Dialogue  July-September,  2011, Volume 13 No.1

Editorial Perspective

India and Asia: the Cultural Continuum

The millennia old linkages - cultural, religious, historical and others - between India and the rest of Asia, and even beyond the Asiatic continental boundary upto Greece and beyond, are a reality. There has been hectic intellectual churning in a vast area in spite of undeveloped modes of communication and insurmountable natural barriers. The savants continuously moved from one corner of the vast land mass to the other taking enormous risks and many perished during their journey through the mountains, deserts and the seas.        

Our links and inter-actions have been unique in many ways. The spread of cultural, philosophical, religious elements, the diffusion of knowledge, have often been locally/regionally synthesized and recreated, invigorating the society. The books have been trans-created, rather than translated. Vast literature, with variety was recreated basing on common themes. The positive urge for knowledge led the monarchs to send even the armies to procure books and savants. It needs mention that China attacked Champa (Central Vietnam) to procure Sanskrit books, to Khotan/Kutsana (now part of Xinjiang; Chinese Turkistan) to procure Buddhist Sutras, and to Kucha (also in Xinjiang) to bring Kumarajiva, the great Buddhist scholar, to China. The king of Kucha was killed in that battle. This is just the opposite phenomenon of the burning/destruction of Gnostic Christian literature and the libraries of Alexandria, Nalanda, Vikramshila, Oddantapuri and numerous other places.

The last millennium was almost a dark one for India and many other countries of Asia. Our links were weakened, and even snapped in many cases; our vast literature was lost. There was a dark colonial period and we suffered the loss of memory. Of course, many English, French, Dutch and other European scholars selflessly researched, re- discovered and helped us in retrieving our memory. We are grateful to them for the same. Russian scholars have done tremendous work in unearthing huge archaeological finds providing deep-insight into cultural continuum. Yet we have another brand of European colonial scholars and missionary scholars who indulged in myth-making and distortion of Asiatic history and culture. Due to limiting vision of time-frame inherited from the biblical precepts and colonial bias, their scholarship often, resulted into chronological squeeze, Euro-centrism and racist interpretation of society and culture. Such anomalies persist even today in India due to Marxist dominance in our academia.

Thousands of Sanskrit texts, whose originals have been lost, have been saved in their translations in Chinese, Tibetan and other Asiatic languages. Savants of different nationalities – Tokharians, Parthians, Sogdians and Yuechis—, besides the Indian, Chinese and Tibetan ones, helped in translation of such works and propagation of Buddhism. Notables among them were Dharmagupta from Kasghar, Suryabhadra and Suryasena from Chokkuka - Karghalik- Yarkand, Dharmakshema, Shikshananda from Khotan, and most importantly, Kumarajiva from Kucha and his contemporaries -Dharmarnitra, Buddhayasha, Buddhabhadra and many others. Abundantly discovered literature and architecture of several periods, catered to the needs of both Mahayana and Hinayana schools. The discovery includes the fragments of the Sanskrit Agamas from Turfan, Tun-huang and in the Khotan districts; dramas and Kavyas of Ashvaghosha from Turfan, the Pratimoksha of the Sarvastivadins from Kucha and numerous versions of the anthology called Dharmapada or Udana, with extracts in Tokharian and Sanskrit. The other findings include Prajnaparamita, Saddharmapundarika (The Lotus of True Law) and Suvarnaprabhasa Sutra and numerous Dharani (magical formulae) literature. Buddhist texts in Uighur, Iranian, Kuchean, Tokharian, Sogdian and Bactrian Greek have also been discovered from the sands of Central Asia. Turkish sutras have also been discovered at Turfan, which contains a discourse of the Buddha to the merchants Trapusha and Bhallika. The huge documents discovered in Central Asia in Indian languages and scripts -Sanskrit and Prakrit languages; Brahmi and Kharoshthi scripts - provide ample material for the study of the material culture, cultural integration and people’s life -joint family ties, status of women, food and food-habits, dress and ornaments, agriculture and pastoral economy, trade, transport, pastime and recreation etc. Kharoshthi documents give names of the Hindu rulers in the Northern Tarim valley (Xinjiang), a long list of Vijaya monarchs of Khotan and purely Indian and also mixed names of the donors and administrators suggesting Indian way of life in Chinese Turkistan. Hindu-Buddhist continuum, like that in South-East Asia, was more pronounced in Central Asia. One aspect of Indian links with the rest of Asia needing in-depth enquiry and study may be the links preceding the efforts of Ashoka and Kanishka in the field of the propagation of Buddhism. The epics and the Puranas vividly describe Central Asia (S.M. Ali: The Geography of the Puranas) and have numerous mentions of the tribes/communities of the region.

