Don’t lecture India; look at your own record – Maria Wirth

No Dogs Or Indians

Maria WirthHow could Europeans and Arabs be so cruel to other human beings? The reason is that they saw themselves as superior and others as not quite human. – Maria Wirth

Europeans have a horrifying record regarding human rights violations. Germany is well known for an unprecedented, systematic holocaust of Jews and gypsies right in the middle of Europe only 80 years ago. Yet Britain, France, Portugal and others were as brutal with equal or even higher number of humans killed in their colonies. Their victims count many millions and many of them were Indians.

The Arabs, Turks and Mongols, too, have a horrifying record regarding human rights. The number of victims killed also goes into many millions, and many of them were Indians.

The Muslims invaded India already over thousand years ago and were as brutal as ISIS in our times. Unspeakable torture and beheadings were done on massive scale. Even the supposedly benign “Akbar the Great” slaughtered Hindus in huge numbers. The collective sacred threads of the Brahmins massacred by him is said to have weighed 200 kilogram. Can one even imagine such incredible injustice and brutality to civilians and priests? Thousands of temples were destroyed. Hindu women were sold into sex slavery. Hindus even had to open their mouth and receive gratefully the spittle by Muslims sitting on horses, and slaughtering cows was seen as “noblest deed” because it was so painful for Hindus, is recounted in The Legacy of Jihad by Andrew Bostom.

The brutality experienced by Hindus was so horrendous that, even in independent India, they hardly dare to complain when they are subjected to cruel discrimination. It is painful to read comments whenever Hindus are killed or raped by Muslims: “This won’t make news, as the victim is only a Hindu”. It is so sad, but understandable after what they have gone through for over thousand years. They had no way to get justice; had to bear their suffering silently.

Guru Nanak cried out to the Supreme, and it is part of the Grant Sahib, “Having lifted Islam to its head, You have engulfed Hindustan in dread. … Such cruelties they have inflicted and yet Your mercy remains unmoved. … Oh Lord, these dogs have destroyed the diamond-like Hindustan.”

The British colonial masters were not less brutal. Their disdain for the natives was incredible. Winston Churchill is on record saying that he “hated Indians” and considered them a “beastly people with a beastly religion”. Celebrities like Charles Dickens wanted the Indian race “exterminated” and considered them vile savages and Max Mueller wanted them all converted to Christianity.

Britain looted and reduced the formerly wealthiest country of the world to painful poverty, where during their rule over 25 million people starved to death, 3 million as late as in 1943 in Bengal.

The crimes of the British colonialists are, like those of the Muslim invaders, too numerous to list. They tied Indians to the mouth of canons and blew them up, hanged scores of them on trees, and even just after over one million Indian soldiers had helped Britain to be victorious in the First World War with many thousands sacrificing their lives, General Dyer gave orders to shoot at a peaceful gathering in Amritsar in 1919 where thousands died. An old coffee planter in Kodagu told me that even in the early 1950s there was a board in front of the club house in Madikeri. It read: “Dogs and Indians not allowed”.

Can anyone imagine the pain those Indian generations went through, having arrogant, often uncouth ruffians looting their land and despising them as dogs?

How could Europeans and Arabs be so cruel to other human beings? The reason is that they saw themselves as superior and others as not quite human.

Religion played a big role in making them feel superior. Both Christianity and Islam teach their members that only their religion is true and that the Creator will reward them with eternal heaven, but will severely punish all those who do not follow their ‘true’ religion. If God himself will torture them eternally in hellfire, why should his followers be good to them? Wouldn’t it mean siding with God’s enemies and betraying Him?

But on what basis do they consider only their religion as true and themselves as superior? The reason is that the respective founder of their religion allegedly said so. No other reason exists and no proof. On this flimsy basis, Christians and Muslims treated other human beings most inhumanly, believing they are destined for hell while they themselves are God’s favorites and will go to heaven. This brainwashing in the name of religion happens even in our times and its effect is still not questioned and analysed.

Yet today, neither white Christians, nor Arab or Turkish Muslims are constantly reminded of those terrible crimes of their forefathers. “The present generation must not be held accountable for the sins of their fathers”, is however not applied to Hindus and especially not to Brahmins. Media keeps hitting out at them as if they had been the worst violators of human rights in the past. Hinduism is portrayed as the villain due to the “horrific and oppressive” caste system.

Anyone, who knows a little about history, knows that this is false and malicious. The structure of Hindu society into four varnas or categories is mentioned in the Vedas and depends on one’s aptitude and profession—Brahmins, who memorise and teach the Vedas, Kshatriyas, who administer and defend society, Vaishyas who supply the society with goods and Shudras, who are the service sector. The varnas are not fixed by birth in texts like Bhagavad Gita or Manusmriti. But the British themselves cemented “castes” (a Portuguese word meaning race, tribe) in their census and then turned around and accused Hindus of their birth-based, fixed caste system.

There was however one more category which the whole world has been told about and which is used to the hilt to despise Hinduism. They were the untouchables who do unclean work, like handling dead animals, cleaning sewers, etc. The fact that other varnas avoided touching them is still made a huge issue of in the West. In fact it is portrayed, as if this practice made Hindus the greatest violators of human rights and makes the millions tortured and killed by Christians and Muslims pale in comparison.

Yet there is no proof that even one of those untouchables has been killed for doing unclean work. Higher castes may indeed have looked down or still look down on those whose job involves dirt, which is unfortunately a human trait in all societies. It has nothing to do with Hinduism. Most people are aware that such work also needs to be done.

There is in all likelihood another angle regarding “untouchability”, which the British did not realize: Ayurveda knew already 3000 years ago that invisible germs can cause serious illness and those dealing with cadavers and dirt are more likely to carry and spread those. However, the British didn’t know about this fact till only some 150 years ago, when Louis Pasteur claimed that germs cause sickness. (By the way, Google describes this discovery as “crowning achievement of the French scientist”, and avoids mentioning India’s ancient Ayurveda).

Now in today’s time of “social distancing” due to the Corona Virus, we know that not touching others is a precaution to prevent potential infection and has nothing to do with discrimination. The British could have given Hindus the benefit of doubt that they avoided physical contact with certain people due to caution. But since the British didn’t have the advanced knowledge about harmful germs they could not see the possible reason behind it.

Since Independence, the caste system is officially abolished and discrimination against lower castes is a non-bailable offense. Yet the West still makes a huge issue of the caste system and untouchables. Why? Was this the greatest crime the British could find against the “natives” and therefore exaggerated it tremendously?

