How we can impact on our times?
Indians must stand up and learn to speak for themselves as free citizens. The many hang-ups, the legacy of the British colonial low-confidence mindset and also the new political bosses who don’t practise any known Constitutionally-mandated norms of public behaviour have sapped the energies of the common man as well as the elite.
Some unorthodox ideas and thoughts.
These are the two questions I often ask myself. If I can put it more grandly, yes, anything more personal and serious, then such questions might sound, in the present context of more immediate times, say, when there is a general election in 2014 or when there is the more contentious, practical questions, say in politics or even partisan context like whether one should enter an electoral context or even forming a political party or party faction so that you want to intervene in a very emotional and partisan opposition parties’ own agendas of making news for some immediate demands, one can ask such questions in different and more provocative or more polished language as well.
So, I too am provoked sometimes to ask the same questions, differently framed to reach some conclusions. As I am in a much more anxious mood, anxious for the future of the country faced with a great deal of uncertainty about the outcome of the 2014 general elections I want to take a more balanced and broader historical context and as these very same questions.
How do we understand the present times in India?
How, we, as individuals or party activists or even as intellectuals understand and interpret the present state of the Indian politics?
I have before me a book by Meghnad Desai “Rediscovery of India”.
This is not a new book but a book that will remain a standard reference, I believe, for a long time. Lord Desai is now a member of the London House of Lords, a great honour and a great recognition. As such his views would be taken into account.
The point I want to make here is that Britain is no longer a Great Britain. The latest Economist magazine has a cover story titled, Great Britain vs. Little England!
Yes, there is so much lamentation lately on the decline of Britain as a big power. It is now a humble small island nation.
Unfortunately, this decline, this smallness of the nation hasn’t yet sunk into the mindset of average Indians. The Brits know this, they realise they no longer count in the scheme of things on the world stage.
The Economist magazine captures their dilemma and their plight so poignantly.
It was the handiwork of the Labour party in 1945 when they decided to give India independence in 1947.Indian Empire, its vast territory was a prized possession of the Brits. How can be forgetting the boast of Winston Churchill about his absolute claims of ownership of the Indian Territory and his scathing language about Gandhi and Nehru and other leaders.
And yet, we, Indians even today seem to be in a worshipful mood when it comes to the British monarchy, Churchill and even some of the imperialist authors like Rudyard Kipling and many others. It is high time we, Indians shed our British worship, slavishness and inferiority complex and our servile mindset when it comes to expressing our own independent views.
I know many eminent Indian scholars and experts, especially those who went to England, to Oxford and Cambridge and got their education and later careers also, having spent long spells of stay and learning to toe the line of the official and academic lines there, we still see there is no independent study or opinion on such early British histories by James Mill and others.
Now, we can see that James Mill who earned his keep by work at the East India Company (so his eminent son, John Stuart Mill also), the senior Mill wrote derogatively about Indians and their character and yet we don’t dare, even now, to criticise Mill’s characterisation and also we don’t express our views on other British imperialist officials be it Lord Curzon or Macaulay.
There had been greater and more open-minded and sympathetic minded persons like Warren Hastings, others who promoted and worked under the Asiatic Society of Bengal.
Yes, we have to remain grateful to these great men, great minds like William Jones and others who promoted the Sanskrit College in Benares and those who really appreciated the Oriental scholarship.
It is after a long time only the British started appreciating Indian languages and learning and arts and culture. Otherwise, they remained highly prejudiced and they didn’t see any merit in Indian culture an Indian innate talents.
India must play its role in the world.
Indians must shed the British legacy of learning from thinking and writings.
Indians need to think for themselves.
Indians must re-evaluate the legacy of our own freedom heroes.
It is the young India that will now set goals for the new generation.
So let us learn to live with Indian thinking and Indian writing.
Not Britain anymore a Great Britain. It is now Little England.
May be in another parallel, the US too is not a model for Indian affairs.
India is the world’s large democracy. India must have an independent world view. Our values have to be defined afresh
We have to be equi-distance to the major powers.
We have to promote world peace; we have to work for disarmament and avoidance of civil wars that rage in several parts of the world. (There are now as many as six in world.
Indians must establish Wars and Peace Research Institute as in Norway and Sweden. We must be outward looking. Not as we are today, very inward looking and also timid!
Also before me are two more books.
