type lifestyle possible for everyone in the world.
Then there is the collective power of a group identity. Groups worldwide are coalescing. Rather than the group identity weakening and dissolving over time, it is actually the opposite that is happening. Group identities are growing and strengthening. For example, in India vote banks — which are nothing but group identities — are intensifying. And if this is happening in India, why should we think that something similar is not happening in other parts of the world?
Group identities are developing and hardening on a global scale. The phenomenon that we in India call as “vote bank identity politics” is occuring at the civilizational level throughout the world. People feel that if they are able to negotiate and bargain collectively using group identities, they can get a much better deal. This is resulting in an intensified competition worldwide among various civilisational groups.
Top Three Civilizational Competitors
The West, China and Pan-Islam, each of these three civilisational groups publicly projects its claim of being a superior civilization than others and asserts its plan of total world domination. The West represented by the United States certainly feels that it is the world leader and does not want to give up that claim. China feels that by the middle of this century, it can claim the Number One position in the world in every respect. This is a claim China makes publicly and there is nothing to be embarrassed about it. And, of course, Islam has an age-old doctrinal commitment to world domination.
I realize here that my term ‘West’ is not a simple one and that America and Europe are separate entities. But I am going to continue to use it as my thesis is already complex. I can put five civilizations or eight civilizations instead of three (West, China and pan-Islam) but that will not change the bottom-line as far as India is concerned. So I am using only these three terms. I also realize that Islam is also a complex phenomenon and that there are many factions and types of forces within it. But for my purpose here, just calling it ‘Islam’ suffices.
Now, these top three civilizational groups have the following attributes. Each has collective super ego with common values as well as a chauvinistic grand narrative of history, such as who they are and how great their ancestors were, fully backed up with glorifying ideas and stories about them. Each is committed to achieving global dominance. Each actively nurtures its civilization and projects it via academics, education, media and international policy. This image projection is not something on the fringes of their existence, but is very consciously and deliberately pursued by them. This fact counteracts the Flat World individual meritocracy.
United States has got major projects going on all the time about its sense of history, its founding fathers, its parades, its monuments in Washington, the presidential libraries and great American flags that are seen everywhere – even outside a car dealership or outside a gas station. This generates a sense of shared nationhood and patriotism in Americans that is larger than life. And this trend is not going away. Instead, it is getting stronger by the day. All of this counteracts the idea of the flat world where one thinks “only my merit counts for me to succeed in this world” and so on.
Success Factors for Competing Civilizations
Now here I have taken a grid. I have put the three civilizations I have been talking about in this study. And I am looking at what are the success factors. I already talked about historical identity and a sense of manifest destiny. But also modern institutions are important as a source of strength. This grid I use in workshops with westerners with Chinese people with Islamic and try to figure out their ideas of who is where on this grid.
Success Factors West China Islam
Historical Identity and Manifest destiny
Now modern institutions have three forms of capital: there is financial capital; there is political/military capital and there is intellectual capital. Now we have a Varna system which can also be seen as a form of capital. In fact, that is how I see it and not as caste or privilege of birth and all that. Varnas are forms of capital. Financial capital is Vaishya and Kshatriyas are political/military capital. So laws, courts, Supreme Court, international treaties, United Nations – not just military but all governance thus becomes Kshatriya capital. Nations and civilizations need that.
Then there is intellectual capital – the knowledge, the know-how that is the Brahminical capital. So one could also say is that the job of the modern institutions in a civilization is to enhance its Vaishya capital, its Kshatriya capital and its Brahminical capital. This is a different perspective than the caste perspective.
Now if you look at China, they have a very explicitly stated plan and a definite mission to be the world leaders by the middle of this century in economic, military and civilizational terms. They have constructed a grand narrative of China which is formulated and projected with great force. It deals with how the Chinese civilisation began developing five thousand years ago on the bedrock of Confucianism, what is the great China story and how the Chinese became modern and how they are now moving on confidently to the future.
