Let's recognise the Genius of Asia
A discussion on 'Democracy and Conflict Resolution in Asia' must first of all recognise two factors about Asia -- its rich historical experience and its proud diversity, which should disabuse us of the notion that we have nothing to learn from our tradition of democracy and conflict-resolution and have to only learn from others. Asia is the world's largest, most populous and most diverse continent. It is also where all the world's major faiths were born. It is the cradle of a majority of the world's great and living civilizations. Neither of the two devastating World Wars of the last century was caused by Asia, although Asian countries were affected by their fire. Similarly, Asia has been a victim of colonialism and not a cause of it.
All this speaks of what is often termed as the 'Genius of Asia'. By any reckoning, it provides a valuable spiritual, cultural and intellectual resource to promote democracy and peaceful conflict-resolution. There is another important point to be noted here. After remaining a victim of history for several centuries, Asia is now becoming, once again, a prime shaper of its own destiny. Let me put this point in perspective.
Last week, I came across three volumes of a new and ambitious encyclopedia on the history of Indian Science and Technology, a project promoted by Rajiv Malhotra of the Infinity Foundation, USA. It quotes Samuel Huntington writing the following in his much-discussed book Clash of Civilisations.
"In 1750, China accounted for almost one-third, India for almost one-quarter and the West for a less than a fifth of the world's manufacturing output In the following decades, the industrialisation of the West led to the de-industrialisation of the world."
In contrast to this, the late 20th century witnessed an Asian economic renaissance. As far as economic growth is concerned, the centre of gravity has already shifted to Asia, with India and China emerging as the two main engines of the growth of the global economy. According to noted economic historian Angus Maddison, if India and China can sustain their current rates of growth, they will regain their historic place in the next few decades.
The above trend has profound implications for democracy, conflict-resolution and management of global affairs in general. The western monopoly over global economic processes, one that has lasted for over two centuries and which gave the West a dominant position in military matters and global diplomacy, has been unequivocally broken. Asia's material rejuvenation buttressed by the flow of financial resources and dissemination of information/knowledge flows, itself enabled by the IT and communication revolution of the 1990s, has begun to strengthen the voice of nation states in Asia.
Therefore, if Asia's newly gained economic strength and rapidly growing political clout can be combined with the essential 'Genius of Asia' -- its priceless civilisational, cultural and spiritual resource, rooted in the values of peace, harmony, justice, respect for pluralism, co-existence and dialogue -- I am optimistic that Asia will be able to rewrite not only its own history but also contribute greatly to building a better future for the world as a whole. And with Asia rapidly reclaiming its historic position in the global community, I feel confident that Europe's past will not be Asia's future; rather, the best of Asia's past will mould humanity's future.
India and China should normalise good-neighbourly ties
In fact, one notices an interesting trend in Asian diplomacy whereby outstanding conflicts cast a diminishing shadow on the improvement of relations in other spheres, particularly economic. It could also be argued that the existence of outstanding disputes is persuading states to seek rapprochement and construct new bilateral and multilateral mechanisms/institutions. Economic interdependence in Asia is gradually compelling states to pursue non-confrontational means of tackling old disputes. It may suffice to say that inter-state stability can only emerge from a mutual accommodation of each other's core security interests. And this in turn will require responsible statesmen who can equilibrate security strategies based on "self-help" with those based on cooperative norms.
A good example of this is the evolution of India-China relations in recent years, and the constructive approach that both countries have adopted to resolve the border dispute. Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh's just-concluded visit to China has hopefully taken this effort forward. Fully normalised good-neighbourly and cooperative relations between the two great nations of Asia can become a reliable factor of peace, stability and progress both in the region and globally.
Indeed, the effort to bring about a rapprochement in India-China relations was started when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the foreign minister in Morarji Desai's government. His historic meeting with Deng Xiaoping in 1979 broke the ice and resumed top-level dialogue that had been frozen after 1962. Vajpayee also gave a big boost to this effort when he became prime minister. An institutionalised framework for dialogue on resolution of the border dispute was begun during his regime. In between, Rajiv Gandhi and P V Narasimha Rao also made valuable contribution to the normalisation of ties between our two countries. Here we see an example of the development of a highly useful national consensus in foreign policy.