This is not to say that people of higher castes didn’t or don’t look down on lower castes, but the demonization of Brahmins is most unwarranted, as Brahmins are least likely to harbour hatred for others due to their strict rules for sadhana which requires them to keep a very high standard of mental and physical purity.  Yet evangelicals, NGOs, international media, Muslim organisations, they all are after them and Hindus in general. They attack them for “atrocities” which never even happened, while the unspeakable atrocities, which were perpetrated upon them, are ignored. It’s a classic case of noticing the speck in the brother’s eye, but not the beam of wood in one’s own eye.

They got away with it for too long, because Hindus didn’t react. The meekness of Hindus was legendary. They were even called cowards. Yet in recent time, Hindus are becoming more assertive. They realize that the constant attacks on them are malicious, and that they are being fooled in the name of secularism because neither Christians nor Muslims can be secular. They are by nature communal because they need to make their community spread all over the world.

It is time to call out this blatant insincerity. When a head of state, like Imran Khan, accuses the Modi government in a tweet of “moving towards Hindu Rashtra with its Hindutva Supremacist, fascist ideology”, he better looks at his own country and his own ideology. A Hindu Rashtra with its inclusiveness and freedom are any time better than the exclusive, supremacist ideologies of Islam and Christianity, which force human beings into a strait-jacket of blind belief and several Muslim states threaten even today those who want to get out with death sentence. – Maria Wirth Blog, 25 May 2020

› Maria Wirth is a German author and commentator who studied psychology at Hamburg University. She has lived in Uttarakhand for many decades and is best known for her blog and recent book Thank you India: A German Woman’s Journey to the Wisdom of Yoga.

Winston Churchill the war hero and colonial racist. He has the blood of over three million Bengalis on his hands for the 1943 famine he created and maintained even against the advice of his advisors.


Warfare in history and the Indian predicament – Gautam Sen

Ceremonial Border Personnel Meeting (BPM) between the armies of China and India was held in Ladakh sector on the occasion of the Chinese Spring Festival in January 2020. Since that meeting China has aggressively brought in more troops and crossed the LAC at various places.

Dr. Gautam SenWhat threatens India most is a two-front war, which it would have difficulty surviving for more than a few months without substantial international help in defence material and major diplomatic intervention to take on the unlimited supplies of men and material of China, with the accompanying threat of a mobilised Pakistan on it borders. – Dr Gautam Sen

Part I

The fear of war and the desire for a peaceful life are an understandable ardent wish in most people. In fact, officers in the armed forces usually have an especial abhorrence of armed conflict, knowing full well its brutal cost. However, this perfectly fathomable yearning creates a profound misapprehension in most people about the place of war in human society and between organised communities. War is regarded by most people as exceptional and peace the norm in human affairs. Unfortunately, this is a misperception about the nature of rivalry in a competitive world and the utterly dire consequences that result from it. In reality, war and peace are unavoidable sides of the same coin, apt to succeed each other with predictable regularity though the intermission may occasionally be prolonged.

In this regard, India is a most peculiar case of a society evidently oblivious to the reality of violence as a perpetual phenomenon and apparently determined to discount its ever-present threat to its own very survival. Yet, India has known little else besides chronic warfare in its history, ancient, medieval and modern, and celebrates its past by citing a war of massive proportions and espouses a foundational scriptural text, which arises from that very titanic war. Perhaps, as a reaction to the deeply embedded memory of the price of persisting violence there is a desire among Indians to suppress the truth by expunging their recollections. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi articulated this subliminal apprehension and provided a potent and enduring alibi for wilful amnesia. Only in 1962 did India wake up and begin changing its misapprehension about the nature of a habitually violent world by preparing itself for warfare, which duly came again three years later.

A vast body of writing by historians and scholars of international relations have cogitated expansively on the nature of warfare in the world. Some have eschewed the concept of a world society in favour of system to underline the existence of an essential divergence among organised groups. Others have adopted a Hegelian notion of constructivism to suggest that beliefs are the critical factor in the predisposition to conflict. Perhaps a middle path between the two incompatible notions is to propose that even if competition and the potential for conflict inheres in the world system when and how that reality unfolds are, at least in part, a product of human construction. For example, the balance of power might have required the US to oppose countries with a pro-communist disposition, but failing to grasp that the Vietnamese struggle was largely nationalist and unlikely to be unavoidably opposed to US interests in Asia was possibly a serious misconstruction.

Even if one were to adopt a constructivist viewpoint and agree the world of competitive violence was created by (mis)perception, it can nevertheless be deemed a corporeal reality. It is the historical reality to which vast attention has been devoted by scholars, from Hans Morgenthau to Kenneth Waltz and beyond, and imparted to generations of students. Even a cursory review of history anywhere in the world identifies the human propensity of organised groups to violence against each other. The Western tradition is one especially deeply imbued with violent compulsions that date back to the Greek world. They prioritised soldering over any primacy allegedly given to the world of ideas. Even the great Socrates was a soldier. Violent conflict and the willingness to engage in copious bloodletting have been the Western norm, from Scipio Africanus’s spoliation of Carthage to Caesar’s pacification of Gaul and from the seemingly endless carnage of the Anglo-French Hundred Year War to the brutal seventeenth century Thirty Year religious conflict, culminating in the immense devastation of the twentieth century.

The norm of warfare is everywhere and only the advent of nuclear weapons has curbed the instinct of major powers to lay each other to waste with the vast industrial capacities they possess to do so. Thus, warfare continues across the world in many guises and India is a principal victim of it. The interesting questions that arise from an Indian perspective are the nature of these multiple guises, why they are so commonplace in the Indian context and why Indians persist in remaining largely impervious to the reality they are experiencing. The reason why India is a major target is the old historical one of being an attractive proposition by virtue of the spoils it has always offered conquerors. The second and critical factor is its extraordinary vulnerability to foreign incursions and internal subjugation, a truly permeable vacuum that cannot remain empty for any length of time. It is the equivalent of walking around in finery and jewellery in a darkened street where gangs rule. In the modern context, taking India by force of arms, like Iraq recently or indeed fight over it like Syria, is likely to prove costly and such an endeavour would only galvanise the population to resist indefinitely, as many historic invaders discovered. However, India is an extraordinarily porous object of attention and vulnerable to subversion through treason. This is how the mighty Scindias succumbed during the Second Anglo-Maratha Wars of 1803-05 and Maharaj Ranjit Singh’s successor kingdom was betrayed and by its own generals in 1845-46.