This is a very seamless and continuous story that the Chinese have constructed about themselves. This is what they are teaching their people and projecting to others. The Chinese government is doing a major promotion of Chinese positive history worldwide. The Chinese story has none of this undercurrent of shame and guilt that afflicts the Indians, with self-demeaning arguments such as “We are ashamed or we are guilty that we have abused people in the past, we are sorry for ourselves, we shall apologize for Indian civilization and for our existence to everyone who has taken offense.” The Chinese have none of this in the story of their civilisation that they have formulated for themselves.
A comparison of course curriculum of Chinese studies and Indian studies in the Harvard University is like comparing night and day. If you look at the topics of public talk on China, the available courses on Chinese civilisation and dissertations on China and contrast these with the Indian studies, it will reveal to you how China is projecting itself very positively in the world while India is not. The Chinese have established hundreds of Confucian study chairs worldwide. They have done this with the help of the Chinese government and their private sector and entrepreneurs. China Institutes exist in San Francisco, New York and many other places in the US.
The Chinese insist that they have their own strain of modernization which is different from Westernization. They assert that their youths are modernizing rapidly but they have their own approach to modernity which is uniquely Chinese. This approach rejects the notion that to modernise the Chinese youths have to mimic the West. The Chinese modernize using all consumables and modern technological marvels, but they make sure that there is a quintessentially Chinese philosophical and civilizational ethos behind their modernity.
In India, on the other hand, we often hear the debate if Indians should remain traditional or become modern. This argument implies that modernity and tradition are opposites that cannot be reconciled and if we have to become modern, we have to essentially become Westernized. This means that we are incapable of becoming modern in the Indian context.
Unlike the Chinese, we Indians lack a civilizational approach to modernity that is uniquely Indian. An Indian approach to modernity is considered an oxymoron in India, but the Chinese openly assert that they have their own version of modernity built around the essence of Chinese civilisation. They see no problem in being modern and Chinese at the same time. But Indians keep confusing modernity with Westernisation and abandonment of indigenous Indian traditions.
Pan-Islam has a theological grand narrative from God. China does not claim that their grand narrative is from God. It is something the Chinese have built up over time. But Islamic grand narrative is claimed to come directly from God which gives Muslims an identity, meaning and direction. Islam has a sacred geography. So, for example, the Kaba is sacred for Muslims and they cannot face any other direction such as the local Jama Masjid to pray. The sacred geography of Islam is unique.
Islam also has a literalist account of history. “Literalist” means it is not metaphorical and thus cannot be reinterpreted for modern times. All events of Mohammad’s life are considered actual historic events. You cannot mess with them. When God Himself is one of the protagonists in a historical event, you better not try to update what He might have said. You cannot amend such history because God Himself has spoken. It is literal history.
In addition, Islam has a pre-ordained trajectory into the future. Not only the past historical events of Islam are fixed, its future is also divinely pre-ordained and all Muslims have to live in a way to achieve that vision. Islam thus has a scenario of “us” versus “them” – Dar-ul-Islam (us) versus Dar-ul-Harb (them). But Islam is not just one monolithic or doctrinal entity. There are cultural variations in Islam. There are at least four. There is the Arab version and then there is the Persian version which is very different – their language is different and their history and links with Islam are very different.
There is also the Indic or South Asian version of Islam which is very eclectic and the most liberal of them all. It would probably be a very important asset for Indian civilization if it manages to harmonize with this version of Islam because it is a highly exportable model. Rest of the world has to learn how to live with Islam and India has the longest experience of doing that. Indian Islam is different than the type of Islam found elsewhere. Hopefully it can remain like that and not get taken over by the Saudi (Arab) version of Islam and similar forces.
Then there is the Western version of Islam which exists in Europe and US. People who are Islamic in the West have a whole new political and social value system. Finally, there are fringe movements in Islam to liberalize it but these remain just that — fringe movements. They do not have the center of power.
Islam is today poised where Christianity was when its reformation started. And once the reformation movement began in Europe, it took 200 years of fighting before the reformation could be firmly established and the Church-State separation could occur. The Christian Church no longer has Fatwa-like powers which it used to enjoy at one point in time. So Christians have a reference point to understand Islam because Islam is sort of pre-reformation Christianity in terms of where it stands today.
