M.J. Akbar's talk in the Shillong literary and arts festival on the evening of the 3rd November highlighted many nuances about Indian history, polity, culture and the dynamics of secularism and democracy.
The last two have actually sustained the monolothic structure that is India and have helped the country to weather the storm, which threatened disintegration. The fact that the draining of the wealth by British imperialistic forces, to fill up its coffers did nothing to boost the economy of independent India was a point made by the speaker. Added to this, corruption among Indians from top to bottom has left not only the country penurious, but has left a segment of the society totally uncared for and abysmally poor, living in slums which are inhabitable, decrepit to put it mildly, in shambles, dirt, and abjectly inhuman. Only a semblance of living housing conditions can mitigate to some extent the horrific story of un human living conditions.
M.J. Akbar's talk was grounded strongly in the logic of history. If we look askance at it, and take an ahistorical view of Indian history as some rightist political organizations do then we are playing with fire, creating the psychology of violence. The fact that Islamic culture in the past through architecture, language and religion have become an inseparable part of the broad Indian way of life is something that is incontrovertible. We cannot pull down the edifices of history and its destiny, whether it be Christian, Islamic or Buddhistic traditions of this country.
The best part of the talk was the absence of the blame game, animadversion and diatribe, instead it resonated with a lyrical, if not robust optimism. That was the high point of the talk. India is greater than Indians, is not a grandiose or tall claim, but it is an understanding of the pervasive sense of history in India, working out a vortex and melting point of languages, religions and cultures. It is this commingling of cultures which proves the Hegelian standpoint of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. This is India, a towering concept which reduces theocracy and makes it redundant, in a cultural assemblage of diverse languages, social and cultural milieus.
This kind of a talk should be recorded for posterity and the younger generation and students who are fed with ideas such as peace and conflict resolution, which merely becomes notional, if not acted upon.
Only then, will they be goaded into action, which sadly enough, is missing in the ethos that is India.