Random Thoughts

India and the Balkans Parallel Pasts and Futures

The eighteenth century has interesting analogies for the history of India and America, my two obsessions. There is much shameful truth in the inability of the Hindu kings of India to unite against the onslaught of the scourge of expansionist Islam and the inability to perceive a paradigm shift as simplistically propounded by Kuhn in his faulty and biased history of science.

The two best examples are the tragic saga of the Hindu Shahi dynasty of Kashmir, in which a losing king chose self-immolation for the ignominy of his defeat, but could not bring about a unified opposition against the marauding hordes that threatened Indian civilization. In a similar situation, a few hundred years later the Dutch rebelled and overthrew Spanish suzerainty exercised across a thousand miles of territorial gap and obtained independence to flourish as an independent nation that achieved economic primacy in a Europe in renaissance. The chivalrous, forgiving attitude of the Delhi ruler Prithviraj was essentially a stupid ego boosting self-aggrandizement that has plagued the nation of India into modern times, as exemplified by Nehru's posturing on the world stage while conniving at Chinese adventurism in Tibet and across the McMahon line. It can best be summed up by an old Indian adage of "Maare Mughal aur fullaye Pindara", a self-deluding and self-aggrandizing ego-booster, divorced from reality by a misguided belief that colonial borders imposed by a great power are sacrosanct and inviolable. This is contrary to the inevitable psychology of a newly liberated great nation like China, which after a long suffering oppressed history with a true not rhetorical belief, that it has a tryst with destiny. Thus the brainwashing of the British, as desired and propounded by McCaulay, of creating a subservient race of brown Englishmen, devoid of their rapacity and understanding of the reality of power and international relations, found fruition in the Nehruvian age of India. The seeking of foreign assistance in domestic power struggles by the Nawab of Arcot and the betrayals of Amichand have striking parallels in the conquest and subjugation of Ireland that still persists today. The other parallel is the conversion of a large section of the Catholic Irish to he Church of England, a persistent nightmare that haunts the similar Christianizing of the Indian Northeast and is best exemplified by the Balkanisation of Indonesia, specifically in East Timor.

The British are partially right when they say that there was no unified consciousness of an Indian nation prior to their conquest. Ashoka tried hard to instil a concept of unity and ethical responsibility but failed despite his latter day enlightened example and edicts posted at the corners of his empire in local scripts and dialects. The Thirty years War in Germany led to the Treaty of Westphalia, where the King's religion became the state religion. Similar conflicts led to the British Civil War and persecution and expulsion of the Huguenots in France. A subsequent enlightened phase occurred initially in America, where all forms of Protestantism were given equal status. America after independence discriminated against Catholics and separation of Church and State was not so much a noble open mindedness, as a way to exclude Catholicism as documented by a Chicago academic. The fact that JFK is the only Catholic president of the US tells a lot about the lesser but still prevalent prejudice in the currently least xenophobic society in the world. The Europeans in spite of their more liberal values have been a dismal failure in assimilating the hordes of brown immigrants of non-Christian origin and serve as a reservoir of potential disenchanted Muslim terrorists. Partly this is due to the obstinately backward looking nature of Islam as the economic integration of Hindus and Sikhs shows, but there is a substantial component of racism as well.

The differential political consciousness evolution of India and America is best shown by their distinct diversion of history in the eighteenth century. Americans though essentially of British stock at that time, resented the lack of political power despite their wealth and the elite incited the masses to rebel and obtained independence with the help of the French. It took weeks for British ships to reach American shores and the difficult logistics and supply lines convinced Washington to alter his strategy to guerilla skirmishes knowing that time was on his side. The Indian elite, already used to being the collaborating cowards of a prior Islamic occupation sacrificed their integrity for money and power. The masses were indifferent or for survival necessities enlisted as sepoys to be instruments of control and oppression of their own people. It took six months for ships, the then only mode of transportation to reach India from England. As Gokhale later put it so graphically and obscenely to our countrymen, "If only you can urinate synchronously, the resultant flood would drown the British colonizers". Prior to the mutiny of 1857, the British used Hindu and Muslim troops to conquer the last strong kingdom of Ranjit Singh, who was devoid of foresight and vision and made no plans for the future transfer of power. The Sikhs had their revenge when their troops helped to quell the rebellion by recapturing Kanpur and Delhi. This is why the current Iraqi insurgency, cruel and unethical though it maybe, is targeting the newly recruited police, guards and military who collaborate with the US occupation. They also take a leaf out of the prior century strategy of violent anarchists who indulged in the dastardly slaughter of the innocents, to engender insecurity and antipathy towards the then government for its inability to stem the tide of random violence and provide security for the masses. It is only the pacific, non-violent, tolerant nature of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism with their obsession with the next life, that allows the corrupt Indian governments to flourish without providing basic necessities like food, shelter, water and electricity to survive. Even the illegitimate tyrants of the oil rich Islamic kingdoms quake in their galabiyahs, when falling oil revenues fail to meet the expectations of their backward illiterate masses. What is even more unfortunate is that these fissiparous tendencies persist and are naturally exploited by alien powers to their own advantage.