It has been my view that Pakistan should recognise the usefulness of the framework adopted by India and China for normalising and strengthening our bilateral ties, without holding them hostage to the resolution of the border dispute. Similarly, Indo-Pak relations can be normalised without holding them hostage to the resolution of the Kashmir issue.
Two long-festering conflicts in Asia
Unfortunately, several long-festering conflicts in Asia have been sustained, and have eluded a satisfactory solution, because of the interplay between western strategies of global domination in conflict-zones, where the conflicts are in turn exacerbated by certain intolerant, violent, hegemonistic ideologies that have originated in Asia itself.
Two prime examples of this are the conflicts in West Asia and South Asia. Palestine must get independent statehood and, at the same time, Israel's right to exist must be unequivocally recognised by all its neighbours. Those who say that Israel should be wiped off the map of the world are a threat to regional and world peace, even though their voice emanates from within Asia itself.
Similarly, closer home, we have witnessed the tragedy of Afghanistan, where the forces stoking the fires of religious extremism and global domination have harmed India, too. The trouble began in 1979 with the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, which the then government of India should have condemned strongly and categorically. Afghanistan then became a victim of the Cold War rivalry between the then two superpowers, with Pakistan trying to take advantage of the conflict for its narrow geo-political ambitions. Since then, the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan, and the Soviet Union itself disintegrated. But Afghanistan continues to be a zone of war, because it was converted into a sanctuary of jehadi terrorism, with disastrous consequences for all those who gave birth to this Bhasmasur.
The latest victim of this Bhasmasur was Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan. We must remember that her assassination in a terrorist attack took place in the context of the Pakistani people's aspiration for the establishment of an effective and stable democratic system. I had commented then, and also on the earlier occasion when she escaped an assassination bid on the day she returned from her exile (when 125 persons were killed in a terrorist attack on her convoy), that, in Pakistan, the struggle for democracy and the struggle against terrorism inspired by religious extremism cannot be separated.
The developments in Pakistan should prompt us to recognise a disturbing trend: The term 'democracy' is being manipulated in international relations discourse to suit the self-serving purpose of preserving one's global domination and preserving one's 'spheres of influence'. All of us know that intolerant and extremist religious ideologies are being exported out of certain countries in Asia which are far from democratic. Nevertheless, they are tolerated by those proclaiming to be defenders of freedom and democracy worldwide. This self-deception will prove costly to its practitioners and to the world at large.
Worrisome developments in Nepal
Friends, I would like to make a brief comment on the happenings in Nepal. My party and I stood firmly by the side of the people of Nepal in their desire for effective and fully empowered democracy. But we also backed their other aspiration, which was suppressed by the rise of Maoist forces in the politics of Nepal: namely, preservation of Nepal as a Hindu kingdom with constitutional monarchy. Maoism and democracy are a contradiction in terms. The two cannot go together. It is unfortunate that they have gained ascendancy in the polity of Nepal.
This has grave implications not only for Nepal but also for India, given the close nexus between Maoists on both sides of the border. The prime minister is right in characterising Communist extremism or Naxalism as the biggest threat to India's internal security. It is also a threat to our democracy. Why then has the United Progressive Alliance government remained a silent onlooker, with Communists in India playing the role of a colluder, when constitutional monarchy was disbanded recently under the pressure of the Maoists? The monarchy in Nepal was a symbol of its unique national identity and a source of its stability.
Also, why did the Indian Communists applaud when the identity of Nepal as a Hindu kingdom was erased even before the Constituent Assembly had discussed it? Would they demand that Pakistan or Bangladesh cease to be Islamic republics?
The examples of Israel-Palestine, Afghanistan and Nepal raise two important questions: Should India and other countries in Asia get entrapped in the Western-sponsored normative discourse on Asia's political evolution, or should we imbibe from our traditional values and norms? The former path is likely to ensure that we become the plaything of external powers seeking to shoot guns off our shoulders.