Civilizational Encounter Between US and India
Now I am going to focus on United States to give you the worst case scenario of how a foreign civilization can come and intervene in India. I do not do this because I have a problem with the United States. I have lived there. I love it and think that it is India’s best ally in terms of another civilization. I do this because I think Indians must understand the propensity of America. America does not have just one point of view. It has no stable point of view either – it keeps shifting, just like in the case of India where we have many points of view on a complex issue and the views shift over time.
The scenario I am going to develop also applies to Islam, China and other civilizations but I focus on United States because I have lived there for thirty-forty years. I know the US very well and have studied its history for the last ten years in a very systematic manner. Therefore I can talk about the US with better confidence. But the scenario I am going to outline for the US also applies to other civilizations in terms of intervention into India.
USA has some very positive things going on about India. Let us start with that. There is business success. I am also product of that business success of US. America’s gifts to Indian youth both for higher education and career opportunities are very well known. America has a love affair with Indian pop culture. That is also very encouraging. And India is America’s friend after 9/11. These are some of the positive things you can list.
USA’s Civilizational Threat Psychosis
However, America’s outlook is far more complex and unstable, and this is where I am going to develop my scenario. Before we start talking about India, we have to understand that America has its own problems with China as well as Islam. America has a dual psychosis in terms of civilizational threats that it perceives from these two.
I start with the left hand side of the chart and then go to right hand side. In the left hand side, there is a clash between US and China which I call the ‘clash of modernities.’ It is a clash of modernities because China is saying to the US that we are going to compete with you on modernity. The competition between China and US is based not on religion or ideology but on modernity, industrial economy, military, political power, consumerism and materialism. China says, “We are going to become more American than America itself!” And this assertion of China is what is eating America at the very core of its modern industrial society.
I call this a “Father-Son clash” because China’s industry has been sort of produced or exported by United States. It was US that has been sending capital to China from the Nixon-Kissinger era. The Americans sent the industries, the technology, and the machines, and they bought the finished goods. So the US actually transplanted its entire industrial complex and shifted it off to Pacific Ocean and China. Now the son (that is China) is saying to the US: “Thank you Dad. I learnt this from you. You gifted it to me. I have improved upon it. Now I can do better than you. And guess what. I am actually going to take you over. I am now better at this modernity than you are.” So there is a Father-Son clash over modernity going on between US and China. That is one of the two psychoses of United States.
The other psychosis which I have depicted in the right hand side is the clash of fundamentalisms. Islam is not looking for modernity. Muslims are not clashing with America because they have better machines and factories or they export more consumer goods than the US. They are not worried about that. Muslims are competing against fundamentalist Christianity and its rival claims over historical prophets each of whom claim finality. Christianity and Islam, each is claiming that it has got God’s franchise – in fact the exclusive franchise — and other franchise are bogus and hence not valid. Both say they have the franchise from Goa to take over the world.
This fundamentalism versus fundamentalism between American Christianity and Islam is also a ‘Father-Son Clash’ in the sense that Islam is an offspring of the lineage of Judaeo-Christian prophets. It is interesting that Islam as an offspring or sequel to Christianity is now taking on its own father. Islam says: “We respect Jesus and the prior prophets. What they say is true and we should respect them. But our prophet is more recent and supersedes.” It is like a lawyer saying that, “the contract you have is valid, but I have a more recent version. And the more recent version supersedes the older version. Not that your version is wrong but my version is better because it’s newer.” This is also the son taking on the father on the father’s own terms.
Now you can see that United States has got a problem because it considers itself as consisting of Christian ethos as also a very modern enlightened secular ethos. But both these are threatened by the two offspring or two civilizations which ironically America has created and gifted them the tools in a metaphorical sense.
Challenged America Hedging its Bets on India
How does all of this play into India? With the Chinese threat on one side and the Islamic threat on the other, a challenged America has developed a schizophrenic attitude towards India. This is what I will explain to you. United States is hedging its bets on India. That is why it is impossible to characterize America one way or the other with respect to India on a long-term basis.
I am going to go through the left hand side of the slide first which is the move to build up India. The right hand side of the slide says “Fragment India.” America has thus two opposing views on India. The “build up India” voices in American think tanks and policy institutes are saying, let us invest in India financial capital market and labor, let us have military alliances, let us have regional political alliances with India. And the benefit to US is that such alliances will counter China’s hegemony and contain Islamic threat. This will be good for US corporate interests and India will be a stabilizing force in the third world.