The first reason why India remains vulnerable to persistent foreign interest and inside meddling is its lack of societal cohesion and the absolutely primordial fact of the absence of an overriding and stable societal elite nationally. Indian political life has long been characterised by unending contest for socio-political primacy over it and that phenomenon has acquired especially potent contemporary dimensions, with a new dispensation briskly replacing an antecedent one with a long history of supremacy over the Indian polity. And India’s erstwhile political elites are patently unwilling to cede power under any circumstances. They are also perfectly disposed to ally with foreign adversaries to forestall their own displacement. This kind of life-and-death political struggle is also underpinned by societal forces on the ground, across India, allied to the various political rivals. Other than for the fact that they have potentially decisive consequences, the particular motivating features of the typology of social discords that accompany the internecine struggle for political power are not of profound significance in themselves, howsoever deeply felt by the protagonists. In the Indian case, these divisive forces, mightily cultivated by the political dispensation threatened by change, are caste, regional identity and religion. All these particularistic societal fault lines and foundations of national division are subject to international accentuation as well, by interested parties that have acquired a foothold inside India’s fractured polity.

India’s multiple internal divisions are too tempting indeed for foreign predators to overlook. The subjugation of India is an alluring prospect to friends and foes alike and the supposed friendship of some countries is merely a contingency of sharing a common foe. A friend may manipulate the existence of a common foe to advance its own perceived long-term aspiration to exploit the relationship for yet greater control over India. This is how the US acts in relation to India and uses its many Indian assets to advance the goal of acquiring compelling influence over Indian policy. One vehicle for it is by insisting on the right to promote religious conversion. It is of course also conceivable that India will encounter a compelling military challenge that will alter the matrix of its national manoeuvrability in relation to urgent international issues. What threatens India most is a two-front war, which it would have difficulty surviving for more than a few months without substantial international help in defence material and major diplomatic intervention. India has neither the ordnance supplies nor the financial resources to take on the unlimited supplies of men and material of China, with the accompanying threat of a mobilised Pakistan on it borders.

The support it would require in such a situation will come at a high price, with dramatic concessions almost certainly being demanded by the US, the likely source of significant assistance.

The fractured Indian polity and society divided by caste, region and religion is intermediated by various institutional arrangements deeply inimical to its national well-being. Most Indian political parties are infiltrated by foreign intelligence agencies in varying degree, some major political organisations and their leaders even connected to the intelligence services of hostile neighbouring countries. The failure to interdict terror attacks in Delhi in 2005 and UP a few years later and the ability of Pakistani terrorists to operate with alacrity on 26/11, were due to the collaboration of major Indian political parties and national leaders with Islamic terrorism. Elements of the Indian bureaucracy are also significantly compromised by their relative impecuniousness by Western standards and the allure of a life for offspring and relatives abroad, i.e. the green card and foreign university scholarship syndrome. At the level of society, India is also thoroughly suborned by foreign influence on its media and over individual journalists, and the ideological sway over its intellectual life in universities and, increasingly, think-tanks beholden to global allegiances and funding. In addition, role of NGOs in India is dismaying because they have enjoyed carte blanche for decades. They successfully penetrated Indian society at every level, especially by asserting religious freedom, which is nothing but a cover for destabilisation activities of foreign intelligence agencies. Some of the subversion of India is also, unprecedentedly, funded by major domestic companies, particularly IT behemoths, who finance known foreign-backed detractors of the country.

One specific issue worth contemplating in more detail is the intangible but powerful role of foreign ideologies, which have an unusually profound impact on how educated Indians perceive the world and their place in it. These ideologies have a pivotal and underrated impact in undermining India’s independent thinking. They have a negative impact on the choices of national policies, unable to swim against the tide of dominant modes of thinking and their insistent plausibility. For example, Indian economists are basically a product of Anglo-American indoctrination and their ideological impact has been deleterious for the Indian economy, veering from uncritical statist obsessions to blind reverence for markets. Models and ideas in economics, like counterparts in the other social sciences, are akin to a shared conversation in which one can only participate meaningfully by speaking in the same language. Not so long ago, submitted articles to economics academic journals were obliged to pay homage to the notion of rational expectations, now unceremoniously relegated after the bitter fruits of hard experience were tasted by the profession.

The same experience is true of the other social sciences. One cannot engage in discourse within them without joining an ongoing conversation in the particular language in which it is occurring. It is also only possible to publish in established scholarly journals to advance one’s career by adhering to the prevailing canon to a degree that is astonishing. As a result, Indian academics abroad quickly become shameless mercenaries because they are only able to participate in academic intellectual life by joining the established conversational dialogue in its existing language. The compelling nature of the rationale is underlined by the fact that almost all Indian social scientists abroad routinely submit to the idea that the liquidation of the Indian Union is morally and politically acceptable. Many Kolkata intellectuals disbelieved the Pakistani army committed atrocities in East Pakistan in 1970-71 and some privately advocate the ceding of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan even today. Such vicious antagonistic views were the staple of Anglo-American and evangelist strategies and the established lingua franca of foreign academic intellectual discourses on India.

Part II

India’s situation is parlous and all the prosperity of the past two decades has blinded even educated and supposedly political conscious Indians to the immense dangers their country is confronting. But there are policies that can be adopted to protect the country while it achieves greater societal integrity and economic self-sufficiency. A prerequisite for the ability to chart a course of action that will secure the country and its heritage depends on the evolution of political power within India. It is a primordial necessity for a single political party or cohesive alliance to fuse over the shared national destiny of remaining territorially and politically united. This sense of national purpose did exist briefly after Indian independence but dissipated by the early 1970s, reaching a nadir by the 1990s, with a bitter contest taking place over the nation’s destiny until 2014.

This pattern of political rivalry and division has been weakened by the recent political transformation at the centre but whether it will endure is unclear. In fact, the incumbent administration is facing a tsunami of trials, often originating abroad to derail the attempt to consolidate a national consensus and underpin it with socioeconomic advances that have eluded India for centuries. In this context, public debates on the urgency of protecting India’s supposed diversity and tolerance, and the ardent support within the country and abroad for upholding them at all cost, are a predacious fraud. They are products of the struggle for political supremacy within India and the foreign interest in a weak Indian federation susceptible to intimidation. The public discourses are without intellectual merit and entirely contrived. If political authority at the centre is stable and successfully incorporates the diverging aspirations of the people of India and the political classes that articulate them, the first vital step to ensure the viability of the country will have been taken.

A medium-term goal needs to be a wide-ranging review of NGOs, especially when funding originates abroad, and the decisive curtailment of their undoubted subversive activities. There is urgency to recognise that foreign evangelical and religious groups are political agents that have goals inimical to the security of the nation and should be firmly curbed. The political nature of religious conversion was demonstrably instantiated by the Kundakulum protests that Wikileaks revealed were instigated by Christian constituents and groups. The issue of tempestuous universities and a highly partisan media, routinely endorsing anti national, treasonous sentiment and endeavour, are more complex and requires a long-term strategy to check. Such inexcusable activities have become well-established in some academic institutions, empowering subversion by marginal groups far in excess of any political footprint they possess in Indian life and they cannot be tolerated any longer. The most unsavoury, Indian communism is, in fact, a foreign malady inside India’s body politic. It functions as an agent of external interests, brazenly offering shelter to assorted terrorist groups. The Indian state has been inexplicably hesitant in dealing with major university centres of subversion, dominated by small groups of communist and Islamist radicals, that even recently managed to instigate protest that held the capital to ransom. The first priority is to impose the rule of law to ensure individuals who appear to have had a free run for decades no longer enjoy the freedom to do so and face judicial sanction. The deeper problem is the intellectual seizure from within of institutions by the Indian left that was facilitated by previous governments, as the price of political cooperation necessary for weak governing parliamentary coalitions.