One is on the Atlantic Slave Trade by James Pope Hennessy (A Study of the Atlantic Slave Trade (1441-18o7).
One whole afternoon I read through the more difficult pages of this enormously eye-opening account of what was to be the biggest black spot in the whole history of Britain. The so many beautiful country homes we see in the vast countryside of Britain, we learn now, are from the wealth earned by this despicable trade that saw England become a very prosperous nation through some four centuries of slave trade. Some of the chapters are so hot and so unreadable with a peace of mind.
This part of the British history we don’t know. My Oxford tutors didn’t teach me this side. Though after a brief visit to Ireland I came with so much anger and disquiet
that I took upon an otherwise gentle Mr.James Joll, my history tutor when I questioned him about the atrocities caused by the British occupiers of that otherwise beautiful island.
Also now, before me is another book on the same title. Its exact name: How the Irish Saved Civilization. The untold Story of Ireland’s heroic role from the fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe by Thomas Cahill (Doubleday).
It is about how Ireland retained the history and civilisation of the west after the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, that is, at around the 5th century.
Then, of course the Roman Empire survived in the East, at Constantinople, modern day Istanbul. But then, what happened to Britain then in the fifth century A.D.Britain was a jungle that is all!
In fact, we Indians don’t seem to realise that Britain had no history whatever before, say 10th or even the 12th century. Only after the Magna Carta and only after Chaucer, the British had had a history or politics or even literature!
But where was India?
India was a civilisation much before
Britain became one!
India was a civilisation from the Vedic times, from Mohenjo-Daro-Harappa. Of course, Indian history is too old. We had such personalities like Buddha and Ashoka.
We had had such invaders like Alexander the Great and onwards so many came through the Khyber Pass.
But we didn’t have had a history that tells us all, all through these long years.
We have had so many invaders and after the 10th century onwards we had invaders from the outside territory, from Central Asia and even from the Afghan territory, the stories we read in our schools are only about Mohamed Gazani and Gaur and such minor invaders and their going back.
It was only Babur who came and settled down here for good. This was the Mughal Empire.
Then came the visits from the West, from Vasgo Da Gama in 1498. Lord Desai’s Indian discovery starts with this coming of the Vasgo Da Gama and through the sea routes.
It is this new insight, the opening of the sea routes and the succession of the European powers, the Portuguese, the Dutch, then the British and then the French and others.
India became a weak nation, foreign, why even the Mughal period is strewn with poverty and famine and much economic degradation. Though Akbar ushered in a new administrative structure that withstood even the arrival and to the time of their own departure.
Even today, in the post -independent India we see the element of the Mughal administrative terms in use. But the most important part of the story I want to place before the readers is that what we have today as Indian history is largely what is written and interpreted by the British writers, historians, and mostly British administrators.
Thus, we see the impact even now.
There are still old-fashioned British admirers and their heroes are still Winston Churchill and Mountbatten!
How changed the modern world?
We are about to celebrate the centenary of the first world war in 2014.
There are new books on the First World War.
I am keeping in touch with the new books, the reviews of such books in the British journals, The Economist, the financial times and other magazines.
But thanks to some opportunities that came my way in recent times, I travelled in China, Philippines and other South East Asian countries and got to know personally how these countries, from Japan to South Korea and China, Philippines, why even such countries like Malaysia and Thailand, not to mention other nations like Vietnam and others is the new surge of emotions that we can in these peoples, we see the past 100 years histories alone
I had already written about how the Indian people suffered a lot in the two world wars. I like to reiterate for the wider understanding and appreciation of fellow Indians how we are still in the dark as to hat India gained? What Indians lost? In the two world wars?
Anybody had asked these questions?
As I am seeing, the tole of Mahatma Gandhi himself needs some revaluation.
The majority of voters in the 2014 elections are below 30 years and most of them, why all of them may not even know about Rajiv Gandhi. Let alone Mahatma Gandhi!
Yet, we see there is a thriving book industry on Gandhi to this day!
Simply because his personality, nay, his persona makes for good story lines.
So, the market is flooded with books on Gandhiji.
But as I have said the younger generation might not give a damn, yes, that is the right word for such holy cows. Today, there is a strong emergence of sensitivity among the Indian intelligentsia and the urban middle classes, why even the high and mighty too are disillusioned with the country’s affairs.