But there is also a caution at the bottom that says that if this happens and India becomes too successful then in the long term America will have another China-like threat. This scenario says: “One China is bad enough for the US. What if another brilliant people became another kind of China and are as successful in competing wth United States? Then America will have to worry about not one but two China-like threats.” So while there is a voice in American policy making circles that says let us build up India, there is also a voice that is concerned that India may get out of hand and become too strong. Therefore let us come to the right hand side of the slide that says” Let us fragment India.”
The “Fragment India” voice is a much older one than the “Build up India” voice. The “Build up India” voice is more of a corporate and political voice that has emerged only over the last ten years. But the “fragmentation of India” voice has been there since the cold war. In the fifties and sixties, United States had the attitude of divide and rule with respect to India. They built up the Dravidian movement, Annadurai was built up and all kinds of movements were built up to fragment India and play one group against the other. When Nehru was pro-Soviet, then the United States used the Dravidian movement to counteract Nehru’s programme of unifying India. So the fragmentation of India is a very old policy of the US. And it says, exploit dalits vs. the Brahmins, Dravidians vs. the so-called Aryans, women vs. men and minorities vs. the Hindus.
The benefits to the proponents of this voice are that United States will avoid China-like competition from India. With this approach, America can still outsource and use Indian workers. It can get a whole lot of cheap labourers from India but they will never get out of hand, they will never be too strong and they will never rebel against the US. America can still use the Indian workers on its own terms and keep them weak.
This “fragment India” approach will also accelerate evangelism in the subcontinent because when the state is weak, the evangelists can have clear paths and there will be less resistance to what they are trying to do. And think what a great market for weapons exporters will emerge in a fragmented India! Imagine if the army of Gujarat wants to buy tanks and the army of Maharashtra wants to buy anti-tank missiles. What a great thing this will be for American arms merchants! Their stocks will go up if there is a disruption in India. If the disruptive forces of Hegde would become outright civil war, that would be good news indeed for weapons exporters.
Now the United States is also very concerned if this fragmentation of India happens. It is good to talk about it but if it actually materializes then it is worst nightmare for United States to have anarchy or chaos in India. with India many times the size of Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan it would be the worst nightmare for United States if there is fragmentation of India.
US Interventions in India
So I call this the Mother-in-law syndrome. Do I want the couple to be united and happy or do I want them to fall apart? If they are too united, they will not listen to me. I don’t have a voice. I do not have the power. So I have to go and meddle around and play one against the other and create some friction. But then if that gets to the point they would divorce and go apart , then again I am in trouble. So I kind of play between these two poles and do not want either pole to happen too much. So United States’ policy towards India keeps vacillating between these two poles of “Build up India” and “Fragment India” And you cannot expect a long term stability in the way.
I have also been studying for the past decade various US interventions in India. And this is a very significant chart. At the top is the United States – Academy, Government, Church, Funding agencies – how they work together and fund the money with US ideology in training, leadership training, all kinds of things to be done in India and India receives that through the academy, funding agencies, church subsidiaries, NGOs and so on. This is a kind of asymmetry because India does not do this up in the other direction.
And the way India is deconstructed, is shown here. This is how the “Fragment India” tank of the US looks at India: they look through both the secular lenses shown in the left and the Biblical lenses in the right and in between are the problems they study.
So the first building blocks to study are the castes, minorities and women. They keep showing that they have problems; they are oppressed and the civilization is bad. This feeds into a negative approach to Hinduism. And the negative approach to Hinduism feeds a negative approach to Indian civilization. Finally at the top there is a group of scholars who look at why India is not a valid nation-state; what is wrong with it and what are the human rights problems and other kinds of problems. So this is the kind of deconstruction of India template, if you will, which is quite commonly found in South Asian studies.
By the way I have looked at the last thirty two years of conferences on South Asia which is held at Madison every year. I got all the proceedings and abstracts. They were surprised that somebody wanted to buy all of them. It portrays India as an anti-progressive country, frozen in time, poverty-causing like a patient with caste, Sati, dowry, feticide, untouchability etc with West as the doctor. Further India is mystical and the West is rational. Whenever I hear this very common statement in United States, I say “Look. The chances are that your doctor is Indian. He is not irrational or with some mystical background. And the chances are that the lot of technology you are using is Indian and it is not created by a bunch of mystical people but by pretty rational people. So why do you keep thinking that way? It is just one of the old stereotypes that have not gone away.”
