The Spirit of India

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

On the occasion of the celebration of Independence Day, not only India but her embassies across the world, from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indonesia to Japan, from Kenya to Ethiopia, from Canada, America to Europe, Dubai and Saudi Arabia resonate with the singing in Sanskrit of the national anthem ‘Vande Mataram’. Beyond the focus on geo-politics, world GDP ranking and amongst multi-polar world powers, Chandrayaan2 and the first Indian on the moon in a few years, and continuous neo-liberal economic plans, there is the idea of what makes India a distinct civilization, why it is important to preserve its ideals for India herself and for the rest of the world.

The uniqueness of Indian civilization is probably not fully comprehended by all of its own citizens and descendants of Indian origin across the world. In the 19th century, only a tiny minority of privileged minds in the West – Arthur Schopenhauer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Baruch Spinoza, to name a few -, grasped the essence of what makes India distinct in her ideals, in the intricate link between philosophy and religion, in the exploration of the spirit embodied in matter, in spirituality elevated to a prime motive in its life view, not a secondary accessory quest as in other invasive cultures of the time. More than two thousand years ago, its philosophy was exported to Europe through the encounter with Greeks at the time of Alexander the Great, with Buddhist monks in Afghanistan, which was under the rule of Emperor Ashoka, at a time when only Judaism existed in the Middle East and two other monotheist religions were not born yet.

Independence Day is a reminder of an era of decolonization which swept across the world, and in the case of India, it marked the end of a devastating materialistic and grossly mercantilist British hold on India’s economy and politics. It recalls the coarse, vulgar and ruthless aggressivity with which European colonizers threw themselves on Asia at large, with the Americans ganging up with them to go on rampage in China and Indo-China. It also raises the question of why India enjoyed decent economic conditions, prosperity and hygiene, higher than some European countries in the 18th century, and how British rule left India bankrupt and poor in the 20th century.

In the 19th century, Macaulay understood that, compared to Britain, if India did not have a single beggar in the streets, it was due to its culture, and the predominance of Sanskrit teachings by Brahmin scholars, the role of family priests in the lands of Bharat and the organization of its social system. So efforts were deployed by the British administration to break the system. The other narrative is that the British left the system untouched and contributed to a deep cultural awakening which prompted a movement for complete independence.

Today, one may be tempted to think that in an age of widespread lack of culture and ignorance, especially in international media pandering to their own propaganda to whip up emotions, any presentation of Indian politics is truncated without transmitting a proper knowledge of its history, the impact of British colonization, the circumstances of its independence in 1947 and the unique quality of its philosophy, ethics and culture.

The Swadeshi movement

A fuller view of Indian history to enlighten public opinion worldwide should encompass an overview of centuries of invasions and conquests by Moghul-Turk- Persian-Arab invaders, the massacre of millions of men, women and children which ensued and which is considered by historians today as the biggest genocide perpetrated in the history of mankind, a fact underlined also by French journalist Francois Gautier. Subjugated people were considered as second-class citizens and made to pay taxes to the new rulers in parts of Bharat which they called Hindustan. Since the western media cannot be expected to do the job of informing their public, others in India and elsewhere have to do it through other channels.

The overwhelming power and prestige of European colonialism also remained unchallenged until Japan opened a new era of hope by defeating Russia in 1905. The more outspoken and vocal Indians in the freedom Swadeshi movement were depicted as so-called ‘extremists’ until even today in the western media’s vocabulary sees the BJP, the People of India’s Party, through the prism of European 20th century nationalism with all the negative connotations implied in it. This narrative also suits those within India who prefer a weak Indian identity with their own version of secularism, rather than a full recovery of the Indian spirit that has gone through subjugation and revival in turns over centuries.

Every nation has its own shakti, and the Bharata shakti of India is rekindled with greater energy by her sons and daughters whenever the need arises, even at times when she is on the brink of being overpowered by hostile forces with different motivations. The principle of competition and conflict has governed international relations and shaped politics, economy and culture for long. When other countries are on the move, guided by malevolent forces, India has to brace up for the confrontation. Putting down arms in the middle of a battle is to invite self-destruction and political, economic and cultural enslavement. No other country has had to face so many assaults on her culture, religion, territory and way of life over centuries. And the assault is still going on in subtler ways.

Damages done to its social fabric, unity and harmony by alien cultures and foreign rule, the dismantling of its territories at the time of Independence ran against the wishes of the people, and it is up to its present rulers to rebuild the territorial, cultural and social unity on their own terms, inspired by the inclusive spirit of Indian philosophy. Other countries with an exclusivist system of beliefs are in no position to lecture India on her policies and choices. Neither the West nor countries where minorities have disappeared or are regarded as second-class citizens and have to keep a low profile. India has penetrated the world with her ideas and thoughts, not with weapons. Divisive, belligerent and historically aggressive powers have no moral stance to dictate rules to India.

Static Defence or Aggressiveness

In times of cultural assault, political subjugation and the propagation of the so-called rational western mindset, of material progress during British rule in the 19th century, static defence consisted in finding solace in past achievements, the findings of the Rishis and verbal display of cultural chauvinism. It was partly due to the fact that Indians were not taught to explain their culture and philosophy to other countries, because initially, there was no concept of ‘other people’ in the writings of its sages. In the early decades of the 20th century, thinkers like Sri Aurobindo and Rabindranath Tagore opined that static defence is not effective, and believed in a more aggressive policy for the survival of India, an aggressiveness which has to be creative to be effective and is faithful to the spirit of India. On the cultural level, it entailed the propagation of Indian thought in the lands of the aggressors, and the trend has continued up to now. With varying degrees of success and some mistakes, India’s leaders took charge of the political and economic battles they were confronted with in the early decades after Independence.

In today’s shifting world order and power struggle, where countries are moving fast to assert their ambitions in a spirit of competition, India has made significant inroads in various sectors. Her shakti could have unfolded with greater force if it had not been impeded by internal forces influenced by imported western ideas which have taken root in India, namely communism and its brand of secularism, and a policy of appeasement.

Facing huge challenges to lift millions of people out of poverty, bring sanitation to all households, extend education and food to impoverished children in rural areas, deal with climate change and water issues, the present leadership is deeply imbued with India’s civilizational ethos and guided by the strength of its eternal spirit to handle all issues with astounding dynamism.

Effective diplomacy abroad has paved the road to disarm hostile forces in their allies’ territories, its culture has gained greater appeal worldwide, and its people are not swept off by imitative phases of alien cultures. The consolidation of its territorial integrity in the vast lands of the subcontinent which invasions, foreign settlements and colonization dismantled is going through what looks like a first step.

* Published in print edition on 16 August 2019

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