Does India see itself as sharing common values with the west?
Does India see itself as a natural ally of the west sharing common values of democracy, rule of law and tolerance for other religions and similar threats such as the rise of China and Islamic extremism?
That was a question put to me by a British commentator (Krenim) on this blog. He asked…and I thought I would try to answer to the best of my ability…but every commentator’s response will be a value addition.
Actually in India the ‘west’ is mostly seen as America. America is seen to be the leader of some sort of informal coalition and that is why attitudes towards the west invariably focus on America and anti-western attitudes make the United States the whipping boy.
Is America the favorite whipping boy of most Indians?
Well, India as a country has diverse opinions, because the country itself is so diverse. There are India’s Muslims, India’s Hindus, India’s other religions, India’s communists, India’s intelligentsia, India’s urban middle classes, India’s uneducated rural masses, India’s urban poor, India’s business classes, India’s elite, India’s youth, India’s secular and right-wing parties…
These groups can overlap and merge…or they can be very separate entities with a distinct political voice, with an ability to whip up passions. Some of them shout and scream, making us feel that they represent the majority…but the fact is that none of these groups can presume to represent the majority.
In terms of numbers, India’s masses are the strongest. The masses can have a strong political voice because political parties can manipulate this group …the masses are particularly vulnerable to the machinations of strong, cunning political leaders. But if the poor masses vote for the communist party in say West Bengal, it certainly does not mean that they go along with the party’s anti-west rhetoric. They understand little about foreign policy…and care even less. However if they are told that India is being bullied by America, they will understand that. And that is the message that the communists are sending out. The commies rule only in two states, West Bengal and Kerala.
No other political parties are as anti-west or anti-America as the communists. Even the right-wing parties which often take a stand against the so-called moral decadence of the west tone down their rhetoric when it comes to foreign policy.
The educated middle classes (estimated to be between 250-300m out of a population of 1 billion plus) may be more aware of political realities. They are mostly pro-west, and many are indifferent. They may be politically lazy, and may not even bother to vote, but they want to live by democratic principles and depend on the free market economy for jobs and personal growth. They are also being increasingly drawn by a consumerist lifestyle. They want to more opportunities, greater self-realisation, and more economic freedom. They often talk of disillusionment with political parties.
India’s business classes (and I am talking of big business) are very pro-west and in favour of liberalization and a free market economy, as long as it suits their own business interests. They are certainly pro-west. They can have big clout with the politicians and often have a say in economic and at times, even political decisions. A large section of the smaller traders and small businessman’s lobbies are anti-liberalization, as they view it as a threat to their survival.
India’s Muslims though huge in number comprise just about 13-14 percent of the total population. Today they are believed to be an increasingly divided lot…the days when they could be considered as one single group which political parties could tap for votes are said to be over. However, as a sizeable section of the Muslim community has been left out of the rewards of globalization and lags behind educationally (Sachar report) this makes them more vulnerable to anti-capitalist rhetoric. Combine this with feelings of distrust towards the Indian police and the government and it can make for vulnerable youth. In fact, there are certain groups who blame the Indian government for not supporting Muslim causes across the world strongly enough.
However, it is important to realize that extremism as such has few supporters amongst the Indian Muslim community, and Muslim scholars believe this to be so because Indian Islam is “integrationist and suffused with Sufi elements,” which flies in the face of the philosophy propagated by Al Qaeda. Therefore, India joining hands with the west to fight Al Qaeda is not likely to worry the community much.
The intelligentsia, which also constitutes the press, is pro-west. This has been brought out well by their reactions to the nuclear deal. The press, at least the English press, supported the nuclear deal with America and insisted that cooperating with America was not the same thing as being a slave to America.
An insightful piece of writing on the subject is a piece by Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar in the Times of India. A couple of days ago he wrote about the futility of trying to project America as the enemy. He wrote:
A good way to approach these issues is by asking whether India is any different from the US. The US is a muscular bully globally. So is India in the South Asian region. The US is hated in many countries globally for its muscularity. So is India in South Asia. Obviously, global muscularity is far greater than regional muscularity, but the principle is no different.
Aiyar goes on to explain with live examples, how both the United States and India, while being perceived as ‘bullies’ because they tend to use their military muscle, do not try to grab foreign territory. The point that Aiyar tries to make is that if our neighbors in Asia refuse to cooperate with us because they see us as an ‘imperialist’ force, how irrational we all think they are being! But that is how some people in India view the west, or rather, America. As an ‘imperialist’ yoke that needs to be kept at bay.
As for India’s right-wing parties and their attitude towards the west, the less said the better. Their hypocritical moral posturing and views based on political expediencies are not worth mentioning.
About the question of China, well, historically, the relationship between India and China has been one of mutual suspicion, but right now the main rivalry seems to be in the area of business. True, both America and India realize that India has reasons to be wary of China. In a threat scenario, both America and Japan could be valuable allies of India. In fact, the recent diplomatic row over China’s stand on Arunachal Pradesh was quite embarrassing, but most of the time both sides try to be politically correct.
If someone asked me personally whom I trusted more with India’s sovereignty and independence…the United States or China, I would say the United States. The communists would probably not agree.