The Clash Of The Uncivilised

Updated: Apr 12 2002, 05:30am hrs
Cambridge, United States of America: Few months ago, when the faculty of the Olin Institute of Strategic Studies, at the Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, invited me to deliver a lecture, the subject they chose reflected a growing interest within the strategic policy community in the United States in Indias economic performance.

The subject of my talk here this week is: The Strategic Consequences of Indias Economic Performance. However, during the days before I left New Delhi, I was warned both by knowledgeable persons in India and by some of the faculty here at Harvard that in the discussion that will follow my talk, there may be more questions about the events of the past month in Gujarat and its implications for the Indian economy rather than on the larger concerns of my stated subject.

So here I am, prepared to deal with that challenge. After all, the Olin Institute was the academic home till recently of the famous Professor Samuel Huntington, the author of The Clash of Civilisations, a book that hypothesised the changing nature of global conflict in the post-Cold War world, shaped increasingly by ethnic, religious and cultural, that is civilisational, factors.

In the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks in the US, many instant analysts proclaimed that these events were indeed triggered by the clash of civilisations.

US President, George Bush rejected this clash of civilisations theory and argued that the campaign against terrorism was in fact a clash between the civilised world and its enemies.

It was not a battle between the Christian and the Muslim world, but one between the civilised world, cutting across all religions, and the forces of destruction and bigotry, the uncivilised world.

How will I explain Gujarat to my Harvard audience I expect the students and former colleagues of Professor Huntington to be in my audience. They may well ask me if I see the resurgence of communal violence as the renewal of the clash of civilisations in South Asia. What should my answer be

Travelling to Boston, I have reflected on this question and my mind went back to an incident nearly two decades ago in my home city of Hyderabad. This was during the early 1980s. For the second year in succession, Hyderabad was witnessing what Mumbai has had for a long time, the annual Vinayaka Visarjan.

I went to see the procession of gigantic Vinayakas carried atop large trucks and lifted off by cranes to be immersed in the Hussain Sagar lake, renamed for the day as Vinayaka Sagar lake!

I took with me my maternal aunt a medical doctor, a scientist, a devotee as well as a teacher at the Ramakrishna Math. She represented all that most of us are proud about Hinduism humanism, an intellectual approach to the great texts of Hinduism, a scholarly appreciation of the Vedas and the Gita, a questioning mind. She had debated the pros and cons of dwaita and adwaita with her elders and, while being born into a family of dwaitic devotees of Madhwacharya, she opted for the advaita philosophy of the disciples of Swami Vivekananda.

Watching the Vinayaka Visarjan procession, with young men wearing saffron bands around their foreheads, sporting red tilak, shouting wild slogans and dancing atop the trucks, she was horrified. This was not the Hinduism she was familiar with.

The sheer aggression of the processionists scared her and after a long silence she muttered: They dont know what Hinduism is all about. These are rowdy elements. Today they are on these trucks, tomorrow theyll be at some political party rally. All this is so uncivilised.

Those who approach their faith with religiosity, and not communal fervour, see in the hate and violence that defines communal conflict not a clash of civilisation, but a clash between the civilised and the uncivilised.

Be it the barbarism at Godhra, the attack on unarmed women, children and men, or the pogroms in the many localities around Gujarat, we are witness not to a clash of civilisations, in the Huntingtonian sense, but to the reign of irreligious terror. Communalism is the betrayal of religiosity.

My hosts at Harvards Olin Institute wanted me to speak about the strategic consequences of Indias economic performance because, like so many strategic policy analysts, they had come to appreciate the fact that the improved performance of the Indian economy in the 1990s, notwithstanding the slowdown towards the end of the decade, would have far-reaching consequences for Indias relations with the rest of the world, especially its neighbours.

India was trying to catch up with China and was well on the way to improving its distance from beleaguered Pakistan. If India continues to grow at 6.0 per cent and above, there are bound to be significant geo-political consequences, apart from directly economic ones.

In writing up my lecture I was realistically optimistic, for there are many reasons to feel optimistic about the future of the Indian economy. However, one barbaric attack and an unremitting reaction thereafter has tilted the balance against India for the medium term.

Mob violence has often been followed by systematic terror. In the ash-heaps around Gujarat lie the embers of future terrorism. The agenda of those who wish us ill has been carried out by those who claim to be our own.

It is less clear now what the strategic consequences of Indias economic performance are likely to be, but it is clear as daylight in April that the economic consequences of communalism are bound to be hurtful. A government that cannot ensure peace and security and that cannot restore the environment for business to function normally has no right to remain in office. If the hatred unleashed in Gujarat is not contained therein and diffused, the entire country can be engulfed in a cycle of violence.

Who will then care for India and its strategic potential The Olin Institute will have no time for economists and financial editors. They may well be inviting political scientists to analyse the social consequences of communalism and terrorism and debate the pros and cons of humanitarian intervention in India!