Invasion Theory of India
Then there is this idea that everything good about India was imported into India. The so-called Aryans brought Sanskrit. The Greeks brought philosophy and rational thought; Hinduism was a colonial construction; Indian culture was started by the Mughals and British gave Indians a nation and cricket and now we have to import our human rights from America. So everything we need we should import.
And I call this the invasion theory of India which means if we want something we should select who is the best invader who will give that to us. So we do not have any selfhood or we do not have any civilization we need to be invaded to have something of value. And this means that we are doomed to dependency also.
Now what caught me started on this course of understanding America’s intervention with India’s break up was a very interesting meeting I had with a scholar in Princeton University. We were just sitting and having lunch and he has just come back from India and I said “What did you do in India?” And he said “Oh I went there as part of the Afro-Dalit project” So I asked him what is this Afro Dalit project. So he said, “Oh we go to India we do youth empowerment and training programmes” I said “It is very interesting. Can you tell me what it is? Who are the Dalits?” And he said “Well. … They are Africans. They are the blacks of India and the non-Dalits are the whites of India. And this is the black-white history of India which is mirroring the black white history of America. And the Afro-Dalit project is to educate our Dalit brothers.” This was amazing to me. And my whole thesis started when I started searching on Afro-Dalit project.
And there is a whole library of what they are up to and who funds them. And they are very much active in Tamil Nadu building up a whole network of youth empowerment and youth training to give them a contrary sense of history that they are historically a kind of oppressed people and non-religious and so on. The Church has a vested interest in it because if you can dislocate their identity from the rest of India then you can re-programme them and give them a new religion and so on. This is called Dalitstan project.
So I was invited to this scholar’s office. And I saw this map. This is the map of the Dalitstan that was hanging there. On the northern part is Mughalstan which is from Afghanistan, Pakistan and all the way to Bangladesh. This turns out to be what Mullah Omar says when he states that he wants to put the flag of Taliban on the red fort of Delhi and recreate the Mughal Empire. And the southern part of India is Dalitstan and Dravidstan. So these guys are working on it.
So I was very much amazed that nobody is talking about it. Nobody seems to have noticed. Yet these guys have an open project. If you just Google Afro-Dalit you will come across a lot of hits and you yourself can see that. Then I started getting deeper into it and found that there is merit in the thesis that says that the local minorities are being appropriated by global nexuses. Afro-Dalit Project is just one example.
“Disruptive Forces” – Frontier India
So Hegde’s “Disruptive forces” of 1992 have turned into Frontier India mindset where the following wild things are happening. Local minority is co-opted as a branch office of some Global Nexus; many minorities are apart of some global majority and are used for trans-national agendas; third world intellectual franchises are set up to deconstruct their own nation.
It is very interesting that America’s very own sense of nation is becoming stronger and stronger and also the nation of China, the nation of Russia and the nation of Japan are becoming stronger and they are not deconstructing. They are not going out of style. And the European Union is becoming a strong super nation. But somehow the intellectual fashion of the day that is being exported to Indian intellectuals and third world intellectuals is that please go back to your country and deconstruct yourselves. We have to ask them to first do that to themselves.
Now you may say that there is a lot of post-modernism in American campuses and they are doing it to them also. But they are doing it from the fringes. The people who are doing it do not have clout. Nobody takes them seriously. The media does not quote these kind of people. They are not policy makers. They do not influence think-tanks. They just are cocoon in the academy and doing some deconstruction of America but the powers to be are very patriotic and the nation state is as strong as ever.
Minorities as Part of Global Majorities
So this also led me to question the definition of minority. And I want to leave this provocation with you.
If you are at the Macdonald’s in Delhi and you have local establishment with twenty employees you would not say that this is a minority institution. You would say that it is part of global empire. It is part of a huge global multi-national. Some one may say that all these twenties are from minority classes in India. You will still not be convinced because as individuals working there may be minorities in their personal capacity. But the institution they are working for is a branch office of a large multinational and not a minority.