The second question is: Can Asia, or for that matter, the rest of the world, rest in peace if ideologies of religious extremism, exclusivism and global domination -- and these ideologies neither respect democracy nor tolerate secularism and plurality -- are allowed to grow in our midst?
India's proud record in defending democracy
It is against this background that I wish to present a few salient aspects of India's democratic tradition and our approach to conflict-resolution. This tradition and approach have been fundamentally influenced by Hindu philosophy and cultural ethos. Hindu philosophy since the dawn of our civilization has been pluralistic in its outlook and teachings. As a result, India is inherently a rare state in the international system, insofar as it is unwilling to impose a set of ideals and principles on other equally proud nations. Which is why, throughout her millennial history, India never sent out her armies to conquer other lands and exterminate or coerce the native populations or cultures.
It is because of this faith in pluralism and respect for the other's viewpoint that India, after independence, naturally accepted democracy and secularism. We did not import these from the West. Ask yourselves a simple question: Why is it that there has never been a military coup in a vast and diverse country like India, where a large section of the population is poor and less-literate? Never a violent change of power? How did India succeed in having regular elections, which are free and fair, and whose outcome has always been accepted by all political parties?
Yes, there was a brief eclipse of democracy during the Emergency. But the people voted against the Emergency regime so angrily, that even a leader as tall as Indira Gandhi was defeated.
Five tasks for strengthening India's role in the world
The challenge before us in India is: How do we strengthen the voice and role of India in the affairs of Asia and the world? Let me identify five tasks:
The first task is to ensure the success of India's own socio-political-economic story, which would in turn serve as a model for others to emulate.
Without comprehensive national success -- material, political, technological, and social progress, combined with military might to defend ourselves against any external threat -- the credibility/attraction of India's soft power (that is, the repertoire of ancient Indic knowledge, spiritual traditions, cultural heritage etc) will remain perfunctory. In fact, derogatory western commentary toward India and Hindus stemmed from our poor performance on the economic front, the inaction that stifled the strengthening of our polity, and the inefficient execution of our developmental objectives.
The second task is to regain and rebuild pride in our own national heritage -- spiritual, cultural, intellectual, scientific, technological and military.
Sadly, in the name of a distorted and perverted understanding of secularism, a section of our political and intellectual elite is busy belittling, denying and denigrating all that is Hindu. A nation that is not proud of its past can never attain greatness, nor can it command respect in the eyes of the world.
Thirdly, India should further strengthen an omni-directional foreign policy that seeks to engage with all the major centres of power.
The end of the Cold War brought with it the gradual dilution of a bloc-based system. The evolution of Indian diplomacy since the 1990s has been a structural response to such a world. The proliferation of our numerous 'strategic partnerships' that India has entered into in the past 15 years attests to the geopolitical diversity around us.
Fourthly, we have to vastly expand the size and strength of our foreign service personnel; business platforms; media organisations and think tanks with global reach; personalities associated with cinema, arts, music and literature; academics; NGOs; and cultural and spiritual ambassadors. We should also leverage the valuable resources of the approximately 20-million Indian Diaspora.
India's current diplomatic infrastructure and resources -- in the political, economic, cultural and academic-intellectual fields -- are far too inadequate for us to play an effective role either in Asia or around the world.
Lastly, India must intensify its efforts aimed at reform and restructuring of multilateral organisations at the Asian and global levels, beginning with the United Nations.
India's current role in these organisations is far from being commensurate with our present strength and future potential. If India is seeking a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, it is not because of some prestige value. Rather, it is out of our conviction that any global system that does not fully recognise the role of an ancient and newly resurgent nation, one which is the world's largest democracy and accounts for one-fifth of humanity, is inherently flawed.
I believe that systematic, unsentimental pursuit of all the above-mentioned five tasks will enable India to play a benign/constructive role in promotion of democracy and conflict-resolution in our own immediate neighbourhood, in wider Asia, and in the world at large. This is what we mean by our goal of working towards India reclaiming her rightful place in the comity of nations.
Excerpted from a speech by Leader of the Opposition and Bharatiya Janata Party leader L K Advani at a summit organised by the Dainik Jagran group in New Delhi recently.