How India Can Reclaim Its Civilisational Destiny?
Most Indians, even those who consider themselves savvy about current affairs, suffer from a shocking ignorance of India’s civilisational history.
The malaise afflicts analysts, commentators and policymakers as well, and it has serious negative consequences for the prospects of the Indian nation-state.
This paper lays out the scale of the problem, the impediments towards establishing a genuine civilisational narrative, and the epiphanies that can follow from such a narrative.
The implications for India’s foreign policy, and indeed India’s civilisational destiny, are mind-boggling.
[The PDF version of this essay in full can be downloaded from here.]
The Parable Of The Indian Crab
A fisherman had a basket of live crabs displayed in the market. A curious customer asked him why he didn’t cover the basket to keep the crabs from escaping. He answered with a laugh that they were Indian crabs. If one ever tried to climb up the side of the basket to escape, the others could be trusted to pull it back down.
The tendency to pull down the most successful of their own kind is a trait that Indians self-disparagingly acknowledge.
There are over a hundred crabs belonging to the Global South trapped in the basket of the current world order. (The Ukraine conflict has revealed that European crabs too might be in the same basket with no more hope of freedom than the others!) China, the biggest crab of all, is climbing up the side of the basket and is about to escape. The Chinese crab is so big that when it climbs over the top, the entire basket is going to tip over, allowing all the other crabs to flee.
India should not fear the escape of China from the fisherman’s basket, because it too will be free once the basket tips over. The fisherman expects India to be a good Indian crab and pull China back down, but it is very important that India fight its innate tendency and help the Chinese crab over the top instead.
Beyond The Immediate Future — Jostling Within The Fold
In the future, after the Western threat has been beaten back and Asia emerges out of the shadow of Western dominance, there will be some inevitable jostling for influence between the civilisations of the East. Civilisations exist in a continuous state of “co-opetition”, and so the allies of today could become the rivals of tomorrow.
Apart from the Indic civilisation of South and South-east Asia, and the Sinic and its closely related civilisations of East and North-east Asia, there is also the Turkic civilisation of North-west Asia and the Persian civilisation of South-west Asia.
Of these, the Sinic civilisation looks set to be the most dominant because of its combined population and wealth, but the others have their own unique civilisational identity that will not be co-opted by the Sinic civilisation, no matter how rich and powerful it becomes.
India needs to develop a Bismarckian plan not just for a marriage of convenience with China in the immediate future, but also for a velvet divorce after a generation or so.
Strength respects strength. If India is to gain China’s genuine respect as opposed to being valued merely for its contribution to the alliance, it first needs to grow its own strength. Both hard and soft power depend on economic growth, and India needs to spend the next few decades of peace with China building up its economy. That’s another leaf from China’s own playbook, when the country acted deferential towards the West and gained valuable time to grow its strength.
As the flagship nation-state of the Indic civilisation, India has to raise the civilisation’s brand value so that other nation-states within the subcontinent and ASEAN are inspired to identify as Indic. This is where a shared cultural identity helps to win friends and influence people. To take some obvious examples, Thailand is Buddhist, Indonesia is Muslim, and the Philippines is Christian. However, all of them have Indic roots, and can be drawn into affinity with a strong and prosperous India.
Even Pakistan can potentially be weaned away from China using soft civilisational power, given time and diplomatic wisdom. As a further example of the superiority of civilisational thinking over ideology, treating Urdu as the shared Indic language that it is, instead of viewing it as alien, helps to exploit common ground and build bridges.
All this may superficially resemble the Hindutva ideology’s concept of “Akhand Bharat” (undivided India), but there is a crucial difference. The affinity being sought between nation-states is on the basis of a civilisational identity that unifies, not a politico-religious identity that isolates and divides. If India wishes to one day gather a dozen Indic nations, not just Hindu Nepal, under its own tent and break away from China’s dominance, it will need to emphasise the inclusionary rather than the exclusionary aspects of its civilisation.
But that is a struggle for another day.
The Risks Of Inaction
India’s current antagonistic stance towards China carries growing risk. China is a rapidly growing power that shows no signs of slowing down, regardless of the relentless propaganda from the West predicting “the coming collapse of China”. That collapse has been predicted to happen “any time now” for the last two decades but has been belied again and again. It is a risky strategy for a smaller and weaker neighbour to believe such Western propaganda. As time goes by and China gets even stronger, India’s already limited options will become even bleaker.
India is sleepwalking into a defence and foreign policy nightmare with its current stance. This is not just foolish but completely avoidable.
China appears to have understood both the nature of the threat from the West, and the need for India and China to be united against it. India has not yet woken up.
Time is of the essence, and India can strike a good bargain right now at a time when China is facing a concerted, multi-pronged attack from the West and could use its support. Once China triumphs over the West, or after its power crosses a certain threshold, it will no longer care about India’s support, and India will have no bargaining power left.
There is no explanation for India’s current anti-China and pro-Western foreign policy except an ignorance of civilisational identity and history, and the related inability to think in civilisational terms, which renders both its leaders and its citizens vulnerable to superficial narratives that suit the ends of other powers.
SUMMARY AND CALL TO ACTION
The Indian ship of state is rudderless and adrift, its potential and promise perpetually belied. It needs to find its bearings and follow a determined course to reach its destiny.
A civilisational narrative is imperative to be able to see what is not apparent either from a contextless reading of history, or through the lens of self-serving political ideologies.
Ignorance of India’s civilisational identity has set Indian against Indian internally, and Asian against Asian externally. This ignorance is costing India nothing less than the attainment of its civilisational destiny.
In the near term, a polarised society and a shortsighted view of China as an enemy lead to nothing but growing internal strife and the prospect of humiliating external setbacks.
Internal unity is the essential prerequisite for India to achieve its destiny. All Indians need to be united by a common civilisational identity, not divided by sectarian ideological identities.
Indians must also see that a diabolical game of “divide and rule” is being played right now, under which they have been led to think of China as their enemy and of the West as their ally and benefactor. This brainwashing is pervasive and frightening in its extent. In actual fact, the strategic adversary of both India and China is the US-led West, which fundamentally acts to retain its global primacy, maintain an inequitable pecking order, and thereby deny them both their civilisational destiny.
India must switch sides post-haste so that the civilisations of the East can jointly wrest back control of their destiny and re-establish a multipolar world order.
India must thereafter grow its strength and bide its time until it can establish its own sphere of influence, and the Indic civilisation can finally find its place in the sun.
When will Indians learn the lessons of their civilisation’s history and do themselves the greatest favour at this critical juncture?
[The PDF version of this essay in full can be downloaded from here.]
By Ganesh C Prasad, 2022