Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
EARLIER in these columns, it was predicted that President of the PRC and General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping was on course to become the Chairperson of the party by 2022, thereby becoming the only second Chinese leader to hold the post once bestowed on Chairman Mao Zedong. This would enable a successor to take over Xi’s current titles that year, while at the same time allowing Xi to retain the primacy he holds within its decision-making structures. Six years ago and thereafter, analysts and scholars across the globe were predicting either that Xi would not reach the top, or once he did, that he was getting weakened. This columnist maintained that on the contrary, Xi was far and away the dominant force within the CCP, and would remain so.
The 19th CCP Party Congress being held in Beijing indicates the correctness of this latter view, which is these days being held across the board rather than in the relatively few locations that was the case in the initial years of Xi’s ascent to the summit of power. Xi Jinping’s strength comes from the fact that he voices the “Idea of China” that is present in the minds of the Han people in a country where they amount to nearly 95% of the population. This is that the time is nearing when the Han will once again be pre-eminent among the world’s populations.
Of course,” Han” is not so much an ethno-based label as it is a cultural group, given the broad range of ethnicities that have come together in China under this definition. The 5000-year old culture of China was not subjected to the centuries-long breakage from the past that was twice caused in India. First by the takeover of the world’s second most populous country by the Mughals and later on, by the British. Both these conquerors imposed their own cultures and mindsets on the land they ruled over, although even during such times the traditional culture of India survived within a majority of the people. What was clear in India, especially after the events of 1947, was the fusion of Vedic, Mughal and British culture into a composite that got formed into the cultural DNA of every single citizen of the Republic of India. Such an evolution of a composite culture was termed as “Indutva” by this columnist in the Times of India in 1995, in contrast to the concept of “Hindutva”, which posits a culture based exclusively on the recorded practices and attitudes of the Vedic period.
The reality is that such exclusivity of culture no longer exists in India, a country where rituals and practices of the people of all faiths incorporate elements followed in each of the three strands of cultural DNA mentioned earlier viz Vedic, Mughal and British. In the past, efforts were made during the Mughal period to incorporate both Vedic and Mughal strands into a harmonious blend, especially by Emperor Akbar and Prince Dara Shikoh. Given that every human being is a child of the same Almighty, efforts at separation of one from another weakens an entire society. Each strand needs to become a part of a composite that in the process becomes stronger than any of its components. In India, people from the south relish the cooking of the north, and vice versa. And although Lord McCauley believed that educating natives in the English language would cement loyalty to the British Empire, the converse took place. The leaders of the movement to free the subcontinent of the British comprised of individuals who spoke the language of the colonial masters fluently. Indeed, the widespread use of English in India has become an advantage for the country within the global marketplace.
Despite politicians educating their own offspring in English, the effort of politicians in India has been to deny knowledge of the English language to the poor in India, perhaps as a way of keeping them in a state of dependence. The Hindi belt states have been those where knowledge of English is among the lowest, but the new Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, has made its teaching compulsory from primary school onwards. In contrast, the Chief Minister of Karnataka (home of India’s Information Technology industry) is working hard to reduce the number of those learning English in his state, and is seeking to force schools to teach in local language, Kannada. Should he succeed, very soon Bangalore (now renamed as Bengalooru) will cease to be a global hub of knowledge industry.
In China, ever since planning began for the Beijing Olympics, the spread of the English language has been given priority, and the aim is to see that hundreds of millions more Chinese are able to read, speak and write in English by 2027 than in India. The concept of a common Han ancestry has served China well, in that it has unified the country to a substantial degree. The speech made by Xi at the start of the 19th CCP Congress was an exposition of the way in which he is seeking to position China as the vanguard of the international order. It is an objective that is breathtaking in its ambition. Xi’s calls for achieving such leadership by the use of “Win Win” techniques such that other countries would find it in their interest to cooperate with China, while those who decline to do so would be at a disadvantage. Just as Mao’s October 1949 speech heralded the fact that China had once again “stood up” after a century of subjugation, Xi Jinping’s October 2017 speech proclaims that China has not only stood up, but will soon stand the tallest within the comity of nations. The world has been put on notice.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.
Geopolitical Notes From India