The current century presents a plethora of strategic opportunities for Pakistan, provided that Islamabad knows how to pluck the low-hanging fruit and take the initiative. The steady development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is making the country ever more attractive for a wide variety of international partners, some of which have traditionally been aligned with Pakistan, and others which are entirely new and unprecedented. No matter which of the two categories these states fall under, it’s evident that they’re all interested in taking advantage of this game-changing series of infrastructure projects.
Never before has China had a reliable overland trade corridor to the Indian Ocean, and this in turn opens up a wide range of options for the People’s Republic and its economic partners. Moreover, the eventual completion of CPEC will allow Russia and the landlocked states of Central Asia to more easily conduct commerce with the broader Indian Ocean Region, thereby leading to the creation of previously uncharted trade routes which will invigorate each set of partners and profit the irreplaceable transit state of Pakistan. In terms of the bigger picture, each crisscrossing network of economic connections in one way or another is expected to pass through Pakistan by means of CPEC, thereby empowering Islamabad to leverage its crucial geostrategic position in pursuit of its national interests.
The convergence of so many diverse civilizational actors – including Europeans, Russians, Turks, Arabs, Iranians, Chinese, and Africans – in one state is made possible by Beijing’s One Belt One Road vision of global connectivity as manifested through CPEC, and it accordingly allows for Pakistan to mediate over a dialogue of civilizations in the 21st century. This is a pivotal role of the utmost importance and highest responsibility, and it has the very real potential of transforming Pakistan from a regional leader to a hemispheric Great Power within the next decade. This analysis will thus explore the way in which this grand strategy can be actualized, sequentially describing the overall concept, the various civilizational-connectivity channels, and the challenges that Pakistan can expect to face.
The economic attractiveness of CPEC serves as an irresistible magnet for all sorts of various actors to utilize its infrastructural connectivity in facilitating their trade objectives, whether it’s enhancing bilateral trade with China such as the EU, Mideast, and African states may naturally be interested in, or in acquiring a convenient outlet to the Indian Ocean such as what Russia and the Central Asian republics desire. The convergence of so many civilizational forces in Pakistan will propel the South Asian state to worldwide importance by gifting its leaders with the impressive potential to serve as the common middle ground between each of them, both literally in terms of CPEC connectivity and figuratively as it relates to the broader dialogue of civilizations concept.
The latter objective is wholly dependent on the former, meaning that Pakistan is unlikely to bring together a wide array of hemispheric interests and actors if the CPEC project isn’t completed or is severely undermined after the fact. Conversely, the completion of CPEC will enable Pakistan to do just that, which thus propels the country’s significance to global heights. The second and largest part of this research will describe the different connectivity channels that CPEC opens up between Pakistan and the rest of Afro-Eurasia, but at this point a lot more needs to be said about the grand strategy behind this exciting endeavor.
Once CPEC becomes fully operational, Pakistan will unofficially become China’s most important gateway to the rest of the world. Although the People’s Republic currently engages in a staggering amount of trade with each of its countless partners, the vast majority of this is conducted via maritime routes which traverse the bottlenecked chokepoint of the Strait of Malacca and the contentious waters of the South China Sea, both of which are uncomfortably vulnerable to an American blockade or similar sort of interference in the event of a conflict between the two Great Powers. It’s mostly for this reason and due to the foresight of Chinese strategists that Beijing decided to pioneer an overland trade route to the Indian Ocean through CPEC, relying on its decades-long and all-weather friendship with Pakistan in order to make this a reality.
Welcome to Kashmir! It is deep winter. The mountains are covered with snow and the naked trees above the lakes at sunset, look melancholic and magnificent, precisely like a completed Chinese brush painting.
Welcome to a nation overrun by the 700,000-strong security forces of the occupying power – India. Welcome to the continuous presence of barbed wire, of military columns, and ‘security checks’. Welcome to a brutality unimaginable almost anywhere else on earth!
Welcome to a land of joint military exercises conducted by the United States, Israel and India.
