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~ Vinay Sahasrabuddhe.
For several years, talk of India becoming a Vishwa Guru – the teacher or knowledge-giver of the world – has been in the air. Many take pleasure in rubbishing this idea. On the other hand, there are others who are understandably very passionate about making this happen.
Perhaps there are many who consider this as a hollow sentiment of self-pride, something emerging out of jingoism. Sadly, most in the last category are perennial skeptics who are either not conscious of India’s intrinsic strengths or who think self-flagellation is the only way to enter the prestigious club of progressives in the country.
Becoming a Vishwa Guru is largely considered a sentiment of national ambition and there is nothing wrong about it. Like individuals, nations also need to have a national aspiration. To believe that India is incapable of pursuing this aspiration is an injustice to our past, present and future too.
This is mainly so for three reasons: firstly, India’s unique worldview emanating from our civilisational culture; secondly, our remarkable achievements during the last 75 years; thirdly, our intrinsic strength to offer something that the global community so very critically requires.
Firstly, our civilisational culture has provided us with a strong philosophical foundation that has several unique features.
These features make India what it is. Our spiritual democracy, where Ekam Sat, Vipra Bahuda Vadanti (the truth is one, but the wise men describe the same differently) serves as the cornerstone of our approach to diverse ways of worship, makes India a home for all religions that live in harmony.
This spiritual democracy has hugely contributed to the success of our political democracy. Also unique is the essentially Indian concept of Antyodaya – that the most deprived are considered the most deserving has helped us move beyond the binary of socialism and capitalism.
Besides, while the talk of sustainable development has been a part of global discourse only for a few decades, our approach of respect and gratitude towards Mother Nature forms our basis and thus we reject the notion of conquering Nature. After all, living in harmony with Nature is the prerequisite of sustainability.
Looking back, it would not be wrong to say that the key doctrinal approaches mentioned above have proved to be the priceless capital for our achievements after Independence. As we celebrate Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, the 75th anniversary of our Independence, what has been achieved by us is remarkable in many ways.
From record agricultural production to advancements in nuclear and space technology, from ensuring affordable healthcare to setting up world-class educational institutions, from ayurveda to biotechnology, from giant steel plants to becoming an IT power and having the third-biggest start-up ecosystem in the world, what we have achieved in our post-Independence journey is truly impressive.
Most important, however, is the fact that while many newborn democracies after World War II have faced some uprising against democratic rulers, eventually leading to interludes of autocracy, India has continued with democratic governance almost uninterruptedly. Popular commitment has made India one of the most vibrant democracies.
India is geographically diverse and there are many climate zones too. We also speak many languages and believe in different ways of worship. Seen in this backdrop, the country’s journey towards development, prosperity and stability truly remains not just a story of inspiration but should spark a realisation: Our apparent diversity is just the diverse manifestation of our innate unity.
Factors that underscore this include our strong democratic institutions, a widely respected electoral body, the rule of law, a vigorous media and a vibrant civil society. Panchayati Raj or the decentralised system of governance is a testimony to the fact that democratic values in India have percolated to the grassroots. This is one of the most remarkable achievements of independent India.
While reviewing India’s advancement on the economic front, Asia Society rightly noted: “… A retrospective analysis of the last 75 years also throws up some shining figures and facts. India’s total food production, which stood at 54.92 million tonnes in 1950, had risen six-fold to 305.44 million tonnes by 2020-21. The country’s foreign exchange reserves have grown from INR 10.29 billion in 1950-51 to over INR 46 trillion currently and foreign investment has accelerated from INR 2.56 billion in 1948 to over INR 66 billion in 2022. Infrastructure growth in roads and railways, the rapid growth of the telecom, technology and financial services sectors are some of the other defining achievements of the Indian economy since Independence.”
Now, building upon the remarkable success that India has achieved in sustainable pluralism and democratic governance so far, we can truly aspire to share our knowledge for the benefit of the global community in multiple ways.
This is the way a Vishwa Guru has to spread the light of knowledge. The quintessential message emanating from the idea of India is that civilisational cultures travel from the past through the present and to the future.
We can’t break from our traditions but at the same time, we also can’t be prisoners of them. India can set an example of how we can move towards modernity and still save ourselves from mindless Westernisation.
Another important message of the Idea of India is to consider the entire world as one family, or Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. It was not for no reason that PM Narendra Modi, during his very first address to the UN General Assembly, wondered why like G7 and G20, there couldn’t be a group called G-All to take care of challenges before the entire humanity.
This is what makes India aspire to be the knowledge-giver of the world. We were always a knowledge society indulging in debates and exchanges of ideas. The basics of our philosophy have shaped our worldview.
Sharing that worldview loud and clear with the requisite confidence and courage of conviction will make the world understand that yes, India is a Vishwa Guru. And when this is globally recognised, domestic doubting Thomases will also be silent.
This article was first published in TNIE on June 22, 2022.