Now why don’t you not apply the same thing to the Southern Baptist Church or Baptist Church which is a huge multinational which has set up a big network of churches in Nagaland and Tamil Nadu and they have a plan of twenty thousand churches in South India. So why do you call them minorities and not call them branch offices or subsidiaries of global multinationals? Why is it that if the product being sold is God’s love then all of a sudden the rules of the multinational do not apply? Because it is God’s love, God’s love is exempt from scrutiny and transparency.
I would submit to you that the definition of minority has to be modulated and if a minority is working for or funded by appointed by trained by a foreign global nexus, then it is not really a minority. It is part of a bigger enterprise. And that enterprise should be studied rather than these isolated twenty thirty people in a place whom we call minority. So I even provoke you to rethink the definition of minority itself in this age of globalization.
Positive India Narrative
Now there is a new positive India narrative in the US Business schools. this is the response we like to hear. Finally India’s time has come because I have lived there for last thirty eight years and only in the last seven years this voice has started. Otherwise there is always there is only the kind of discourse that I have stated earlier.
Now there is positive focus on investment, markets, labor force and all that. So what we have are two competing discourses. There is a positive discourse which says “Build up India” and this is primarily in business schools. So when my friends want to donate something for the study of India or South Asia, I always tell them to give it to the business schools and not to South Asian studies because South Asian studies are built on fragmentation of India -“Why India is a problem” kind of thesis built upon the old humanities or social sciences.
And now the irony is that both these views are also encased in India. In India also you have the technocrats, industrialists those kind of people who believe in a positive sense of India. Then you also have people in social sciences (and a lot of social science views are actually imported) in India who do not have faith in India as a nation. So you have both voices within India also.
Hypothetical Situation for US Intervention in India
Now I come to a more troubling part of my thesis.
I am going to give you hypothetical scenario for US intervention in India. Suppose South Asia becomes the epicenter of USA vs. Islam which can happen. Suppose the Taliban takes over nuclearized Pakistan. Ten years ago I wrote a paper on such a scenario but did not publish it because I thought it was sensational but today it is a possibility. What can happen is Taliban takes over ISI and ISI takes over the Pakistan army indirectly and we all know that Pakistan army runs Pakistan.
So Pakistan could have a democratically elected government which can act as a nice front for PRO purposes but really they do not have the power and they do not call the shots. It is even worse than having Musharaff. Because at least there it was transparent as you were dealing with an army. But here Pakistan can fool one to think that they are dealing with some group of importance while really that group does not have any power.
Let us say under such scenario Taliban takes over Pakistan and thus is now nuclearized Taliban. Now let us say US is fighting and years go on and the causalities build up and US faces economic pressures at home and another election is coming. So this fight turns into Obama’s Iraq. This fight with Talibanized nuclear Pakistan becomes Obama’s liability and US is desperate to exit but exit with honor.
So Obama or the future president has to figure out a way for exiting. So when the US exits, after having flared it up, then it has become a mess that somebody is going to encounter and guess who is going to bear that brunt of it? that will be India. I will also surmise in this hypothesis that Taliban will then have their vision of setting up that Mughalstan. They will see that they have enough disruptive forces sitting in India which can be incited by them and then they can get going with a huge revolution. Now that US has gone they can take over. Number Two. United States may also have another kind of intervention in India which is to safeguard Christians being persecuted. Some of you may think this is far fetched.
But when I started to research on this I saw a Wall street journal front page article two or three years ago titled US evangelists driving foreign policy intervention. It is a very long article that showed a hundred years history of evangelicals not only driving domestic policies like abortion and gay and nowadays on stem cell research very successfully but also very strong on foreign policy. And all foreign policy they want is that the United States should intervene wherever there is a pocket of Christians who consider themselves to be under threat. Once the United States agrees that that is the policy then they go and create some trouble and use that to bring United States intervention in there.
