India at Crossroads: The Very Idea of India Is Being Redefined

India was never a nation. It was a civilization. It was a subcontinent that consisted of multiple kingdoms, which had their own languages and regional cultures.

The first struggle, that defined the idea of India, was the tussle between Aryan migrants and Dravidian aboriginals. They were two different races, who gradually came to share the subcontinent, and who eventually found one commonality through their faith.

For eons, India was an idea that was rooted in the philosophy of Vedic Hinduism. The idea, that bound all Aryan and Dravidian kingdoms together that prospered and perished in the Indian subcontinent. The idea of India was about peace and liberty. Faith, beliefs and even god for that matter, were not forced on people; it was a matter of an individual choice and a way of life. With every new century, the idea evolved. Buddhism and Jainism were perhaps the two most prominent extensions of the Indian ideology.

Then, at the dawn of the second millennium, things took a different turn.  Gradually, Hinduism became a religion. It was made to be an intellectual property of a certain section of the society. The barriers of castes and sects became increasingly imposing. The liberal idea of faith was imprisoned in rituals and rites. The quest for knowledge, education and the pursuit of scientific excellence slowly faded into obscurity. These were the first signs of the changing contours of the Indian civilisation.

Few hundred years later, the Islamic invasion and the subsequent mogul empire brought along a violent religious conflict that was hitherto unseen in the land. The conflict went on for almost five hundred years. There was enormous bloodshed and countless atrocities. However, like every other struggle, this conflict led to a definite evolution. The confluence of Islamic and Hindu ethos left a pronounced imprint on the identity of India through the development of languages, arts and religions.

These two populations were still learning to co-exist, when the Europeans arrived. Their arrival marked the foray of the third great religion in India. Thanks to the new players in the arena, the second massive conflict broke out, while the first was still far away from its conclusion. Again, this conflict led to the further evolution of India.

In the era of the British raj, India was introduced to the western systems of the governance. Science and enterprise, which had vanished for a thousand years, returned to the land. Secondly, the warring factions of the mogul and Hindu establishments found a reason to stand united against the new conqueror. However, the cunning brits never really allowed that unity to develop fully.

Let us fast forward to the independence day of India. In a matter of a midnight stroke, a civilisation was abruptly transformed into a nation-state.

The new nation consisted of a several religions, numerous ethnic identities and just too many languages. None of the above stated conflicts had even begun to end. They were simply sent into hibernation. They became the dormant volcanoes. At such a point, no Veda, no Buddha or no Gandhi could have held the population together.

At that point, again, it was the most fundamental idea of India, now hazy and vague that bound the nation together. Now, it was not about faith, scriptures or god anymore. It was the secular soul of the land that allowed people to co-exist, despite their orientations and inclinations.

The leadership of the new India had a daunting task of defining the nation. It was up to them to conceive the new Indian identity, to develop an inclusive society and a progressive economy. Admittedly, even the word “herculean” falls miserably short to describe the magnitude of the challege here, but given the solo dominance of the Congress party, it was not an impossible task.

However, this is where the real downfall of India begun.

The new political establishment was supposed to build a foundation on the secular soul. What it instead did was to make it a political tool. Instead of using common threads that tied all the communities together, they transformed contentious issues into vote magnates. They used the lack of trust between Hindus and Muslims, unattended plight of lower castes and classes to deepen the divide. It was very easy in a society, whose psychology was battered and bruised. The wounded psyche was rich in the sensitivity and almost devoid of the sensibility.

Thanks to such a horrendous mismanagement, India grew like an amoeba. The size was growing, but the development was null. The first two generations of India hardly learnt to aspire and to prosper. They rather satisfied themselves in sustaining on what they had. In the absence of enrichment, they firmly clung on to their orthodox identities, and they refused to evolve. Cynicism became their excuse, and then the very nature. Government further helped its cause by keeping the economy closed, and by keeping technological advances of the world at bay. Licence raj and consequent corruption added to the already abundant woes.

This whole travesty led to a stagnant economy that provided little opportunities to rise, and to a society that abhorred individuality.

