At the SCO summit in Astana in June 2017, two national flags – of India and Pakistan – will be put alongside the flags of the Organization’s full members. And there will be other ceremonies devoted to the long-awaited event – their joining the ranks of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
The two South Asian countries’ road to full membership in the SCO was long, and one of them – India – has undergone a dramatic change during this time. Today it is a completely different country from what it was, say, five years ago. Pakistan has remained mostly the same, but India is living out a true revolution. An ideological, political and even religious revolution. So let’s try to understand what is going on in the country that has joined the SCO.
We will start with religion, namely, Hinduism, the main religion of India. It should be noted that the word “Hindu” means not any citizen of India, but an adherent of Hinduism. A Muslim or a Sikh can be Indians (or US citizens, for example), but they are not Hindu.
The essence of the revolution India has been witnessing in recent years is that its Hindu majority has remembered its unique religious and cultural identity, has become proud of it and has been putting a lot of questions to politicians – questions that were not to be asked outside of one’s circle of friends or one’s street. Questions that have been eating at the stability of society for a long time.
This process, as we now understand, was underlying for the magnificent victory of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party at the general election in spring 2014. But one election, even a national one, could pass as a one-off and even accidental event, an emotional outburst of the voters.
There, however, followed an almost uninterrupted chain of victories. For example, the victory in the local election in the state of Uttar Pradesh in early March 2017 was even more convincing than in 2014. This is the country’s main state in many respects, with a population of 200 million people. Now BJP has power not only at the federal level. Today it rules, independently or in coalition with local parties, in 17 states. The former main party of India, the Indian National Congress, remained in power in 4 states, and another two states are ruled by left-wing parties.
This is a complete change of the political landscape (actually, self-destruction of the Congress). And a complete change of national ideology. It is as if after Donald Trump’s victory in the US the Democratic Party would be gradually fading from the horizon, preserving influence only in California and New York. And only the Republicans were left, who are, by the way, ideological brothers of BJP in certain aspects.
Remarkably, ideologists and analysts from India (and, for example, China) say that the “Trump revolution” is global and began in India in 2014. Now the world’s biggest powers have similarly minded leaders: Xi Jinping in China, Narendra Modi in India and Vladimir Putin in Russia. Plus Donald Trump in the United States and several politicians in smaller countries. What is common about them is that they all represent a rise of the national feeling and identity instead of “universal values.” The era of return of national states is here, even though it does not mean that they will love each other in any situation. On the contrary, the world may have become a more dangerous place because of it.
The new India in the SCO means many things, such as an opportunity for greater rapprochement with the alliance’s members and a difficult transitional period.
The general picture of change in India can be divided into plenty of minor episodes. In Uttar Pradesh, after BJP’s victory, the authorities decided to abolish state subsidies to Muslims for their Hajj to Mecca if they can afford to pay for it. Not only because no one pays Hindus for a trip to the sacred river Ganges, but because of corrupted schemes within the subsidies system. And because the Hajj is supposed to be paid for with one’s own money, though no one denies the need to help the poor.
Why wasn’t it done earlier? The answer found in discussions ongoing in Indian mass media is unexpected. Under the Indian National Congress, the country lived with the “universal values” idea for 70 years, believing that religion is separated from the state and that all religious communities should be equal in India. The idea is great, but its implementation was far from it. It so happened that the overwhelming majority, the Hindus, considered themselves oppressed, while minorities, in order to achieve equality, were given special rights, such as Hajj subsidies and many other privileges.
This was a replay of the situation with the black population of the US, who should not only be called with the absurd term “African Americans,” but also paid for their minority status. This creates huge ghettos of people who do not need to work, and this makes them angry and hate the white majority.
As soon as a political force emerged in India who broke the conspiracy of silence with regard to these topics, the entire country came to vote for it. The defeated Congress calls this force, BJP, a “religious” and “Hindu” party, thinking that it is an accusation. However, Germany has two parties with the word “Christian” in their names, and they are in power, and nobody seems to mind. And Germany is not the only example.
Another episode: the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh is a person from BJP, Yogi Adityanath, who is extremely popular. He is not just Hindu, he is a monk of a religious order, which did not happen often in the past. The state of Gujarat is preparing a bill under which suspects in cases of murders of holy (i.e. any) cows will no longer be released on bail.
India is building itself anew, and this is a turbulent and dangerous process. Winners behave differently, and sometimes they are vengeful and unkind.
It is curious to see general words and mottos in Indian newspapers: “restoration of hope for reviving Hindu identity,” “be proud to say that you are a Hindu,” “wearing bindi used to be a sign of backwardness, but everything changed when the young generation confidently embraced their religion.”
It is obvious what is going on: the new generation is tired of supranational values and has remembered the traditional Indian and Hindu ones. One could talk about Hinduism for ages, but the general impression is that its key ideas are similar to those of Christianity, and also of Islam and other religions, for what it’s worth. Non-violence and suppression of own anger, compromise through a dialog, belief in the good as part of the original moral world order of the Universe… By the way, thousands of Orthodox Christian pilgrims from Russia feel at home in India – first of all, spiritually.
But how does an Indian’s everyday life change from realization that he or she has values distinguishing them from or bringing them closer to other nations? After all, they remained what they were, it just that in the past they, like Moliere’s famous character, “didn’t know that they were speaking in prose.”
Still, a lot has changed, and it seems that people now feel better. That is, we see something that has to do with organization of man, who cannot exist for no reason, without a purpose and a goal, just for the sake of living.
And a quote of the day in an Indian newspaper. They publish one daily, choosing something that relates to the present moment. This time, they chose John Stuart Mill, the British philosopher (1806-1873), who wrote, “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse.”
Why live if “nothing” is all there is?
SCO may gain importance for Delhi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is building a new India. He was known as a talented manager when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat. Now his plans include kilometers of roads and bridges, new cities, surging GDP (last year, India outran China for the growth rate), a new healthcare system and garbage disposal. But why did his predecessor fail with this, why was the country stagnated and depressed under them, even though nothing terrible seemed to happen? It is not about GDP growth and happiness being two different things. It is about what gives rise to what – economic growth to optimism or vice versa?
So, we have a new country with huge prospects, the cosmopolitan elite that has been taught a tough lesson at the elections (Congress leaders and ideologists) and the new, national elite that is securing its power. Moreover, it is a country with a new and quite active foreign policy, paying key attention to its neighbors, whom it did not consider important in the past. So it is building some kind of a big Indian world, even despite the traditionally tense, even aggravated, relations with Pakistan.
Let’s not forget, however, that the application to the SCO was made by the government of the INC, but full membership was granted to a completely different government. This means at least two things. Purely logistical trouble, when the new persons in charge of the SCO relations may not know the plans of their predecessors. The same is true about the expert community, consisting mostly of INC members. That is, there will be delays, mutual misunderstandings and similar things with Indians within the SCO. Another thing is the elated, turbulent atmosphere in India, which often may not have time for the SCO.
It is clear and simple with Pakistan. The SCO needs it as a country bordering on Afghanistan, a source of trouble and business opportunities for other member states. Pakistan is a long-time partner of China, and it is overall logical to move it several steps deeper in the regional structures where China has been present from the very beginning to discuss security issues and prospects of the region’s development on a par with other members.
The only thing that is clear with regard to India is that it is a very independent and big global force and that Central Asia, in theory, may prove more important for the incumbent government than it was for the previous one. The past Indian elite believed that Central Asia is something where India should generally develop its presence, but there was no hurry. The new one will be building a new policy in the region while being part of the SCO, though not only of it. Yet it is impossible to say now what kind of policy it will be.