Now the dossier of such cases of persecution of Christians in India is growing and it is a huge dossier in United States and there are regular hearings in Washington for which they invite those Indians who complain and there is a long line of such people who are granted Visa and travels grants to go and give testimony in the US congress. Also there are well organized networks in India which have been funded by these entities to provoke trouble, to monitor persecution and then go over to report and lobby in Washington. This is all over the US media. So United States may decide “Ok Taliban has got North India. We can go and intervene here and there and get some Christianized pockets in South India. We have built our own base there and we have built a network of support.” So this is the worst case scenario.
Now similar analysis also applies to Islam and China intervening, as each of them has stakes in India and ambitions in India. One can do scenarios like what if China and Pakistan jointly take military action. China would love to have Arunachal Pradesh because of the water -the Brahmaputra river water which can then be taken to Tibet. China would love to take Nepal because most of the water that comes to Ganga comes from Nepal and filters down to India. So this fight over water makes this geography very strategic and China would love to have all these. So you could build four scenarios of type A which shows how globalization brings civilizational threats to India.
What India can Contribute to the World?
Now I shall go to part- II. Now I want you to set aside the disturbing scenario I have explained. Now let us see what is positive that India can offer to the world -how India could be a successful civilization and do positive things.
So to start with what are the problems the world faces where India can offer a solution? I will list just three. One is that development- the cycle of economic development is not sustainable or scalable. It is not ecologically possible to have development of such large number of people and achieve the per capita consumption of the western standard and also you cannot scale to the whole world. Then the Abrahamic civilizations are based on exclusivity and a mandate to take over the world and that is not going to sustain peaceful environment. Finally the human rights laws that exist protect the individual but not cultures. There is no law broken if the language is made extinct or if your culture or your rituals are gone. If you as an individual are not violated then the culture as an entity does not have a status. Only the individual has a status.
So I will not go through this in detail because that will be a whole presentation by itself on what are some of the contributions that Indian civilization can make. There is a large reservoir of know-how of consciousness development, enhancement – what is called mind-sciences, intuition, creativity which is now at the cutting edge of western research in cognitive sciences, neuro-sciences, psychology and this is an asset that India has which is actually being acknowledged by the scientific community. So India brings a lot in this dimension.
There is a whole worked out system in Indian society on ecological sustainability starting with being content with less consumerism. The whole Ashrama model where you divide life into four stages has you as a consumerist in the second stage as householder (Gruhasth). But in the stages before and after that you learn life to be happy without much consumerism. These are social models which may be of application to world order where you cannot expect every body to live hundred years old and be a consumerist from zero to hundred at the American level.
Then there is the concept of groups that are de-centralized and self-organized without a state or a very centralized government or authoritarian government running the show. This is a very old Indian social organization that is highly de-centralized and the groups do not need some one else to give them laws and commandments as they are very well self-organized. There is the banyan tree metaphor which is sometimes used to describe this kind of society that is not one trunk or one system but lots of it together. And all of this results in pluralism, dignified aging and decentralized social security. In India we have dignified aging because you do not end up in old age home. But today because of modernity you do. Old age homes have been started here because of the tendency to westernize. But the tradition has a dignified aging.
And there is kind of social security from one’s own community. Jaathi was social security network. But now we break families now and we break Jaathi structure and make it into caste. Now who is going to give you old age security? State does not have the money. Even in United States, the social security is going broke. So I do not think any country like India can provide such social security. So these are some ideas regarding Indian civilizational contribution.
Civilizational archetypes: Yogi vs. Gladiator
Now I want to introduce two archetypes. I call them the Yogi archetype and the Gladiator archetype. These are archetypes for civilizations. The Yogi archetype is illustrated by Emperor Asoka, who was a gladiator, a fierce warrior who surrenders to Yoga; In the case of Emperor Constantine the opposite happens. Constantine is a Gladiator who has a Jesus experience or Christ experience. But rather than surrendering his Gladiator nature and becoming a Yogi through the spirit of Christ he actually captures Christ and turns him into a weapon for imperialism. He takes the vision of the cross and he says in the cross he is wielding a sword for conquest. Next day he goes to the battle with this idea and wins and makes Christianity a weapon. So in the case of Roman appropriation of Christianity, the gladiator takes over Yoga, whereas in the case of Asoka, Gladiator surrenders to the Yoga. These are then the two different systems.
