On August 15, 1947, an ancient civilization manifested into a new nation. Near the stroke of midnight, Jawaharlal Nehru, freedom fighter and India’s first Prime Minister, would make one the greatest speeches of the 20th century – “A Tryst With Destiny.”
One passage stands out the most which is integral in this piece:
“A moment comes, which comes, but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”
The Soul of a Nation
The idea of the soul, or Atman, has been a central topic in Indian philosophy. Most strands posit it as eternal, unchanging, and inherently good. Liberation is achieved when one identifies with the soul and disassociates with the body.
But what defines the soul of India?
Nehru tried to define this soul or “idea” of India in his book, The Discovery of India. Nehru idolized India’s diversity, tolerance, and tradition of pluralism. Most Indians today and in the past would agree with these values.
But problems arrived with the body of this newly born India state. Its hands were tied by excessive government regulations where profit was a plague, and a mercantile people’s instincts were silenced. The feet of the masses marched behind the banners of caste (for Hindus) and religion (for minorities) rather than behind the Indian tricolor or tiranga. The brain or “intellectuals” of India veered into a Red Sea where Marxists rewrote books to vilify India’s indigenous culture and deify its conquerors as civilizers of the heathen brown savage.
Post-colonial India became a state ruled by Brown Englishmen exploiting mass corruption while spitting on mass tradition. To maintain this equation, balance was achieved by pitting community against community; while feudal lords doled out sops and calculated political arithmetic. This all changed when a new variable entered the board – unity.
Truth is One
Ekam Sat Viprā Bahudhā Vadanti – Truth is one, the wise know it by many names.
— Rig Veda (1.164.46)
I’ve quoted the above several times before. The reason I do is because how integral this verse is in explaining India. Nehru’s idea of India indeed traces itself to this verse spoken thousands of years ago. However, what Nehru and his disciples did not acknowledge is that their “Idea of India’s” origin was rooted in this Vedic verse. They would think of any and every reason to explain India’s inherent diversity and tolerance other than its actual cause – the soul of India: Dharma.
Ekam Sat is the social contract of the Indian experience. As long as people abide by it, sectarian peace can prevail and has in India for millennia. When ideologies came that did not accept Ekam Sat, India has witnessed terrible bloodshed in the name of God or lack there of. This is not to say that India was some peaceful fantasy land for all of its history, but it is reasonable to say that inter-and intra-religious violence amongst Dharmic sects has been extremely minimal compared to its foreign analogues.
But how did this unity manifest itself in modern India – an India of hundreds of colonial and cultural divisions filled with struggle and strife?
The Price of Saffron
Two currents would force the struggling streams of the Indian state into the beginnings of a singular and mighty river: saffronization and economic liberation.
It was in the late 1980s/early 1990s was when India’s reincarnation truly began.
The Shah Bano case and Kashmiri Pandit Exodus would enrage Hindus across the country with a culmination in the mob destruction of Babri Masjid – a mosque built over an ancient temple and one of Hinduism’s holiest sites, the birthplace of Ram.
Across the Arabian Sea, Saddam Hussein launched an invasion into Kuwait in 1990. Oil prices and India’s oil payments jettisoned while exports slumped with its balance sheet teetering. India was now forced into an IMF bailout conditioned on massive economic liberalization. The curse of the Kuwaiti invasion would turn into India’s blessing.
Political whirlwinds would give air to an upstart party in the BJP, which would grow in strength and numbers over the years. Reaching a zenith in 2014 with a massive victory of Prime Minister Modi, the BJP now began laying ground for a new India. On a foundation of welfare, infrastructure, and promotion of indigenous tradition, Modi would build the first pillars of rebirth in 2019 with an even greater mandate than prior.
Rebirth by Reclamation
Through this trident of tectonic maneuvers, Modi and the BJP signaled their intent to the world in 2019 – India would no longer sit by and be defined by haughty intellectuals or journalist editorials; India would define itself, and it was now defined by reclamation.
Amongst hyperventilating outlets publishing misinformation after mischaracterization, much of the international public has been caught dazed by what is happening in India. The BJP’s shambolic public relations department does not help either. In all 3 actions, India is placing primacy on indigenous tradition and history. It is addressing the festering scars that have been open since partition and caused by conflict from ages past.
Kashmir saw the removal of a temporary amendment, equality enforced amongst the populace, and a path for the resettlement of its original people who carried its indigenous traditions – the Kashmiri Pandits. BJP backed lawyers persuaded India’s Supreme Court into a balanced and just decision with the holy land of Ram Janmabhoomi rightly returned to its worshippers and an order for a mosque to be built at another location. While the CAA honored India’s storied legacy of giving refuge to the persecuted as well as addressed partition injustices all in one stroke.
And all of this has been massively popular in India, flabbergasting outside commentators. Why?
A Million Mutinies
More than 271 million Indians were lifted out of poverty from 2006-2016. As Indians rose economically, they found new questions (and problems) for themselves. Indians are now introspecting on who they are and what defines them.
In Narendra Modi, they have found the Special One. His background, achievements, and character have captured the Indian imagination. He is an every man coming from humble roots who has given a precedent of defiance to those of doubt. Modi has not only given hope to the average Indian, but also a mirror.
He has laid out the corruption and hypocrisies of the old elites. His orations give the tales of an ancient people, speaking to the deep seated cultural trauma and perseverance of India. Modi’s Hindutva is breaking the Brown Englishman’s idols and killing its sacred cows, while reminding India of its old ideals and sanctity.
But the old elites also have an even more alarming fire at their doorstep – caste is breaking down.
With urbanization, increased economic mobility, and indeed with the strengthened of Hindutva, people are identifying as Indian or Hindu first rather than their caste like in the old days. Social media and the internet have broken the stranglehold of academia and mainstream media to deliver narratives that are much more in tune with reality today, history yesterday, and the future tomorrow. The carefully carved world of postcolonial India is crumbling to ashes. And the BJP is intent on dashing those ashes away as a preparation for reincarnation.
Jawaharlal Nehru’s “Idea of India” was only partially correct. India is not just the land of diversity and pluralism. India is the land of Dharma, of ancient traditions, and uniquely indigenous narratives. It is the land of Ram, of Krishna, of Buddha, of Mahavir, and of Nanak. It is the land of Chanakya, with a state that seeks to improve diplomacy and statecraft. It is the land of Yoga and meditation. It is the land of science and spirituality; of Aryabhatta and Aryavarta. It is a land of the Dharmachakra, where the wheel of change forever turns on the spokes of Dharmic virtues.
It is the land where the soul of a civilization, long suppressed, is reborn today in a new avatar.
India has reincarnated.