By 1990, India was bankrupt in more than a few ways. It had to take a reluctant step towards modernisation due to the compulsions of time. In 1991, India opened itself to direct investments, and then to the privatization of industries. For the first time there was competition, and not conflict. It was bound to have a dramatic impact on India, and thank goodness, it did.

The economically liberated India paved way to a new generation, which had access to the information and a desire to grow beyond traditional realms. The post-liberalisation generation travelled to different places. It imbibed modernity and individuality. In the course of last two decades, this generation went on to become the engine of the modern India. They catalysed India’s rise on the global arena, and in turn, cultivated the identity of a powerful nation.

The development of this generation has been gradual and it is still going on. First they only had economic aspirations. Their cynicism pertained to the incumbent structure of India. They hated the corrupt system, but did little to change it. They had individual opinions, but when it came to their cultural identities, they still carried a stigma created by the bygone generations. They lacked a communal trust and a refined sense of civil duties, and to a great extent, they still do.

However, if the signs are to be believed, it is changing and it is changing very fast. The youth that marched on the streets for various causes exudes a different attitude. They are tired of the convoluted idea of India, the pathetic political management and its mongering of sentimentality. They are willing to move ahead of religious stigmas and the narrow sense of cultural identities. They have grown up with the abundance of choices as a consumer, and now they are going to have it the same way as a civilian. They have a long way to go here, to get rid of the cynicism and the sentimental impulsion. But they are well on track.

This, by the way, is my generation.

The legacy we have inherited reeks of insecurities and trepidation. The ancient soul of India has suffered too many scars in the last 60 years, and it is agonisingly close to giving it all up. The difficulties that lie ahead are not insurmountable, but they are capable of creating doubts in the strongest of minds. There is a large population that would resist the inevitable change. There is a ruling entity that resents the new wind, as it might sink their ship for good. Since the idea of India is being redefined in a profound manner, these forces are going to play all dirty tricks to stop it from happening.

This upcoming decade could prove to be the biggest turning point in the history of India A.D. It’s a crossroad, where one way leads to the abyss, and it is horribly short. There is another way, which might lead to a better future, but it is horribly long and full of toil and struggle.

It is a tough choice. Unlike the freedom movement, this time there is no midnight stroke that will mark the conclusion.

It is a period of the exhilarating ambiguity, and the world is watching it with a held breath.


5 thoughts on “India at Crossroads: The Very Idea of India Is Being Redefined”

  1. Well written and quite illuminating as always, my young friend! Armed with this, your stirring treatise, it appears to me, that these challenges for India, are in fact, the ideal macrocosm for Life. It is the quintessential representative of complexity and diversity which we all face in this life which then becomes a true microcosm for each of us. Thanks Chinmay! Regards Mike (Aka Professor M)!

    1. Professor!

      What a pleasure to have your comment, sir. I am totally elated.

      I agree that the challenges we face as a nation are something that will not only define “us”, but it will also define “me”. This is a great period in Indian history. For someone like me, it’s a dream. There is so much to observe, to reflect upon, to learn, and to understand. It is insanely fascinating, and I am loving it 🙂

      Thank you as always 🙂

      1. My pleasure, Chinmay! Glad to be able to once again convey my thoughts in print now! Sorry I haven’t been active on the Social media scene of Late, Sir! I nearly called it quits 3 months ago, Chinmay! If you wish to know more please e-mail me as i do not have your e-mail address anymore! Regards Mike!

  2. Chinmay, excellent as always. I agree the pain you have in mind. I agree majority of your points. But I have a difference of opinion about Aryan invasion theory you mentioned. I think for writing about that, one needs to have a very sound study of history written from various perspectives i.e. from British, Indian and other perspectives and also their criticism. Then perhaps one can understand it better. However, I feel that it is futile to look at the dead history while we search solutions for contemporary problems. Instead of going into past, we need to consolidate the present. Any way, thanks and please continue.

  3. Great article! What I feel is our people in power, after independence, failed to give an idea or a theme, that which is much stronger than regional, ethnic, religious diversities. It is there, but weak. Further, we failed to define a new identity of India or an Indian in post independence time. Do we represent or connect to the ancient, great civilization that India was?
    And this, I think, happened because of mere transfer of power from British to the Indian politicians.

    Recently I came across this post from Ram Jethmalani which looks relevant here.

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