The policy should be to by-pass these academic institutions by promoting other centres of learning that do not espouse protest and subversion of the national purpose as their default ideational premise. Institutions within which violent protest festers should have their core intellectual activity re-oriented in favour of the hard sciences and funding for the social sciences truncated. Much needs to be done on the level of curricula, but the government has so far even failed to address its most egregious and crass politicisation at the high school level. The media’s transgressions are an outcome of the disdainful anti national intellectual climate in the nation’s premier universities and they will adapt with the transformation of intellectual life initiated by change. Its international connections and murky financial affairs also enjoin constant surveillance. These measures need to begin and their implementation will require political dexterity and sophistication in how they are activated.

The practical feasibility of such policies would also probably require a two-thirds parliamentary majority to ensure legal challenges can be overcome constitutionally.

The Indian state is learning of late that violent subversion will also occur in urban centres and connect with so-called Maoist revolts patronised by the Sino-Pak alliance and religious groups. A hard policy of interdiction will surely be required to prevent the government of India being destabilised at a moment opportune to its foreign adversaries. They will indubitably hope for and sponsor myriad forms of violence across India in the event there is a serious military encounter at the border. Such a distraction was apparently suspected in the aftermath of Operation Parakram when a massive conspiracy was instigated at Godhra in February 2002. It would be wise to enumerate a strategy of blocking areas of cities most likely to be the origin of a violent upsurge, ensure the rapid arrest of identified ringleaders and halt all communications. There is of course the much more serious and potentially insurmountable threat to India of a two-front war in the west and north and appropriate policies are required to negotiate them.

Various international defence-related agreements have been created in recent years with supposed allies to deal with such an eventuality, but there must be planning for a situation when India might have to face a challenge to its very survival alone. Any serious setback, in the context of a two-front war, may prompt other neighbours to advance their pre-existing territorial claims. Both Bangladesh and Nepal have stated demands that may prove an irresistible temptation for them if Delhi is compelled to sue for peace on terms dictated by the Sino-Pak alliance. Such a predicament may seem unlikely, but it is not beyond the bounds of possibility and it would be wise to prepare for a worst-case scenario that poses an existential threat to India.

Appropriate policies can help achieve a crucial medium-term Indian goal of bolstering its manufacturing capacity in two decades or so. Indian governments have sought to realise this policy in the past and the incumbent one is attempting to implement it with more conviction. However, a substantial national manufacturing base is not relevant on grounds of economic welfare per se, which predicates economic specialisation on the basis of supposed comparative advantage. The evidence demonstrates that with very few exceptions all states acquire a manufacturing capacity, though larger countries establish it a lower level of per capita income. There is also a national security rationale for ensuring manufacturing capacity that China’s current global dominance of it is highlighting. For some decades, it has been understood that economic specialisation is dictated by issues like increasing returns to scale, the absence of significant differences in the cost of capital internationally, currency manipulation and the ‘first-mover’ advantage conferred on early entrants in the markets in question. It is therefore important to consider what kind of policy package would accelerate the creation of manufacturing capacity in India, which remains below the level expected for its per capita income, the service sector enjoying an unhealthy primacy to compensate for the lack of manufacturing. Apart from the military-security rationale for nurturing a manufacturing base, there is also the acknowledged necessity for it in order to provide employment and reduce dependence on the low productivity rural sector that constrains growth of incomes.

The list of urgent economic reforms is well-known and does not require to be rehearsed at length. India’s bedevilled by red tape, despite all official protestations to the contrary. Many Indian states have not eased land acquisition and India’s labour laws fail to offer real protection to those covered while extinguishing the opportunity for employment of the vast majority. The key is stable employment opportunities, not the expectation of permanent employment in one business. Some key states in India have now started addressing the issues with some haste in recent days though others had taken varied steps earlier. India also lacks superior infrastructure facilities and the quality of work skills produced by its educational system is woefully inadequate, as comparison with other Asian countries will confirm. These are the legacies of the past, with the Indian state having sought to do innumerable things and ending up doing most of them badly rather than a few well, suggesting the need for far-reaching policy transformation. India needs to focus on genuine public goods like education, health, security and an efficient judicial system.

The latter has become a major barrier to India’s economic efficiency because the courts cannot enforce contracts, by securing property rights and the vital ability to transact with them, both crucial for purposeful economic activity. One underrated issue is the quality of urban life that will entice high value human capital, in the shape of the highly talented and skilled, the most important modern driver of productivity and economic growth. Indian cities are poorly planned and transportation horrendous, crying out for radical action. Some of these issues are difficult for the federal centre to address unilaterally because the Indian constitution allocates responsibility to individual states.

The acceleration of economic change to improve the quality of life and secure India’s economic strength and resilience also depends on the modus of engagement with the world economy. India’s trade GDP ratio is over 42% which means events abroad substantially dictate domestic outcomes. Many issues crowd the horizon to define what will benefit India from its external economic engagement, in ways that hasn’t been possible before. For example, policies need to encourage firm size, which is critical for average cost and quality control. India must also continue supporting the now virtually defunct WTO because, as a price taker in the world economy, it needs an intermediary to restrain the increasingly unilateral violations of treaty obligations by dominant economic players. At the same time, the Coronavirus crisis presents an opportunity to espouse policies that do not fully conform to the multilateralism of the WTO. Most countries in Asia are anxious about China’s mercantilist economic policies and expansionist aims and not just in Asia. They have a vested interest in helping India constitute a balancing counterforce through greater economic size and capacity. India might wish to lead a movement for virtually unhindered economic exchanges with a number of countries like Japan and the Republic of Korea, with some provision for production in India agreed. But myriad Indian policies, from poor decision-making and bureaucratic inertia remain the devil in the detail, illustrated, for example in the recent refusal to allow Japanese firms to provide medical services, exclusively for their own personnel, with staff brought in from Japan. Much needs to change and existing decision-making structures revamped or by-passed.

