A little before the last century ended, Samuel P Huntington came out with his grim book Clash of Civilizations. It generated a great deal of debate over how the world would shape its future after what the earlier century left behind. A new year, and a new century, always starts with good intentions and the hope that better days are ahead. Sanguine resolutions and intentions, however, don’t change the nature of man or the ways of the nation-states or the institutions they control, or their geo-political dispositions. Competing interests continue to clash, realpolitik still prevails. The world can’t shrug off the old baggage merely because the calendar page has changed. Nor can anything change the ways of men and women who control the nation-states or global institutions, or geopolitics of the world.
What influenced Huntington’s thinking were the two world wars, the rise of competing ideologies, capitalism versus communism, the piling up of nuclear weapons, the vast inequalities, hunger, poverty and the failure of the nation-states to tackle the sharp divides they have created across the world. Before it ended, the 20th century saw the rise of religious fundamentalism and terrorism. The 21st century has inherited an explosive package of tension and conflicts, which, so far, no one knows how to handle. Huntington did not throw up hopeful signs for the future. BP Singh, a former civil servant, doesn’t underestimate these challenges. One of those civil servants who think beyond the call of the key assignments he has handled, he has come out with a thought-provoking book, reflecting on the future of the world. Singh seems to be an incorrigible optimist and, despite the present scenario, he continues to believe that ultimately good will prevail over much that is evil. He is not given to taking a dismal view of man’s capacity to learn from the past, think afresh and evolve ways to tackle the tensions, conflicts and wars left behind by the previous century.
Will it happen? While harmony and peace are necessary for human progress, the forces that generate hatred, conflicts and wars have not given up their designs or destructive predilections. For instance, the world has yet to find ways to effectively fight the rise of religious fundamentalism and terrorism. Combating these requires a collaborative international drive that is unlikely to be launched soon because of geopolitical factors that are blocking a consensus among the nations. At the same time, there are elements of international society, which are making efforts to promote peace and harmony and tolerance, coupled with an inclusive democratic culture. These attempts at having harmony and peace are spreading across continents, but these are thinly spread and weak against the disruptive forces. There can’t be peace in the world unless the underlying causes like inequality within a country or among nations are ended. Money is easily available for making lethal weapons by powerful lobbies nurtured by the military-industrial complex, but most countries are not spending enough on fighting malnutrition and hunger, on education and jobs or shelter. The world is divided sharply between the haves and have-nots, which can’t ensure the harmony and peace Singh is seeking.
Even international discourse on world issues has sadly degenerated, as also in domestic politics of even democratic countries, including India. The tone of recent rhetorical exchanges between the US and North Korea is not the way for finding a solution of their nuclear stalemate. Statesmanship requires a different language and approach. Sober voices across the world are damned as peaceniks or bleeding-heart liberals. Peace at home and abroad is considered the concern of “these stupid NGOs”. These are not the times for peace-makers, but of loudmouth hatemongers. The future of democracy and the rule of law, wherever these prevail, are being sacrificed in the name of powerful nation-states and their leaders. The author agrees that there is no one in the world like Gandhi who would sacrifice his life to serve humanity. Often, a great man appears on the scene the world badly needs, but it happens only once in a while in the long stretches of history.
The author clutches at the hope that those who are fighting for basic human rights, education, health and poverty, jobs and shelter will succeed during the next few decades. He believes that the world is now becoming aware of the dangers of global warming. That the pious resolutions emerging from seminars and conferences in different parts of the world will lead to the end of global warming is unrealistic. Recurring failure of pollution control in the capital of India alone and around defies such a conclusion. Singh thinks that the world is becoming increasingly conscious of 21st-century challenges. Most of them, he thinks, can be fought with the Bahuda approach, which he translates from the Rig Veda as pluralism encompassing democracy, the rule of law, tolerance and more inclusive polity. Looking at the situation in most of the world, including India, it’s not very promising for pluralism. The good is taking too long to triumph.
It’s not, however, a crime or sin to be an optimist who believes truth and goodness will ultimately prevail even in an age of post-truth. Optimism and good intentions are not enough. However, they do create hope for a better future. In any case, being hopeful does anyone no harm.
A former editor-in-chief of The Indian Express, is a former Rajya Sabha member and adviser, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi