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This article was first published 1 year ago  » News » India@75: Beacon Of Light In Gloomy World

India@75: Beacon Of Light In Gloomy World

By Colonel ANIL A ATHALE (retd)
August 15, 2022 10:24 IST
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The world over, pluralism is in retreat.
Luckily for us, Indian pluralism and its consequent tolerance of diversity is rooted in our basic values.
As long as we remain faithful to these values and keep our institutions in good health, the Indian miracle of the last 75 years is likely to last centuries, asserts Colonel Anil A Athale (retd).

IMAGE: Students take part in a Tiranga rally in Ranchi, August 13, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

On August 15, 1947 when India got independence from the British empire, there were dire predictions about its future.

Winston Churchill had predicted on March 18, 1931 that once the British leave, like in the past, Moslem tribes from the North West would conquer North India and eventually the North would reconquer the South.

Churchill asserted that 'Hindoos are not a fighting race and cannot defend themselves against Moslems.'

Churchill had also wondered how a subcontinent that has more divisions than Europe, on the basis of language, race, religion, could stay together when European unity is a mirage (this continues even in the 21st century).

In July 1961 when then Pakistan president Ayub Khan visited the United States, he confidently predicted that India would break up soon.

The 1960s were full of Western writings on India that echoed this sentiment.

The logic was that India was kept together by the glue of anti-British sentiment and the tall leaders of the freedom struggle.

Once the British left and leaders of the Independence movement faded away, it was predicted that India would break up into several small States with Pakistan emerging as the strongest State in the subcontinent.

Imperial Britain had calculated on this premise and actively created Muslim dominated Pakistan to serve its interests.

The nay-sayers were basing their prediction on the prevailing myth that Muslims had ruled India for a thousand years.

The truth is that even at height of its power, Mughal rule was mainly confined to North and Central India. Vast swathes of the South and East remained out of their grasp.

When under Aurangzeb, the Mughals attempted to conquer the South, they were defeated by the Marathas and the Assamese under Lachit Borphukan.

Deep South, the modern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu were never ruled by Muslims.

The consequence of these enduring myths was that within two months of Independence, in October 1947, Pakistan launched the invasion of Kashmir using Muslim tribals.

The Indian Army and Indian Air Force in a swift operation threw out the Pakistan army supported tribals from Kashmir in less than a month's time.

India deliberately limited its operations to areas populated by pro-India elements and took the issue to the United Nations.

The past did not repeat itself as it was not some small North Indian kingdom who was resisting the Muslim tribals, but the Indian Army that had resources of the vast nation from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Somnath to Guwahati.

Pakistan did not learn the lesson of 1947 and again attempted the same tactics in 1965.

This time, India on September 6, 1965 escalated the Kashmir conflict and attacked along the international border.

Lahore, the political heart of Pakistan, was within India's grasp, but an inept general let the opportunity slip out of our hands.

Less than six years later, instead of India it was Pakistan that broke up into two with the emergence of Bangladesh.

Nehru Jinnah and Mountbatten

IMAGE: Jawaharlal Nehru delivers his Tryst with Destiny speech, one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century. Photograph: William Stacey/Fox Photos/Getty Images

Multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-racial India's existence as a State is indeed a miracle.

Even a cursory survey of India's 5,000-year-old history shows that while India did have cultural unity, political unity has always eluded it.

Even in the Ramayan or Mahabharat period there were numerous kingdoms like Sindh, Panchal (modern Andhra/Telangana) or Bang desh (West Bengal).

The only time India was politically united was during the reign of Asoka, but that empire did not survive him.

Even the mighty Guptas (Samudragupt, Chandragupt) etc only ruled Central and Northern India.

There were large empires in the South led by the Pallavas and Cholas, who dominated Sri Lanka and South East Asia, but not much of North India.

The only time the Indian subcontinent became one political unit was under the British in 1857.

This political unity for 175 years (minus Pakistan and Bangladesh) is still an aberration in Indian history.

It is indeed true that modern means of communications like the telegraph, railways helped the administration of the vast empire.

But two entities created by the British were the pillars of their Indian empire: The Indian Army and the Indian Civil Service.

Wisely, independent India retained both these aspects of the British Raj.

In addition, universal adult suffrage implemented by India in 1952 ensured democracy.

It must be noted that even in the oldest democracy of Britain, Catholics in Northern Ireland got equal voting rights as late as 1968 and Blacks in Southern USA in 1963!

It is an irony of history that these 'imperfect' democracies never lose an opportunity to lecture us on 'democracy'.

Cultural unity in terms of acceptance of pluralism is a bedrock of the Indian value system.

The Indian Constitution enshrined these values and is a major factor in ensuring Indian unity.

The mass movement for Indian Independence, that was led by Mahatma Gandhi, led to unprecedented social mobilisation.

Gandhi did not confine the freedom movement to mere opposition to the British, but added positive aspects like eradication of social evils like untouchability, promotion of cleanliness, promoting respect for labour and village self sufficiency etc.

The Indian national movement under his leadership was not just about freedom from British rule, but also about establishing a welfare State.

The world over, pluralism is in retreat. Luckily for us, Indian pluralism and its consequent tolerance of diversity is rooted in our basic values.

Combined with our strong armed forces and effective administration, India is a beacon of light in an otherwise gloomy world.

As long as we remain faithful to these values and keep our institutions in good health, the Indian miracle of the last 75 years is likely to last centuries and eventually lead to world government and world unity.

Colonel Anil A Athale (retd) is a military historian whose earlier columns can be read here.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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