India is a highly vulnerable country facing huge challenges that are not as remote as they seem. India’s inward-looking political culture is complacent and pusillanimous and could one day find itself looking over the cliff edge. It may not immediately face foreign invasion but it is clearly experiencing massive interference at many levels within the country itself; even violent street protests are being organised by funding from abroad. These issues need to be addressed resolutely before the country is seized once again by the proxies of its adversaries, which was virtually the case for a decade. The threat of physical aggression by China, combined with a Pakistani mobilisation to tie down Indian forces in the west, can be met rapidly with a few harsh choices.

The prerequisite is to first have a guaranteed second-strike retaliatory nuclear capability, which should occur very shortly, with India acquiring a wide-spectrum SLBM capacity. India should then insinuate it will treat Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal as outsourced Chinese assets and target retaliation accordingly. Let Beijing wonder about an innocuous discussion on this subject among retired Indian foreign policy wonks in the media. India must then also consider the most dramatic measure of all, which is to embark on emplacement of battlefield nuclear weapons at the border with China to signal that the initiative will be with China to test Indian resolve in the event of setback to its conventional forces owing to a full-scale Chinese assault. These are psychological games that India must play with conviction. On the domestic front, the Indian Union must resolve to decapitate the manifold forms of foreign subversion that are eroding its integrity as a nation. It is now time for an aspiring great power to stop behaving like a meek supplicant alarmed by foreign newspaper coverage. – New World Order, 16 May 2020

› Dr. Gautam Sen taught international political economy and political science at the London School of Economics for more than two decades.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Nepal protests Indian road from Darchula to Lipulekh Pass – Claude Arpi

Rajnath Singh inaugurates link road to Kailash Mansarovar by video conferencing (May 2020).

Claude ApriThere is no doubt that the new road is inside Indian territory. It is in Delhi’s interests to find an amicable solution with Nepal for the areas where there is no agreement; it could avoid China interfering in bilateral affairs between Delhi and Kathmandu in the future. – Claude Arpi

An argument has erupted between India and Nepal, after an 80 km new road between Darchula to Lipulekh, the border pass near the trijunction with Tibet and Nepal, was inaugurated by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. The road is expected to be used by the Indian pilgrims visiting Kailash-Mansarovar, some 90 km from the pass, as well as the local traders, Lipulekh being one of the three authorised land ports between India and China.

PTI said: “The Lipulekh pass is a far western point near Kalapani, a disputed border area between Nepal and India. Both India and Nepal claim Kalapani as an integral part of their territory.” Kathmandu handed over a diplomatic note protesting against the construction of this vital road to Vinaya Mohan Kwatra, the Indian Ambassador to Nepal; who was then called by Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Nepal’s Foreign Minister.

Issue at hand

India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) denied that the road was crossing Nepal’s territory: “The recently inaugurated road section in Pithoragarh district in the state of Uttarakhand lies completely within the territory of India. The road follows the pre-existing route used by the pilgrims of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra,” said South Block.

Last November, Kathmandu protested, “unilateral decisions on border issues won’t be accepted,” it was in reference to the new Political Map of India published by Delhi after two new Union Territories – Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh – came into existence on October 31. Kathmandu formally protested over the inclusion of the Kalapani area in the new map. The new Indian map is exactly the same as the one published in 1954 in the Atlas of the Northern Frontiers of India, the official reference till today for India’s boundaries. Kathmandu didn’t protest against the old map and apart from the new UTs, there was nothing new in the 2019 maps.

The case is complicated by the political struggle within the ruling party in Nepal and by the lack of historical consistency in Kathmandu’s position.

Tracing the history

After a War between British India and Nepal in 1814, the Nepalis were sent back across the Kali River in May 1815 and subsequently the Segowli Treaty was signed on March 4, 1816. Article 5 of the Treaty stated: “The Rajah of Nepaul renounces for himself, his heirs and successors, all claim to or connexion with the countries lying to the West of the River Kali, and engages never to have any concern with those countries or the inhabitants thereof.” Unfortunately, there was no map attached, which could have authoritatively shown the exact alignment and source of the Kali River. It was only by the mid-1800s that the Himalayan border was properly surveyed by the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India (a precursor of the Survey of India).

The “Boundary Treaty between the People’s Republic of China and the Kingdom of Nepal” signed by President Liu Shaoqi of China and King Mahendra of Nepal on October 5, 1961: “The Chairman of the People’s Republic of China and His Majesty the King of Nepal, was of the agreed opinion that a formal settlement of the question of the boundary between China and Nepal is of fundamental interest to the peoples of the two countries,” said the preamble.

Article I (1) defined the China-Nepal boundary line, which “starts from where the watershed between the Kali River and the Tinkar River meets the watershed between the tributaries of the Mapchu (Karnali) River on one hand and the Tinkar River on the other hand…”

The precise maps attached to the Treaty and signed by both parties show Kathmandu seems to have forgotten that the location of the river on the maps of the Sino-Nepali treaty matches with the Indian one, which implies the road is on Indian territory.

What must be negotiated is the area south of the river, where the British (and later Indian) cartographers have taken into account, the watershed principle and the land revenues of Gunji village on the Indian side. What compounds the issue is the rift within the ruling party’s leadership in Nepal and the role played by China through Hou Yanqi, Beijing’s Ambassador to Kathmandu, the new ‘Queen’ of Nepal, who arranged a rapprochement at the top level of the ruling Nepal Communist Party.

Future impact

An Op-Ed in The Indian Express noted: “Shedding its image of being a reluctant player in the internal politics of Nepal, China has been playing an active role these past few days in Kathmandu’s power games.”

Ms Hou Yangqi brokered a truce, with KP Sharma Oli keeping his prime ministerial seat; its said President Xi Jinping had a 40-minute phone conversation with Nepal counterpart Bidhya Devi Bhandari, “ostensibly to promise all support to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.”

According to Onlinekhabar, on May 12, “In contrast to his foreign affairs minister’s statement that the government was aware of India constructing a link road to Manasarovar encroaching on the Nepali territory in Kalapani region, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli says he was not told about it.”

There is no doubt about the location of the river and that the new road is inside Indian territory. It is in Delhi’s interests to find an amicable solution with Nepal for the areas where there is no agreement; it could avoid China interfering in bilateral affairs between Delhi and Kathmandu in the future. – Daily-O, 21 May 2020

Claude Arpi is a French-born author, journalist, historian and tibetologist who lives in Auroville. He is the director of the Pavilion of Tibetan Culture at Auroville.

India-Kailash Route Map


The B.B. Lal Interview – Divya A.