Kashmir! Still beautiful but scarred. Still proud but bleeding and thoroughly exhausted… Still standing, still resisting, still free and independent, at least in its heart!
A day before leaving Srinagar, in the ‘Indian administered Kashmir’, my comrades asked me to address a small gathering of local as well as progressive visiting Indian intellectuals. They mainly wanted to hear about the state of the resistance against Western imperialism. And Western imperialism is what India is now trying to join so eagerly and shamelessly.
It was dark outside, literally and metaphorically. Kashmir has been bleeding horrifically. At least 80,000 people have died, most of them from the terror spread by the fascist Indian state. The victims have been mainly civilians. At least 8,000 people have been “disappeared”. There have been countless, predominantly unreported, rapes and cases of beastly, unimaginable torture. Much of it has happened in just the last two decades.
I am going to write about this, soon, next week. But before I do, let me tell this story.
During that dark night, several men and women were gathered in a cramped room, asking me one simple and essential question: “Could the brutality of the Empire be prevented, and if not prevented, could it be stopped?”
The Dude did it to me again! As my scheduled Air India flight from Kochi, Kerala, was attempting to make its final approach to Indira Gandhi International Airport, his much bigger horse, Air Force 1, was heading towards the nearby base.
It was exactly 10 o’clock in the morning. My eyes were infected after catching some mysterious bug, as I was told, a common Kerala disease. I was exhausted after writing countless essays (some directly related to the Dude), and what was ahead of me was yet another flight, this time to battered Srinagar in Kashmir.
But the Dude’s flying horse had priority. It always has!
We quite often get caught up in a whirlwind of geopolitics, popular sentiment, personal hopes and sheer desire to finally see someone stand up to the status quo. What we forget in these moments is that life is almost never that simple.
India is not just a great land mass but also one that has been grossly mismanaged for many reasons, the root of some are in its very creation. It is celebrated as the “world’s biggest democracy” but seldom do we stop and think about the majority for whom nothing ever really changed.
The current Prime Minister, Narendra Modhi, does in fact hail from a Hindu Nationalist party whose cadres are quite the opposite of what might be found on the left in any shape or form.
Arundhati eloquently presents to us not just the status quo of Indian affairs but the key driving force behind it.
India, where are you? Are you really in the BRICS camp, fighting for a new, free world, or are you now in bed with your former colonial master and her mighty offshoot?
India, a BRICS country, is actually nowhere to be seen while Brazil, South Africa, Russia and China are increasingly facing hostile attacks. India is not helping, as the United States and Europe are now manufacturing all sorts of ‘opposition movements’ inside countries that are still in the West’s path to total and unopposed global dominance.
India, a BRICS country, is silent as both China and Russia are being encircled, provoked and stabbed; at a time when their neighboring countries are constantly being pitched against them, ideologically and militarily.
India, a BRICS country, does not seem to mind as the US increases its military presence in Asia, from Okinawa to the Philippines and Qatar, or when Russia is being demonized and provoked by insane propaganda and by lunatic sanctions, imposed by the West which is actually the one that overthrew the Ukrainian government, putting in place a brutal fascist dictatorship.
And as the Western mass media outlets are now in top gear, spreading propaganda all over the world; the Indian newspapers, magazines and television stations, are dutifully reprinting and repeating the many vitriolic lies and fabrications, in exactly the same way as the Philippine and Indonesian business-owned media outlets are doing. But the Philippines and Indonesia are the West’s client states, and they do not belong to BRICS, while India does, at least on paper.
In the Economic & Political Weekly, published in 2013, Atul Bhardwaj wrote:
“India has got itself trapped into an anti-Chinese matrix set in place by the United States. This has led to a situation where the military is increasing its say in foreign and domestic policy and pushing aggressive postures on to the civilian government. Unless India abandons its aspirations to great power status and pursues a foreign policy which builds on Asian cooperation and strengths, it will continue to become cannon fodder for western strategic aims.”