The Balkans provide the best scenario to learn from, for India. The Turkish occupation of Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and parts of Romania, Hungary and the conflicts with shifting borders due to Austro-Hungarian and Czarist Russian territorial ambitions, is an important lesson, never to be forgotten by India. Serbs and Croats are ethnically the same peoples with a common language. The distinction is that the Croats are Catholics with an allegiance to a Pope based in Italy and the Serbs are Orthodox Christians. This minor difference led to the Nazi collaborating Ustashe Croatian regime, with unforgivable massacre of Serbs and Jews during the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia in WW2. Similarly the Bulgarians are Orthodox Slavs helped by Russia to escape the Turkish tyranny. Romanians are Orthodox, but consider themselves of Latin origin. Bosnians for reasons like the Indian conversion to Islam, underwent mass conversion to Islam like the Indian Bengalis and Punjabis. The reasons maybe similar. The rich converted to retain their estates and avoid paying Jezia. The poor converted because it was economically beneficial and just like the Indian untouchables, the poor downtrodden uneducated peasants, they had nothing to lose and something to gain by merging their ego and fortune to the dominant conquerors. There were however large pockets of ethnic Greeks in Southern Macedonia and Bulgarians in contiguous Macedonia. There were two million Catholic non-Slav Hungarians in Transylvania, which was arbitrarily given to Romania. There were other ethnic groups divided by artificial borders in Bessarabia and Moldova, taken by Russia. Albanians were the largest group in Kosovo a historical part of Serbia. Interestingly, the gypsies who are presumably of Indian origin and constitute nearly twenty percent in Romania and sizable minorities in Yugoslavia have received no reprieve from discrimination for over a millennium. These lines drawn by fiat by great powers just like the ones by Gertrude stein and Churchill, that created Iraq and Kuwait, Syria and Lebanon, were similar to the Durand line between the then India and Afghanistan, current India and Pakistan borders and those of a host of African countries. The first and second Balkan Wars in 1912 and 1913 and the first World War in 1914 were the direct results of these uncaring and arbitrary decisions. This is what has led to the Israeli-Palestinian never ending conflagration, the Vietnam and Korean wars and will eventually lead to the trifurcation of Iraq between Kurd, Sunni and Shiite fragments.

The hypocrisy of the great powers is best exemplified by the 1919 Paris peace conference where Woodrow Wilson in typical fashion proposed independent homeland nations while denying the Kurds and Vietnamese, and tolerated an Indian delegation that was represented by occupying British officials. These ghosts are not destined to be exorcised by time. The ongoing problems in Ireland between Catholics and Protestants, The now quiescent conflict between the French and Dutch factions in Belgium, the civil wars in Congo and Nigeria are all handwriting on the wall of what India is facing and will worsen in the Northeast, Assam and borders with Bangladesh and Nepal. India has religious, linguistic and ethnic diversity and destabilizing enemies in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Indonesia is a painful reminder of what we face. There missionaries are converting poor Muslims (Former Hindus and Buddhists converted by militant Islam) into Christians with ongoing battles and violence. The great powers which are Christian, have sown a fifth column Achilles heel stiletto in its heart by granting independence to East Timor.. They are of the same ethnic stock as the Indonesians and have a similar language. The many centuries of Portuguese rule converted them all to Christianity under some duress. It is the nature of the converted to be holier than thou to compensate for the pecuniary reasons for conversion. Thus the next generation of converts are more fanatic and propagate biased nonsense, as one legislator from Karnataka and sundry priests from Gujarat have done. What can be done to defeat this problem? Once again China provides an alternative. It has forced the independence of the Chginese catholic Church from the Vatican. It has flooded the Western Uighur region and Tibet with Han Chinese instead of foolishly enacting an Article 370 and tolerating the displacement of Kashmiri Pundits while appeasing the extremist anti-India Insurgents. Of course avoidance of caste discrimination and assimilation of minorities is crucial together with education and equal economic opportunity.

The story of India is reminiscent of a father and son traveling to a market town with a donkey. The father let the son ride the donkey and in the first village they passed, some people derided the heartless son who let his father walk. The father rode the donkey and at the next village, some people condemned the father for allowing his young son to walk, while he rode. They then both rode the donkey. At the next village, some people called them both cruel for overloading the donkey and sarcastically suggested that the two of them should carry the donkey. They did that and when they were crossing a bridge without side-rails, the donkey kicked them and both fell into the rapids and drowned. Those who have no will, goal or resolve are destined to be buffeted into Brownian movements beyond their control and detrimental to their welfare. 


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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