Beyond modi’s vision
Jawaharlal Nehru-Mahatma Gandhi-Swami Vivekananda-Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Dr Vickramabahu Karunaratne (Daily News)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has developed a foreign policy that has attracted much public and intellectual attention. Yet his desire to see India become what he calls a vishwa guru — which loosely translates as ‘world guru’ — has received relatively little attention. May be because he deploys this, in a manner that is less serious. This is in spite of its prominence in high profile speeches like the one he gave in Sydney in November 2014.
For Modi, India as a vishwa guru is an India that draws deeply from its extraordinary cultural, religious and philosophical inheritance to tackle pressing human challenges. These include issues like climate change, sustainable development, terrorism and helping to rewrite the now fraying rules of the international order. It implies an India that introduces people to the wisdom found in aspects of Hindu thought, and brings about lasting social and political change.
India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, argued that despite its economic and military weakness, the country could and should aspire to be a ‘normative power’. In other words, India should be a state that sets the norms and rules of international relations in line with its values. To that end, Nehru campaigned for cooperative multilateralism, an end to colonialism and racism, and both conventional and nuclear disarmament, while grounding his arguments in Buddhist, Hindu and Gandhian ideas. Nehru observed ‘The Buddha story attracted me even in early boyhood, and I was drawn to the young Siddhartha who, after many inner struggles and pain and torment, was to develop into the Buddha.
Rational ethical doctrine
When I visited countries where Buddhism is still a living and dominant faith, I went to see the temples and the monasteries and met monks and laymen, and tried to make out what Buddhism had done to the people. There was much I did not like. The rational ethical doctrine had become overlaid with so much verbiage, so much ceremonial, canon law, so much, in spite of the Buddha, metaphysical doctrine and even magic.
Despite the Buddha’s warning, they had deified him, and his huge images, in the temples and elsewhere, looked down upon me and I wondered what he would have thought. But I saw much also that I liked. There was an atmosphere of peaceful study and contemplation in some of the monasteries and the schools attached to them. There was a look of peace and calm on the faces of many of the monks, a dignity, gentleness, an air of detachment and freedom from the cares of the world.’
But the pessimism of Buddhism did not fit in with his approach to life, nor did the tendency to walk away from life and its problems. However Nehru with Ambekar and Periar forced a vision based on Buddhist rational thinking. These three people next to Ghandi influenced the complex humanity in India.
In contrast, Modi’s notion of a Vishwa guru India draws inspiration from 19th century Hindu nationalist and monk Swami Vivekananda, founder of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. Modi has claimed affinity to Vivekananda. He was advised by the latter to commit himself to bettering Indian society, in line with Vivekananda teachings on karma yoga — the ‘yoga of action’ — and the importance of living an active, rather than contemplative, life. In recent years, Modi has sought to reinforce Vivekananda’s legacy, including tweeting a quote from his adopted guru every day throughout 2012 — the 110th anniversary of his death.
Hindu nationalist vision
Vivekananda thought appeals to Modi because it provides a Hindu nationalist vision of a resurgent India distinct from the secular nationalist version of Nehru and his successors. He wanted Hindus to recognize that theirs was the only truly tolerant religion. It is unlikely that making India a vishwa guru or normative power will be easy.
Few of Modi’s appeals to Vedic or Vivekanandan concepts have been translated into concrete policy proposals, aside from the call to establish a World Yoga Day, which was approved by the UN General Assembly in late 2014. Above all, Modi faces a problem that Nehru also struggled to overcome: the gap between rhetorical commitments and practical realities at home, particularly between laudable ideas like religious tolerance and the everyday challenges posed to religious freedom in India by social discrimination and communal violence.
Clearly the world situation is changing fast with global capitalism dominating the entire world. So called socialist sector has almost disappear except perhaps North Korea and Cuba. Hence from the beginning of the 1990s, the generalization of neoliberal policies originally applied in countries such as Chile, Britain and the USA entered these sectors too. Thus Capitalist globalization expanded, giving birth to a new mode of international domination with many and deep implications. Modernism forced by globalization rapidly reduced the rate of profit within the MNC system. The neoliberal order has become unfinished, unstable and has engendered a chronically chaotic international situation.
Some traditional imperialist powers have continued to decline, while new capitalist powers are asserting themselves, heightening geopolitical rivalries. In several countries and regions, the universal violence of neoliberal diktats has led to the decomposition of the social fabric, to acute regime crises, and indeed to popular uprisings, but also to dangerous counter-revolutionary developments. Fascistic regimes have appeared threatening essence of human life.
Many people are already paying a heavy price for the global ecological crisis – in particular but not only to global warming – which is getting continually worse. To lead this world to nirvana lot more than Modi’s vision will be necessary.