Of late there has been discussion in informed circles about what constitutes the “Idea of India”. While it is both academically sound and sensible to “revisit” a concept every so often and ground it in newer garb, the fact that a debate has suddenly come to the fore about the need to “define” a civilisation that has watered a multitude of contemplation since the existence of time is leading to some puzzlement. After all, even the immortal Indologist Max Mueller under whose scholarly direction the magnum opus Sacred Books of the East was prepared had stated over a century ago that “If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered over the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions of some of them which well deserve the attention even of those who have studied Plato and Kant, I should point to India.”
It was, therefore, with some bewilderment that the author of the article had wondered about the need to “reinvent” India. Indeed, he had grown up to the fascination of the Brhadaranyaka and the Chandogya Upanishads which among other enduring aspects decreed that the notes of the drum have no existence apart from the general note of the drum. Yet—presently—a debate has begun about a realm that had spawned the very nature of existence! But perhaps there was—as aforesaid—a need for a revisitation. After all recapitulation had been the way of even the seers of yore. Approval, not derision, has always accompanied repetition of the consecrated and aspects that have been considered to be hallowed.
Another question that is also being asked along with the quest for the “Idea of India” is what determines “Inclusive India.” Indeed, in these trying times when custom is more honoured in the breach than the observance, the question has gained in prominence and needs to be answered. However the question that has not escaped the author is the fact that the notion of “Inclusive India” is an inherently loaded concept. Is India a nonconforming receptacle endowed with only specificities of ingredients, albeit in exclusion of another?
Inclusiveness entails that an aspect has to be broad, comprehensive and all-encompassing. Therefore, when one speaks about “Inclusive India” one must perforce refer to every single facet that makes up the nation. These must range from features incorporating the entity that is termed as India from the moment Indic civilisation—in all its manifestation—came to be used in scholarly parlance to characterise an expanse within which the broad geographical contours of Bharatavarsha is referred to. However, there must be clarity about not only what constitutes the physical boundaries of India, but also the emotional shape and component of that colossal confine.
There has been sage mention of the “inherent strength of pluralistic India”. It primarily speaks about the array that characterises India’s religious diversity. The Muslim community of India, for instance, constitutes almost 15 % of the country’s population leaving no doubt about the shaping contribution it has made to the nation’s growth. In Assam, for instance, the Muslim population—by way of even a liberal decadal growth projection of the outcome of a possible census that has not yet taken place—could be close to 45 % of the total population making them an expanse that would decisively determine every aspect of the state’s fortunes—from economy, to politics, to traditional security. The fact that the state abuts an ever-changing socio-cultural landscape that makes up Bangladesh so closely is also a geo-political reality as is the fact that there have been—and will continue to be—economic and climate migrants from the country in the future. However, the reality is also that the “transformative moment” which Islam is passing through has willy-nilly led to a “clash of civilisation” and the narrative is leading to suspicion about an entire community. Agent saboteurs alien to the Indian ethos are aplenty in a “conflict zone” (especially after the Talibanisation of Afghanistan and the manner in which it “reneged” on the Doha Agreement with the United States) and there is a distinct possibility that sinister forces may engineer and convince the Indian Muslim that the quam is in danger and has to be protected at all cost. Biased statements about exclusive radicalisation of the Muslim community, too, have not helped matters. Indeed, such pronouncements are not only geared towards “manufacturing consent” but are premeditatedly conspiratorial.
In this context it must also be underscored that radicalisation per se is not peculiar to any faith. History is testimony to the fact that almost all religion has exhibited radicalisation in one form of the other at different times of human existence. Indeed, it may seem to be a contradiction in terms, but even Buddhism—a belief system known for its inherent pacifism—have displayed radical conduct in the past.
Hinduism in its pagan form was perhaps the most radicalised of religion and the manner in which some of its prescribed “man-on-man” exploitation with a clear accent to divide humankind on class lines is glaring. Decreeing in ruthless aspects, the religion of the Aryans divided human existence itself on the basis of what it termed as the “unspoken truth” (apureshaya). Upper class Brahmins had divine rights and could ordain for an entire society. Even a language was the sole prerogative of the superior group. Indeed, even the gods could be brought down from the heavens by this class of “twice born” (dwija). As a matter of fact, Hinduism—of the ancient times—was akin to Hellenic lore when gods were subservient to mortals and even entered into holy wedlock to spew demi-gods.
A debate is also raging at present about the attribution of value or otherwise to two contrasting concepts. Deradicalisation is a concept or rather the preferred methodology for law-enforcers all over the world, especially in the backdrop of 9/11. However, a different manner of addressing the problem had been put forward by the author around 2015. It was termed Counter Radicalisation. The simple stratagem seeks to prevent radicalisation from manifesting itself in the first place and one, if calibrated, can even utilise the services of the Muslim community! Moreover the “Cost-Benefit-Analysis” of Counter Radicalisation is far more rewarding than Deradicalisation which as has been seen in the past can relapse into recidivism. Counter Radicalisation also has the merits of halting the progression of a process that could invariably lead to violence before it is even contemplated. If a comparison has to be drawn with the “prevalent” but non-existence notion of Deradicalisation that most countries (law-enforcers) including India continue to grapple with then it would be analogous to “shutting the stable gates after the horse has fled”. As aforesaid, radicalisation is a phenomenon that has come to be the accepted norm and one that which is being waged against puritanical Islam. Proclamation of a counter narrative—primarily by the state—that Islam has within its strains that can ideologically and successfully combat schools such as the Wahabi or the Salafi is, therefore, the way out.
The syncretism that has guided Assam is unique. The nearly 600 year rule of the Ahoms who regardless of religion provided employment to Hindus and Muslims ascertained this distinctiveness. Therefore, there were Saikias in both communities who were in the service of the Swargadeo. Assam is, therefore, the correct laboratory for the Counter Radicalisation experiment
In any event it is Islam that is passing through the aforesaid “transformative moment” and as a result is being held responsible to have commenced the “Clash of Civilisation”. The concept of radicalisation is, therefore, one or the other inextricably intertwined with Islam. To that end, the discourse of Deradicalisation and Counter Radicalisation has to be examined within its greater ambit.
But to return to the narrative of inclusiveness and the “Idea of India”, it has been witnessed that recent events that have overtaken the country have only sought to widen the divide when there should have been clear-headedness in the manner in which unfortunate events could have been managed. The easiest way out of a situation that has gone awry is to blame it on a “foreign hand” which well may be the case. But the fact of the matter is that nation-building is the duty of both the state and the citizenry. To that end, it is time to take stock of the situation and get down to the business of correct national “housekeeping”. While it is not one of the briefs of the article to state that there does not exist an alien, divisive design for compromising India’s security, the fact of the matter is that a “broad-brushing” exercise that seeks to colour every Muslim as a suspect is dangerous. Instead the realistic way to combat an agenda that seeks to perpetuate “us and them” should be to calibrate a course of action that has expediency and imagination in its ambit. More importantly it should be the bounden duty of every Indian—irrespective of caste, creed and religion—to take upon themselves the task of thwarting the alien design and ensure that not only has India always been an inclusive one but the debate about the “Idea of India” has long been resolved.
(Jaideep Saikia is an internationally acclaimed conflict analyst and celebrated author of several best-selling books on security and strategy. He is also the sole Asian Fellow in the Irregular Warfare Initiative, West Point, USA)