There is no serious analysis of the issues before the people, the citizens.
So many range of downfalls. In governance, in morals, in observance of standards of conduct by the top leaders. The very legitimacy of the leaders is being questioned.
Before I go on to these issues, let me finish my observations of Mahatma Gandhi.
In 1914, on the eve of the First World War Gandhi was 45 years old.
What was his role in the First World War?
Then, in the Second World War he was 60 years old, right?
What was his roe? What was his understanding of the complexities of the war?
Lord Desai makes some pointed criticisms of the life and work of Gandhi during these years. After the dramatic impact of the Salt Satyagraha in 1930, Gandhi’s life and activities were going in a different direction. Even the Quit India movement, Lord Desai, observes was a failure.
It was a wasted effort. Much more seriously, after the 1942, the events moved in a direction that was neither helpful to the Indian people nor the people who, in the South East Asian countries, we also faced with different challenges.
While In China I studied the Chinese history during this period, I was stunned by the discovery that China in 1911 declared a national republic under Sun-Yat-sen. I visited his memorial house, where he lived with Madam Sen, the famous Soong sister. The Soong sisters make for an interesting study and reflection. Chiang-Kei-shek was also a great nationalist. His wife is another Soong sister.
The ladies proved to be very effective companions and they earned their spurs by their sheer strength of personalities alone. Sun and Chiang went to Japan to study and learn after Japan became a nationalist and proud independent nation. The Japanese story is also very inspiring.
The entry of Japan into war in the first and second world wars has to be studied separately for drawing lesions for outsiders. As for China, it is a tragedy that after Sun (he died in 1924); China emerged as the great nationalist leader.
But the emergence of the Chinese Communist party (founded in 1921), the ensuing civil wars led to a great split and finally the Communists emerged as winners and the nationalsts lost. This is a great tragedy.
In India, in 1942 and afterwards, we had a friend, friends in the China couple who advocated freedom for India with Roosevelt. Gandhi and his followers didn’t interact with the people and the power mattered. We never once seemed to have realised that Roosevelt, as he did intervene once, the Cripps mission was owing to Roosevelt pressure and maybe we might have won independence as a united India if only Gandhi, specially Gandhi had been more worldly-wise and took up the negotiations in right earnest.
So, my point here is to say that we now, the later generation might study Gandhi’s role in the light of these wider world.
The time to hero-worship is gone.
Hero-worship must go.
The current scenario in India gives cause for so many deep-seated worries.
Te Congress party under Sonia Gandhi had lost all its traditional values and habits of doing things. There is no national consensus inside the party on any major issue.
Thereby traditional democratic, open-minded approach to election of leaders, be it the Prime Minister or the party president are all give up.
There is an unsaid autocratic rule; Sonia Gandhi is president for the past 15 unbroken years. What is the message?
So too the elevation of Rahul Gandhi to the top power position.
What is the message?
Corruption is all-embracing; almost all the top heavy weights in the party are involved.
Just now, as I write these lines has come the report about the latest first round of elections in the Chhattisgarh Assembly elections. There are record number, a big per centage, and 16 or so per centage of Congress candidates have criminal records. So too the BJP.
What is the message?
How long the Indian people can tolerate?
What guarantee the situation might not explode?
I just now read that in the countries of the world, those who have a written Constitution, it is India’s Constitution 140,000 word, the longest.
Constitutions, as the famous observation of Thomas Jefferson noted in 1789, last lasts at the end of 19 years. We don’t know why he said this. India’s Constitution, compared with other British Commonwealth countries, is perhaps the most stable and drafted well by Indians themselves.
Otherwise, we might have had trouble. All the Indian neighbours have had difficult times in retaining their original constitutions. The point here is that we have deviated from the original mandate on several crucial counts.
Parties are not defined in the Indian Constitution. It is time we bring into the Constitution the RTI Act, the funding of parties, the very Constitution of parties and their periodic elections to ensure that by either incompetency(as it present)or by sheer foolhardiness some adventurers take away our precious legacy.
India is a vast land and we have so many regional pulls already visible.
There are any numbers of separatist, ethnic tensions and there is every indication that we might get into trouble unless we set some new standards.
The Constitutional reform body may be reactivated.
The present” Centre might not hold”, to borrow a poetic line of W.B.Yeats.