So at the base of this I have Yogi’s dilemma when facing the aggression of a Gladiator. So this is the question I ask those who are very spiritually inclined people. Imagine you are a Yogi and a Gladiator comes to you and says I am going to kill you and you cannot change his mind and you cannot run away. The question is what do you do? One option is that you do not fight and he kills you. That is one option you have. The second option is you become a Gladiator and fight him. You would beat him. But you are no longer a Yogi because now you become the Gladiator. You turn into a Gladiator and fight the Gladiator. So you are no longer the Yogi. So the dilemma is either way you are not a Yogi. So what do you do?
Indian civilization has to solve this dilemma. And we will see two ways. One is Mahatma Gandhi’s and the other is Bhagavat Gita: non-violent and violent. You remain the Yogi within but you fight the Gladiator. We will come to that. Let us keep this as an idea. So this is the dilemma that Indian Civilization – the Yogi’s Dilemma. Earlier I mentioned there is a scenario B that I will just quickly get rid of and then we will go to scenario C.
Scenario B is somebody saying Indian culture will win but the nation will be gone. And who cares. The nation is gone but we don’t care as the culture shall win. That is scenario B. So the Yogi lets the Gladiator take over. But he does this with a glorifying mindset saying that “I will be gone, I will be dead but the Yoga will win because the Gladiator is doing the Pranayama. Even though he is finishing me off the Yoga will live through the Gladiator” But in reality that does not happen. With Pranayama the Gladiator becomes a tougher Gladiator. For example they are using Yoga Nidra for US troops in Iraq, not to turn them into Yogis but better fighter. So scenario B is actually a graceful, dignified respectful way of ending up in Scenario A. Therefore I will dispose it off.
Now let us talk about Scenario C which is where I want to conclude my talk.
Scenario C is where Indian civilization survives; India survives as a nation and has something to offer to the world. Here there are two possibilities. One is that India solves the Yogi’s dilemma and the second is that India does not solve the Yogi’s dilemma and becomes a Gladiator in order to survive. In the first possibility India solves the Yogi’s dilemma through Gandhi’s Satyagraha as a model against the Gladiator and there is Gita’s war against the Gladiator. In both cases it is very difficult thing to do and the idea is there. But I am not sure if we as Indians are very for it because of the self discipline and sacrifice it takes is incredible. What it says is that be a Yogi inside and be very tough outside. So don’t let them walk over you and don’t let them take over you; you must fight them to win but do not turn that into hatred.
You carry out your Dharma in the Kurushetra and that means you have to fight. But you do not turn into their mindset and their mentality. This is a very difficult thing and this is not something I can discuss in two minutes. But this is a topic that is a very central theme for the survival of India as a civilization. The obstacles to this are, India lacks the hard power in terms for economics, governance, military, geopolitics etc. India also has a clash of soft power generally because its own discourse is colonized. The minute you talk about civilization they will ask “which civilization” and they will try to break you up into many camps to fight.
Then there is the internal clash of nation vs. its fragments similar to a transplanted organ which is facing rejection by body’s immune system. When you have a transplanted organ the body’s immune system rejects it and you have to lower the immune system for internal harmony. So when you lower your immunity to create harmony inside you become vulnerable to infections from outside So it comes to saying do not have national security or defense in India, Don’t have anti-terror law in India because this will affect the harmony with minorities. But then you become vulnerable to external forces and threats. So this is the dilemma or rather internal clash that India faces.
And the final obstacle India faces is its loftiness, apathy of the world, other-worldliness etc, which we have seen before.
I have said three things. There is a global reality of three major civilizations at peace and war. And their competition will intensify for self-interest. We can wish otherwise but this is the reality. India is a major playground and battle ground for these global forces. The reality of India is that there is internal fragmentation which is worsening and the disruptive forces that Hegde talked about have worsened. These are supported by cycle of vote banks, quotas and bribes. Minorities are becoming branch offices for global nexuses and are receiving funding and ideological and political support. These are the centrifugal forces threatening India’s future.
As far the future for India, I see that presently India lacks the civilizational Conesus and power necessary to survive as a nation-state in a dangerous world. India itself will disintegrate and its parts assimilated into others while India’s culture will flourish as their. Or if India’s civilizational foundation can be secured, then it could be a key solution provider to world problems.