B.B. Lal

Divya A.“Archaeological investigations at Ayodhya had clearly established that there was a temple at the site before the construction of the mosque, and we were happy that the Supreme Court took due notice of this fact in pronouncing its judgment.” – B.B. Lal

On May 2, India’s senior-most archaeologist and Padma Bhushan awardee B.B. Lal entered his 100th year. Lal, who is actively involved in archaeological research and writing even at 99, was trained by Sir Mortimer Wheeler at Taxila in 1944, after which he joined the Archaeological Survey of India and served as its Director-General from 1968 to 1972. Delhi-based Lal also served on various UNESCO committees. In a career spanning over five decades, Lal excavated several important landmark sites, including Hastinapura (Utttar Pradesh), Sisupalgarh (Odisha), Purana Qila (Delhi) and Kalibangan (Rajasthan). From 1975-76 onwards, Lal investigated sites like Ayodhya, Bharadvaja Ashrama, Sringaverapura, Nandigrama and Chitrakoota under his Archaeology of Ramayana Sites project.

Excerpts from an exclusive interview:

Q : As an archaeologist, what has been the most satisfying moment of your life to date?

A : A seeker after truth keeps on getting satisfaction from everything he does. Thus, each new problem that I tackled gave me satisfaction. However, the first major satisfaction came when in the 1950s I was able to establish, through archaeological fieldwork, the historicity of the Mahabharata.

Q : You had carried out excavations at sites associated with the Mahabharata. This is one of the most debated subjects of ancient Indian history. Several people think that the Mahabharata is nothing but a figment of the imagination.

A : Indeed, there are two extremely divergent views about it. According to one, everything mentioned in the text is true to the very letter, while the other view regards it as nothing but the poet’s imagination.

Q : What is the way to ascertain the truth?

A : As an archaeologist, I decided in the 1950s to explore and excavate sites associated with the story. Luckily, all these sites continue to bear the same names even today as they did in antiquity, for example, Hastinapura, the capital of the Kauravas; Mathura, from where Krishna hailed; or Kurukshetra, where the great war took place. Explorations at all the sites revealed that these contained in their lowest levels very distinctive pottery, grey in fabric and painted with designs in black colour, now called the Painted Grey Ware. This established their cultural linkage around circa 1000 BC, the central date for that ware.

Q : There may be cultural uniformity of these sites, but does this establish the historicity of the Mahabharata?

A : To go deeper into the matter, I decided to excavate the key site of Hastinapura. It is located on the right bank of the Ganga in Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh. The results were very significant. It was found that the eastern part of the mound was washed away by a massive flood in the Ganga. This discovery made me look for corroborative evidence in ancient literature and to my great surprise, it was there. The Matsya Purana and Vayu Purana emphatically refer to this flood. What the text says roughly translates as: “When the city of Hastinapura will be washed away by the Ganga, Nichkshu will abandon it and shift the capital to Kaushambi”. Thus, there is complete corroboration between archaeology and literature about the flood.

Q : But you have not made any specific mention about the date of the war.

A : In the genealogical list given in the Puranas, there occurs the name of Udayana as the 24th ruler from Parikshit. It is well-known that Udayana was a contemporary of Buddha. Since Buddha died in 483 BC, Udayana may well have ruled around 500 BC. I took a count of all the Indian ruling dynasties, from the Mauryas to the Mughals, and discovered that the average reign per ruler was only 13.55 years. Even after upgrading this average to 15-20 years, we come to 980 BC for Parikshit, who ascended the throne after the Mahabharata war.

Q : While historians seem to agree with this dating, astronomers usually take the date back to circa 3000 BC. What is your opinion about that?

A : I have two very significant questions against that date. Archaeological evidence shows that around 3000 BC none of the Mahabharata sites were in existence, so how can you enact the Mahabharata without Hastinapura and Mathura? Secondly, if I accept this date, the average reign per ruler will come to 145 years. It beats all imagination.

Q : Coming back to the present times. How did you feel when the Ram Janmabhoomi verdict was announced last year?

A : Archaeological investigations had clearly established that there was a temple at the site before the construction of the mosque, and we were happy that the Supreme Court took due notice of this fact in pronouncing its judgment.

Q : Is there a message you want to give to the new generation of archaeologists?

A : My advice to all the field-archaeologists is: (1) Define your objective clearly and then after due exploration choose your site for excavation; (2) Be entirely objective in your analysis of the data obtained. No subjectivity should be allowed to creep in; (3) Try to publish your results as early as possible; (4) Keep your eyes and ears wide open.

I will give an example from my life. Once, on a wet day in the ‘60s, when I took out my car from the garage and reversed it to go away, I observed that at the point of intersection, the edges of the earlier tyre-marks were obliterated by the later tyre marks. This set me thinking if I could find (in my then-current excavation) at Kalibangan, potsherds bearing inscriptions with overriding signs, I might be able to determine whether the inscription was written from right to left or the other way round. I was lucky to get a few potsherds on which the signs on the right were partly overrun by those on the left. This clearly established that the inscriptions were written from the right to the left. A paper dealing with this discovery was published in Antiquity (England) and hailed the world over. – The Indian Express, 19 May 2020

Divya A. reports on travel, tourism, culture and social issues for The Indian Express.

ASI Ayodhya Team (1976-77)

Ayodhya Temple Finds (1976-77)


Returning to Hinduism – Makarand Paranjape

Returning to Hinduism

Prof Makarand R. ParanjapeThe basic and brutal fact is that most Indian Muslims were once Hindus or people of indigenous faith practices. The road to their return to the Hindu fold should not only be wide open but underwritten with security, dignity, acceptance and love. Without the first two, all “ghar wapsi” efforts will be futile. – Prof Makarand Paranjape

Is Hinduism locked in an existential struggle against Abrahamic faiths, especially Islam and Christianity? Not necessarily. As I have argued in my earlier writings, particularly Altered Destinations: Self, Society, and Nation in India (London, 2010) and Making India: Colonialism, National Culture, and the Afterlife of Indian English Authority (Dordrecht, 2013), the Sanatani and the non-Sanatani can coexist without conflict.

That is because the Sanatani, with its inclusive and open-ended belief systems, has the capacity both to absorb and allow radical differences. Also, and this is something we tend to forget, non-Sanatani systems, religious or secular, also have Sanatani elements of pluralism, non-exclusion, and acceptance of difference.

The real problem occurs when the non-Sanatani becomes anti-Sanatani. This can be true of theologically justified armed invasion and occupation as applicable to much of the Islamic conquest of India. Or, on a smaller scale, of the Portuguese assault and inquisition in Cochin and Goa, and the early French rule in Puducherry, where religious aggression accompanied imperialistic conquest.

The British ruled differently, using a Macaulay-inspired educational, intellectual and cultural rebooting of India that, unfortunately, turned out to be anti-Sanatani in many of its features. Marxism and modernity, too, obviously non-Sanatani, can also be very viciously and virulently anti-Sanatani.

