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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Flashpoints of India - Part II (concluding part)

Reading the book: FLASHPOINTS by George Friedman, I was subconsciously driven to compare India as we see it today and Europe and to introspect on the flashpoints as applicable to India. India is not short on such flashpoints. The arguments that came to my mind are:

1.        India is still a nascent democracy, continuing its experiment with it. In my view, India was never one country until August 15, 1947 when it attained political freedom from the colonial rule of the Imperial British. Historically, we were a region ruled and controlled by regional satraps who called themselves kings or even emperors. Never in the history of India was the whole region ever been ruled by one person or entity. It is a union of hundreds of smaller regions that had remained either as the fiefdoms of local rulers or under the control of the colonial rulers, mainly the British.
2.       As a region ruled by monarchs, badshahs and sultans in different parts, India had always remained a divided land - divided by its various languages, religions, sects and subsects, castes and communities. Every ruler had indiscriminately exploited such division using deceits, lies, and force. The resultant scar on various communities have never disappeared.
      3.         India had remained one of the regions most invaded by external aggressors, leave alone the frequent mutual internal aggressions, wars and battles. The internal borders kept changing from decades to decades or even year to year depending on who ruled the particular region.
     4.      India had remained a rich place for its wealth, culture, literacy, manpower, natural resources, produces and markets. Commerce and trade with Indian subcontinent had always remained very lucrative. It has one of the longest, easily accessible seacoasts and deep harbors. The divisions and the lack of unity among the people had made the job of the aggressors quite easy.
       5.          India had been the birth place for a few major religions: Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism though these religions were all offshoots of the underlying doctrines of Hinduism, the religion of the majority of the region. Religious conflicts had existed even before the entry of Islam or Christianity into this region.
    6.     Many of the Indian rulers had enlarged their kingdom to include several parts of its neighboring areas like Afghanistan, Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and several smaller islands. In the process, cultures and religions have mingled and Indian cultural and religious practices had been sown in those regions that can be seen even today. Likewise, the invading Muslim and Colonial Christian rulers too, had left their deep impression in India’s soil that continues to be the cause of India’s perpetual agony over a number of issues, including its religions, even today. Cultures of India had comingled with those of the invaders – mainly the Muslims and Christians from the Northwest and West. Religion continues to be an unsolvable bone of contention among many.
     7.     The savage looting and exploitation of India’s resources had left deep scars among many within this region. Fundamentalist approaches within the majority religion – Hinduism – is slowly raising its head in a perceived attempt to counter and reset historical ‘blunders’,- as they call it - causing further suspicion and distrust from the minority religions.
     8.       When the euphoria over the freedom from the external rulers slowly died after the first few decades after India’s Independence, regional and sub-regional sentiments are getting strong day after day as had been seen a thousand years ago.
v  In early days, there were only resentment and complaints of regional imbalances in growth – north-south divide, using and distributing resources, political domination by one section, domination by a section in government services, administrative control and deprivation for many others etc.
v  Slowly, many of the States that were linguistically divided over the years after Independence have started showing signs of one-upmanship.
v  Sharing of resources had always been a bone of contention among various states. The states have started fighting with each other, as though they are different nations by themselves.
v  Many clamor for subdividing states into smaller ones, not for administrative conveniences alone, but for enjoying the fruits of power and control.
v  Many smaller states now feel that they had been taken for a ride about the natural resources available in their place and clamor for more control over their natural wealth and demand higher allocation of funds to them, without even a clear cut idea how they would use the extra cash.
v  Several large states remain backward and poor while smaller states with not so much resources are making tremendous progress. Illiteracy is still widespread in those backward states, even while their population growth shows no sign of abating. In these backward states gender, caste, community and religion are significant factors.
v  In politics, national level political parties have slowly lost their grip over the masses, yielding place to regional/sub-regional or religion and caste based political outfits. Smaller the outfit, better is their bargaining power for enjoying the fruits of power.
v  In vote politics, caste has stayed to be the dominant factor everywhere. The earlier stigma about being considered ‘backward’ in the community has disappeared and there is now rather a clamor to be treated ‘backward.’ To move forward, one needs to be backward as some political commentator had quipped.

    9.          India is delicately poised against its neighboring countries.
v  The smaller ones nurse a grievance that India is acting like a Big Brother while the Big Brother herself nurses serious doubts about its BB neighbor China.
v  Though, barring China others haven’t exhibited any territorial ambitions, yet, the borders continue to remain tense and contentious. The accession of Kashmir, a Muslim dominated region ruled by a Hindu king, to India had never been accepted in toto and had resulted in a couple of wars with the neighboring Pakistan, besides culminating in constant trouble in the borders and terrorism within Kashmir.
v  Pakistan still harbors their grievance against India for enabling the birth of Bangladesh, a region which was formerly part of Pakistan. Coupled with their own vested interest in Kashmir, Pakistan encourages cross-border terrorism, hurting India most, sending it into a constant state of vigil and fear about terrorist activities.
v  India is constantly worried about infiltration and migration from neighboring Bangladesh into the border States.
v  Tibet had been another disputed area, now fully part of China who are making several inroads along the disputed borders. The former spiritual ruler of Tibet, Dalai Lama, is still in exile, having taken refuge in India and this fact remains a constant eye sore to China.
v  Not everything seems okay with our northeastern borders too. Though the activities of armed separatist elements have greatly disappeared, the region continues to reel under constant terrorist activities.
v  India is doing a delicate balancing with Nepal who had always felt that India was acting as a Big Brother.
v  India’s relationship with Sri Lanka needs special mention. Sri Lankan Tamil issue is an emotive issue for the southern state of Tamil Nadu, with every political party vying with each other to claim sole championship of the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils. Constant friction due to trouble in fishing in the waters between India and Sri Lanka is causing terrible embarrassment to the State and the Centre. Besides, the passing of the control of the islands of Kacchatheevu into the hands of Sri Lanka raises political storm every now and then.  
    10.   To cap it all, the latest addend into the already boiling cauldron of unsolved issues is the religious sentiments of a section of the majority religion – the so called ‘Hindutva’ group who feel that the nation had suffered enough by constant appeasement of the religious minorities for political reasons by the erstwhile ruling elites. This section wants to reverse history and put things in ‘proper perspective’.

There must be more to the list, I am sure. I am also not embarking upon explaining these points.

In conclusion, even as the world is talking about and questioning the future of European Union – a visa free zone of several countries and the Euro currency – a unified currency to meet the challenges of the power of American dollars - created to avert future wars in the European region and to stabilize and make progress in the region in a peaceful environment, at least some in India too have started wondering - or questioning - about the Indian experiment as one nation. Hopefully, the experiment would survive and succeed even, as many seem to wish.

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