Calcutta Notebook


The Yamuna used to flow westward through the dry bed of the Chautang River previously. It started to flow eastward through its present course around 1500 BCE. The Western Yamuna dried up. Grand cities like Rakhigarhi and Kalibangan located on its banks no longer got the life sustaining waters and died. Those people met this challenge with alacrity. They gathered their tools and moved eastward to the Ganges Basin. They cut the dense forests here and created a brand new civilization. The Mauryan and Gupta Empires grew here.

People faced another challenge about 1000 years ago at the beginning of the second millennium. Number of invaders from the west attacked Indians from the west. But people sided with the attackers against their own rulers. A story this writer heard from the tribal people of Dungarpur expresses this discontentment among the people wonderfully. A farmer was carrying a pot of ghee across the forest to give it to his daughter. He plucked a leaf to protect the ghee from the drizzle. The forest guard reported the matter to the king. The king ordered that guards chop off the hands of the fellow for this theft. The poor man fled to the British province of Ajmer to save his life. Tribal people of the area told many stories of escaping the wrath of the Indian rulers by escaping to the areas controlled by the British. Such atrocities committed by the rulers led the people siding with the British and to the decline of India.

Historian Arnold J Toynbee has highlighted the importance of securing willing allegiance of the people in his seminal book A Study of History. Civilizations grow, says Toynbee, if the rulers are able to secure allegiance of their people willingly. The rulers of Kalibangan secured the allegiance of their people in migrating to the Ganga Basin. They established a new civilization successfully. The rulers of Princely India could not secure the allegiance of their people. They lost to the British invaders.

India faces a similar challenge today. The technologies of the internet, nuclear warfare, remote sensing, drones, and so on are creating a new paradigm of international discourse. One may succeed in meeting this challenge if the leaders are able to secure the willing allegiance of the people. Youth may hack the website of India’s enemies and provide the information to the Government, or they may hack the website of the Government of India and provide the information to India's enemies. The direction taken by them will determine the fate of India. To take another example, people are facing a trade deficit with China. One can face this challenge if people refuse to buy Chinese goods at the calling of the leaders. On the other hand, India will lose if people smuggle goods from China despite the call to reject them given by the leaders. To take yet another example, the infiltrators would be caught easily if the people of Kashmir inform of them to the Indian army. On the other hand, Indian army will be in trouble if the people of Kashmir inform about them to the infiltrators. Success in facing the present day challenges depends upon ability to secure willing allegiance of the people.

This is a daunting challenge today. Muslims constitute about 18 percent, and Dalits constitute about 16 percent of India's population. These are largely alienated today. This writer was travelling in train recently. The Haji sitting next has contested an election on BJP ticket during the reign of Vajpayee. He had confidence on the leadership then. He was unwilling to touch the same BJP with a barge pole today. Editors of the Muslim papers that this correspondent writes for routinely express alienation with the current leadership. The Indian civilization cannot grow if these large numbers do not join in the Great Indian Journey. The shrinking of the Indian civilization that started about a thousand years ago will then continue unabated.

Toynbee says that it is necessary to secure the allegiance of the people across the borders as well. The Great Roman Empire secured the allegiance of the citizens within its borders but failed to secure allegiance of the Berbers living across the borders. It collapsed. On the other hand, the Mongols were able to secure the allegiance of the people living across their borders in India. They won. Similarly, India was able to secure the allegiance of the people of Bangladesh in 1971. And India won. This question will decide the standoff between India and Pakistan. Pakistan will win if it can secure the allegiance of the people of India. India will win if it can secure the allegiance of the people of Pakistan. The ground reality is not so favourable. Pakistani jihadists are willing to intrude and die in India. Indian jihadists are not willing to intrude into Pakistan and die. They expect the paid soldiers of the army to make surgical strikes.

Toynbee argues that leaderships are not able to secure allegiance of their people because they begin to live in the past, rather than solve the problems faced by the people today. They begin to worship their "former self," he says. Glorification of rituals of the past has been the cause of decline of India in the last millennium. The challenge is to secure willing allegiance of the Muslims and Dalits within the country and Pakistani people living across the borders, rather than singing glory of janeyu and choti. This, in turn, depends upon whether India's leadership can present a game plan that binds all the people in a common web. The Muslims and Dalits also constitute the poorer sections of the society. The present policies are leading to the stagnation of the wages of this majority while profits of the rich continue to increase. Such a policy will not integrate the society. What is urgently needed is to face the true problems of the people instead of distracting from them by focusing on temple and cow protection.

Vol. 49, No.38, Mar 26 - April 1, 2017