Likewise, Dravidianist and Ambedkarite extremism, with their reverse racism, targeted hate campaigns and divisive politics, may also be included in the roster of anti-Sanatani movements. In more recent times, a combination of these forces have resulted in a rather powerful anti-India or, as some go to the extent of arguing, breaking-India narrative.

Karl Popper : Paradox of ToleranceWhat, then, would be the fitting response from the Sanatani side to such threats? The answer, rather obvious to those who have studied the Sanatana traditions, would be a principled and carefully executed combination of defence and offence. The defence, like a shield, protects us when we are most vulnerable; the sword thrusts, rather than slashes, where the adversary is at its weakest. But in the process, when the Sanatani dons the fierce mask that almost resembles its opposite, it must never lose its Sanatani essence, which remains plural, non-exclusive, open-ended. The Sanatani, after all, is exceptional precisely because it has no one point of origin, no one book or prophet, no one doctrine or ideology, no one church or belief system. Without origin or closure, the Sanatani permits a great variety of both precepts and practices with some fundamental underlying structures.

In its fight against the anti-Sanatani, if the Sanatani becomes indistinguishable from its opponent, it would lose its self. Worse, the loss of the Sanatani, bad enough for itself, would also be catastrophic for the world. Whatever the symbol or deity of our battle against our adversaries, the more benign and sober form of it as well as ourselves must remain the normal and default mode.

After all, a deity which is angry all the time, even the new and rather popular graphic of “angry Hanuman,” will eventually turn on its own followers, having run out of enemies. Anger directed outward at real or imagined foes will come back to consume us too if we do not know the art of stilling it. Hence, all our rituals and ceremonies end with shanti mantras. Energies invoked for specific purposes must also be stilled and quietened for cosmic balance and harmony to be restored.

It is in this light that we must view the “ghar wapsi” of nearly 300 so-called Muslims of Haryana to Hinduism in two recent instances. The earlier one occurred on April 18, when six families with some 35 members returned to Hinduism in Danoda Kalan, a village in the district of Jind in Haryana. The more recent incidence was on May 8 in which 40 families consisting of some 250 people returned to Hinduism.

In both instances, the trigger was the last rites of a deceased elder. By opting for cremation over burial, the reconverted returned to their Hindu identity. Earlier, I used “so-called Muslim” to describe these families because they lived like Hindus, for most part retaining Hindu customs and names, but were listed as Muslims. According to their own traditions and legends, they were converted to Islam during the times of Aurangzeb. One reason for their return, it was reported, is that they belong to the Dom community, recognised as a scheduled caste, and thus eligible for benefits if they identified as Hindus rather than Muslims.

It is very important to underline that what these two cases illustrate is the basic and brutal fact that most Indian Muslims were once Hindus or people of indigenous faith practices. The road to their return to the Hindu fold should not only be wide open but underwritten with security, dignity, acceptance and love. Without the first two, all “ghar wapsi” efforts will be futile.

Once it is established that the return to Hinduism is as per the law, that is without fear or inducement, then both government and non-government agencies should ensure that such returnees are not harassed or hounded by the former co-religionists. After all, in several non-Sanatani religions, the price for apostasy is very high, as high, in fact, as death itself.

The Sanatani, as I said earlier, is an open system. That does not mean that it is a one-way stream, with people leaving the Hindu fold to become Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Marxist or even secularist. It means that those who left can also return. Whenever they like. It is up to us, as modern Hindus, to make their return both meaningful and sustainable. We must create the felicity conditions for their welcome and integration into Hindu society.

In this regard, it is a gross misunderstanding to claim that Hinduism is non-proselytising, though of course the word has a totally different connotation for us. The fact is that most of Vaishnavism, right up to the worldwide success of ISKCON, is based on attracting converts. There is no reason that should change now. If at all, Hinduism today should be made even more appealing to both returning and new converts. – The New Indian Express, 15 May 2020

Prof Makarand R. Paranjape is an author and poet and Director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla.

Ghar Wapsi : Reconversion to Hinduism


Wuhan Virus: China must be held accountable – Rajesh Singh

Xi Jinping

Rajesh SinghIf China has nothing to hide, why does it not allow a team of independent, global experts—including those from the friendly WHO—to visit Wuhan Province and study the issue? – Rajesh Singh

US President Donald Trump might have a credibility crisis, with people even within his party and band of loyalists refusing to believe in everything that he says. That skepticism apart, it would be unwise to dismiss across the board his accusations against China over the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic which has, incidentally, hit the US the hardest. We may consider as outlandish the allegation that China deliberately unleashed the virus from one of its laboratories, but it is very possible that the virus escaped from the laboratory as a result of grave negligence. And that the Chinese authorities, having realized the blunder, worked overtime to camouflage it through coercive means domestically and diplomatic measures internationally.

The US State of Missouri has sued China on COVID-19 mishandling. The lawsuit alleges that Beijing suppressed information, arrested whistleblowers, and initially denied the contagious nature of the disease. All of these led to “irreparable damage” to countries globally. The lawsuit mentions the Chinese government, the ruling Chinese Communist Party, and some Chinese officials and institutions as the accused. An American lawyer has filed a $20 trillion lawsuit against China for the “creation and release” of the Coronavirus, which has been used by Beijing as a biological weapon.

And it’s not just the US which has demanded compensation from China. Even countries that have been at odds with the US in recent months have gone ahead to claim damages for the spread of the pandemic. For instance, Germany presented China with a 130 billion pound bill, the breakup of which includes losses incurred in tourism, to the German film industry, to the German airline Lufthansa, and to the country’s small businesses. Both France and the UK have expressed strong disapproval over China’s handling of the pandemic information in the early stages. A UK-based Conservative think-tank has explored 10 points on which China can be sued for “trillions of dollars for its initial cover-up of the Coronavirus pandemic….”

President Trump’s demand—and a similar one by other countries, both in the West and elsewhere—for a fair, open and independent investigation inside China into the origins and spread of the virus, is valid. Indeed, it’s necessary, because Beijing cannot be believed. So far, China’s response has been along expected lines. It has presented itself as a victim, pointing out that thousands of its citizens in Wuhan, where the virus originated, had lost their lives. Besides, the Chinese economy had been badly hit by the tragedy, and its impact would be felt for years to come. China has also sought to present a “humane” face in the midst of the tragedy (in a bid to divert global attention from its wrongdoing) by showing alacrity in supplying medical equipment to countries). But this has boomeranged as the medical kits came with a heavy price tag and, worse, they were found defective—some countries returned the kits and cancelled the orders they had placed with China. India was one of the victims of this so-called humane outreach. It also promised an additional $30 million to the World Health Organisation (WHO) after US President Trump announced a cut in his country’s funding to the UN agency.