The synthesis of Buddhism with local belief system and culture, gave it strength and made it readily acceptable. This happened in China, Japan, Korea, Tibet, Mongolia and elsewhere. As B.N. Puri writes: “Tibetan Lamaism and its acceptance in Mongolia suggests that Buddhism provided a creed acceptable in different forms to superstitious, emotional and metaphysical minds.” Buddhist monks in Tarim valley owned land and slaves, and fully participated in the material life of the time and place. Puri further writes: "Buddhism, thus, provided a living and a changing stream of thought adaptable to men of different emotional backgrounds. New form of Buddhism providing a moral, ideal and not personal perfection or individual salvation were evolved with buddhas and Bodhisattvas serving as angels of mercy, peace and knowledge. These are manifest in Central Asian art. These Bodhisattvas are supposed to have indefinitely postponed their nirvana process for the sake of alleviating the sufferings of mankind, while faith in a Buddha, especially in Amitabha, could secure rebirth in his paradise.”

Sugriva, in the Ramayana of Valmiki (Kishkindha Kand, Ch. 40-43), sends his army in search of Sita in all four directions. That includes South-East Asia, especially,” Indonesian Islands. The Vayu Puranas description of the islands, though containing imaginary and mythical description also, has a kernel of facts. Undoubtedly, Indian links to the South-East India is an ancient one. We had both land routes via Brahmaputra and Manipur valleys, as well as, sea-route linking India and South-East Asia. We had multi-dimensional — religious, cultural, literary and historical — links; Hinduism and Buddhism existed in continuum frame, rather than the antagonistic one. Hindu-Buddhist Indonesia and Malaysia became Muslim, except for the Bali Islands, but the pre-Islamic cultural “traits still persist and the society is most tolerant, except for some Bahawi groups active here and there."

Social Movements in Short and long term Perspective

The burgeoning support for the movements led by Anna Hazare against corruption and by Baba Ramdev for bringing back India’s money from the Swiss Banks, did in one hand unnerve the Government, and on other hand inflated the egos of the two movement leaders. In fact; the Government in Delhi was already unnerved and panicky due to a series of scams and loss of control over rising prices. The communication gap between the government at the Centre and the ruling party further aggravated the situation. Diverse signals emanated from the two centres of power — such as, in the case of Naxalite problem — or there was no signal, a blank. These factors were certainly responsible for the loss of balance by the un-nerved Government and its pendulum-swing behaviour between extreme arrogance and brazen submission. Due to various reasons, including those mentioned above, the Government lacked initiative in solving the problems, allowing two movement leaders to jump in to fill the vacuum. Anna Hazare and his team want all powerful Lokpal to deal with corruption cases in the country bringing every body in its ambit — the Prime Minister, Judiciary, etc. Hazare and his team want their draft to go as Lokpal bill. The experiment of ten member drafting committee — five each from self-appointed civil society Anna Hazare group and the Government — had failed to produce an agreed draft.

In the meantime, the draft of the official Lokpal Bill, with gaping holes, has been tabled in the Parliament, which provides enough reasons to the citizens of the country to doubt the government’s intentions. There is not only the provision in the official draft of the bill that the Lokpal shall have to provide two hearings to the accused before charging him — one before registering a FIR (First Information Report) and the other before filling a charge-sheet in the court — but the complainant stands to face tougher conviction, in case his charges are not proved, than the accused who is found guilty. Thus it favours those under the scanner than the complainants, and, therefore, puts disincentive before those who want rectification. The bill also brings NGO’s, numbering over 1.2 millions, within the ambit of Lokpal. Sheer numbers will dilute the effectiveness of the Lokpal. One hopes, the standing committee of the Parliament shall take note of these weaknesses in the draft bill. Anna Hazare has been arrested and released. There are demonstrations in various parts of the country by his supporters. Twenty thousand persons sat on Dharna in Chhatrasal Stadium in Delhi alone. The Proceedings of both houses of the Parliament were stalled before Anna Hazare was released and he was allowed to carry on his fast at Ram Lila ground.  

The controversy needs to be viewed from various angles. We have the past experience of anti-corruption movements by Nav Nirman Samiti in Gujarat followed by the Total Revolution  Movement led by JP during early 1970s, and then the movement by V.P. Singh in late eighties. These earlier anti-corruption movements had failed to yield concrete results. Paradoxically, JP movement produced some of the most corrupt leaders. V.P. Singh reached at the top by taking up the popular issue and proved himself to be a disaster as a Prime Minister. The present movement led by Anna Hazare, like earlier ones, has popular support, especially in urban centres. It has already partially succeeded as the Lokpal bill could, at least, be passed by the Parliament after decades of discussions and many postponements. However, the Lokpal Bill, whether in the present form, or modified, or as proposed by self-appointed civil society team, is not going to yield long term benefit to the civil society, as more and more institutions and laws, which are not going to be implemented, are going to strengthen authoritarian powers of the state. More State power, more authoritarianism, is a burden, which the civil society shall have to get-rid off, sooner or later. In that way, efforts of the civil society groups and the Government are complementary to each other. The point is that we already have ample institutional and legal weapons to deal with the corruption and related crimes. We have the bodies - Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Central Yigilance Commission (CVC), the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), numerous other tribunals and bodies specializing in investigation and, award of punishment. We also have ample laws to deal with corruption and related crimes. Then why proliferate the agencies and laws? The existing bodies and laws should be strengthened and made  more effective, and allowed to work without political interference. Many existing laws, especially the obsolete ones of the colonial days, should have been amended as soon as possible; their number should have been reduced, rather than adding more and more undesirable ones.