The questions China needs to answer

If China has nothing to hide, why does it not allow a team of independent, global experts—including that from the friendly WHO—to visit Wuhan Province and study the issue? Why did it not discontinue international flights to and from Wuhan when it stopped all flights from Wuhan to the rest of China and vice versa when the disease first broke out? Why has it clamped down on new research by Chinese scientists after reports emerged from its experts which highlighted the dangerous work being conducted on bat virus? Why has it not shared any live virus samples with the world? The allegation is that it destroyed the samples. If that is indeed true, then why did it do so? Why has China not behaved as a responsible nation in the context of this virus pandemic?

Not only has Beijing been less than transparent in its behaviour, but it has also been vicious in its attack on nations that have demanded accountability from it. Take the case of Australia, which has a robust trade relationship with China. It called for WHO member-nations to demand an independent inquiry into the spread of the pandemic from China. In return, China openly threatened it with economic retaliation. The Chinese Ambassador to Australia said his country could consider boycotting Australian products if Canberra continued with its “anti-China” posture. This is typical of the Chinese arm-twisting tactic which has been refined over decades and integrated into its state policy.

Beijing’s shocking but not surprisingly irresponsible behaviour offers an opportunity to the global community to reset its economic relations with the Asia giant. It would be stupid to believe that China can be isolated globally in trade matters. But the West can show the way to downscaling those ties. Meanwhile, global efforts must be sustained to seek a probe into the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic. And the best place to begin the inquiry is China.

Where does India stand in this controversy? As always, it is trying to find some middle ground. It does not want to antagonize Beijing, but it also does not want to be seen as backing an opaque regime. New Delhi, in its heart of hearts, realizes the blunders that China has committed, which led to the spread of the disease, taking a heavy toll on India as well. But it will not openly call a spade a spade. But at least it can add its voice, and loudly at that, to the demand for a global investigation without prejudging China. – PGurus, 7 May 2020

Rajesh Singh is a Delhi-based senior political commentator and public affairs analyst.

Wuhan Virus


How India can become a global knowledge hub again – Makarand Paranjape

JNU : Known today as the national centre of anti-national politics.

Prof Makarand R. ParanjapeSince Independence, we have invested in mediocrity and deprivation. Our universities have become hotbeds of politics where disgruntled students with few skills and uncertain futures are easily lured to become “anti-nationals”. As for our primary education, it is a colossal mess, especially in the unwieldy and inefficient government sector. – Prof Makarand Paranjape

Not a day passes without some major meeting or event being announced on Prime Minister Modi’s popular, informative, eponymous app/web page This May Day, tucked away between louder and important consultations and policy statements, was this communiqué: “PM Modi holds a review meeting to discuss the education sector”.

I immediately felt enthused. Not only because I currently hold the position of the Director, Indian Institute of Advanced Study. But because all my life I’ve done practically nothing except to read, write, study, teach and think of what constitutes education. The business of learning is thus like breathing as far as I am concerned. I also believe that it is through the transformation of our education system that we can re-awaken “Bharat Shakti”, the power of India.

Beginning of ruin

Bharat has been a knowledge giver to the world for millennia, a beacon of light and hope. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that we were the original knowledge society. While much of the rest of the world subsisted in backwardness, our rishis and savants were composing magnificent monuments in verse. We were also leaders in town planning, architecture, sculpture, painting, science mathematics, metallurgy, agriculture, astronomy and medicine, and more.

All this has been well-documented, though it is astonishing how little we still know of our own past greatness. What the famous English historian A.L. Basham called “The wonder that was India” is still much of a mystery to us. That is because we are standing, as it were, on the rubble of a broken civilisation. Though we are striving to rebuild it, we are only now developing the means. The irony of our colonial past is that though the British looted India and sucked our lifeblood, without their intervention it is doubtful if we would have known the extent of our ancient glory. Colonialism impoverished us, but also spurred our renewal.

We might argue that after the burning of Nalanda around 1200 CE by Ikhtiyar al-Din Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khalji there was probably no internationally recognised university or academy left in India. True, there were some centres of excellence, even a wonderful new school of logic, Navya-Nyaya. But by and large, the system of patronage that supported Sanskrit and Indian knowledge systems was destroyed by our Islamic rulers. India’s energies were not entirely snuffed out, though. We had an efflorescence of vernacular and regional literature during this period in a multitude of our languages across the subcontinent. However, the sort of systematic and superior scholarship and research that characterised our classical past was, arguably, absent during our medieval “dark ages”.

Current challenges

Coming to our present, we have, some would even say, the paradox of plenty. Increasing outlays in education but decreasing outcomes. No surprise that our greatest scientists, poets, philosophers, writers, and thinkers in recent times belong to the era when we were fighting for Independence. Afterwards, few Indians matched the genius of Rabindranath Tagore, C.V. Raman, Swami Vivekananda, or Mahatma Gandhi. It is as if in resisting the British empire, we became great ourselves.

Unfortunately, since Independence, we have invested in mediocrity and deprivation. Our universities have become hotbeds of politics where disgruntled students with few skills and uncertain futures are easily lured to become “anti-nationals”. As for our primary education, it is a colossal mess, especially in the unwieldy and inefficient government sector. Unbelievable sums of money, running into lakhs of crores are spent across the country, but our children leave schools without proper training or abilities. On the other hand, private schools, whether secular or religious, breed elitism from the early years that is never quite eclipsed or offset no matter how many counter-compensations are offered later on.

Our challenges are vast, varied, and well known. From providing access to all to reskilling the nation and enabling lifelong learning—with everything in between, such as structural, syllabus, and textbook reform too. The May 1 meeting proposed many lofty goals and outcomes: “It was decided to usher in education reforms to create a vibrant knowledge society by ensuring higher quality education to all thereby making India a global knowledge super power.”

Goals for future

The means proposed were “extensive use of technology including Artificial Intelligence.” But to make India a “global knowledge superpower” technology alone will not help; we need commensurately great vision and values. We need smart ideas and good people. We must focus on excellence at all levels of education. This means freeing the system from too many regulations, moving from negative reservations to positive support to the disadvantaged. We have to move from student politics to student government in higher education. We need not focus too much on nation-wide policy documents but implementing fundamental changes on the ground.

Primary education must change from being entirely funded by the state to public-private partnerships with clear benchmarks. As for higher education, we suffer from both over-regulation and under-regulation: the former afflicts state-funded institutions, the latter private players. Our system has enshrined mediocrity and sidelined smart people. Education in India cries not for a piecemeal tinkering, but for root-and-branch reform. – Daily-O, 6 May 2020

Prof. Makarand Paranjape is an author, poet, and humanities professor. He has been the Director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla since August 2018. Prior to that he was a professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, India for 19 years.

Takshashila University