Self-appointed civil society group want to bring the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and other highly placed ones uunder the purview of the Lokpal on the basic presumption that they may be corrupt. Now if there is such probability then what is the guarantee that Lokpal may not be so? We have already witnessed the controversial appointment of Mr. Thomas as CVC Chairman. In that case, how to control the monster? Even if all our politicians and elected representatives are corrupt - fortunately, it is not true - the Indian Civil Society shall never concede to such laughable elitist demands of Anna Hazare’s team that Lokpal selection team should have Nobel Prize winners of Indian origin and Magsaysay Award recipients. lndians know that neither the democratic principles should be overlooked, nor leverage should be given to foreign agencies to have opportunity to interfere in our internal affairs. Kapil Sibal has recently declared that the government shall never again involve civil society in drafting legislation. The question is: is he going — rather has he the courage — to question the right of the National Advisory Council (NAC; an un-elected body) to draft even such mischievous and questionable Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill 2011. It needs mention that this Bill has the dangerous potential of converting every corner of this country into Kurukshetra? It is time that every conscientious citizen of the country peruses it (www.nac.nic.in/pdf/pctvbamended.pdt). It is also the time that NAC should be liquidated. There should be no place for extra-constitutional authority in India. Law-making and governance, in no case, should be outsourced. Relying too much on self-opinionated  and mischievous advisors with an agenda is costing the nation heavily. Fortunately Kapil Sibal seems to have been overtaken by the events and it is hoped that a good sense will prevail and a balanced view would emerge.

Anna Hazare, a Gandhian agitator, has frequently gone on fast raising issues of public interest with considerable success in Maharashtra. He has limited vision about the complexity of the problems of the Indian civil society, but has highly inflated ego. Baba Ramdev has popularized Yoga from which millions benefited and improved their health by following his advice. He has limited understanding of economics and legality, has diminished view of the strength of the persons with black-money in foreign banks; he has under-estimated their power. However, there is need for the govt. to pursue the issue of foreign accounts to allay the suspicions and fears of the people. The strength of the two agitators lies in the initiative taken by them on the issues agitating people. They have different category of followers. The elitist company of one attracts urban middle class and pseudo-intellectuals, many of whom write good English conveying precious little. The rustic look, the dress of a Hindu Sanyasi and the persons accompanying Baba Ramdev, is not liked by a section of the English-knowing intellectuals and media men. There is resentment against him among such elites, especially the Hindu-haters. The utterances of Digvijay Singh, a congress (I) leader and a political sycophant, need public censor.

In any way, these agitations may only serve limited short-term purpose. The civil society acts through citizens only and the only  channel of effective change should be through electoral politics. As a long term strategy, two things need to be done. First, the social educators and activists should work continuously to educate the society to empower, cement social divide to strengthen it and motivate the civil society to elect proper representatives. Effective public opinion shall bring the sea-change, which agitation may not bring as had been experienced in the past. Second, the efforts should be made to restore values in the society, which requires overhauling the present system of education. Of course, the utility of agitations as short-term strategy can not be denied. None can deny that the agitations of Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare would bring results. However, its much better to agitate for good governance rather than selected topics.  

In most of the cases, our discourse on public issues remains populist. Serious discourse based on in-depth study is often lacking. Short-term gains and political expediency often takes precedence and objectivity becomes the first casualty. Wrong steps should be criticized keeping one on politically correct and the right side. A populist posture creates confusion. The media takes care of the rest and creates the havoc. Take the case of political debate on corruption, inflation and the rising prices. If the rise in prices of the petrol, diesel and cooking gas was correct during Vajpayee regime, then how it became wrong during Manmohan Singh’s regime? The states are responsible for the development of agriculture, then how they become free from the blame for the rise in the costs of the agricultural products. Recently, there was police-firing in Forbesganj in Bihar. A factory was going to be constructed and some persons demanded passage through its land; there was clash, police had to intervene and four persons were killed. It was clearly a land dispute and no communal issue was involved. Unfortunately, the persons killed were all Muslims. Certain parties wanted to derive political advantage by giving the incident a political and communal colour. Even Minority Commission team visited the area. Such developments, which are numerous, send wrong signals, divide and weaken the society.

We need clean and assuring political face. For that effective and strong public opinion must be created. The level of public discourse should be raised. Media should inform and educate, rather than provoke and send confusing signals, as it is doing today. An alternative media also needs to be developed.

It is high time we make change in-education system our motto. We can not allow a system which makes our children culture-illiterates. However, to bring such change and change in our political culture, we need intervention through electoral process.

                                                                                                                                                                                                         – B.B. Kumar


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

                                               Astha Bharati