That’s correct, but it is not only the anti-Chinese matrix; it is the staunchly pro-Western matrix that is serving India’s ruling elites, and it is the matrix of disinformation and ignorance imposed on the members of the underprivileged majority.
I went back to India to see where the country really stands in relation to BRICS. I opted for a very much unplanned, chaotic, jazzy and spontaneous journey. I wanted to speak to those of the Indian majority; to people in the villages and towns, to ask them what they really know about BRICS, about the new winds of freedom and progress that are blowing all over Latin America, about tremendous social changes in China, and about their own lives in the country, which the West continually defines as ‘the largest democracy on earth’.
Two village women are covered from head to toe in colorful fabric, and unlike in Saudi Arabia where only the eyes are visible, but totally. They are carrying huge crooked tin plates on their heads, and those plates are full of cow dung.
The village is called Karora, it is located almost 200 kilometers north from New Delhi, in Haryana State.
It is here that, in 2007, a newlywed couple was murdered in cold blood, after the assembly of village elders, Panchayat, passed ‘the verdict’. Both the girl (18) and boy (23) were only ‘guilty’ of belonging to the same sub-clan.
The Deccan Herald reported then:
“In June 2007, the couple was dragged out of a Karnal-bound bus by the girl’s relatives and was brutally murdered. Their bodies were paraded in the village and then dumped in a canal.”
We did not come here to only discuss honor killing and the horrible lot of Indian women; we came here to this remote corner of Haryana to discuss what the West calls ‘the biggest democracy on earth’, and above all, how India really fits into the BRICS, and to their determined fight against Western imperialism and market fundamentalism.
Yes, India is part of BRICS; but it is feudal in the countryside and capitalist in the cities. It is increasingly close to its colonial master and to the grand Empire.
We could not see the expression on the faces of the two Karora village women when we asked them about democracy, voting, women’s rights, caste oppression and honor killing. But the first female began speaking, bravely if reluctantly, in front of an entire army of onlookers:
“I’m only a poor village woman, how can I know such things? I have to work for 14 hours every day to make out a living for my family. My husband doesn’t have any regular work, and he is an alcoholic. I’m constantly worried about my children going hungry. The government doesn’t care about people like us and I don’t know who else could help. I’m very afraid so I can’t talk more about the caste system or honor killings. Women have no freedom here. “
The second lady echoes her, and then adds:
“I know the family of the eloped couple who suffered at the hands of Panchayat but I can’t talk about it. I’m afraid of such things. Women have no freedom here. Most of us are struggling to survive and I don’t know how things could be better, anytime soon. About democracy: I don’t know how the election could improve living conditions in this village and I don’t know about people’s movement in other countries or about things that are happening elsewhere.”
Soon, the crowd of onlookers begins to participate in the discussion.
The youths surrounded us to find out the reason for our sudden appearance in their village.
A boy named Biswan, wearing a black T-shirt, explained:
“My impression of what they call ‘Indian democracy’ and of the political parties that are participating in this game is… that it is a pattern of appealing for votes by some political party, with the inducement of local liquor by their men to the villagers, one day before every election day, then disappearing, to be never seen again for the next 5 years. We don’t have work here nor can anyone make a decent living with earnings here. I don’t feel this type of democracy works for us… We still haven’t got real freedom.”
Then the village youths begin speaking over each other:
“Money talks here, we are all educated to some degree, but only those who can afford to bribe some officials manage to get regular employment. We are poor villagers and unaware of developments in our own country, then how can we know about China, Latin America or other countries?”
The forlorn expression on the faces of the villagers showed their frustration, even resignation. Most certainly, we saw no hope and no enthusiasm here.
Our driver, Sunil, appeared to be extremely unhappy to be here. “In these villages, they have already torched so many cars belonging to those who came to ask questions!”
I insist that we have to finish our work here, in the heart of Haryana State. The driver fumes. He drives us around, missing the motorway a few times, but after we activate our navigation system, he gives up and just gets us where we want to go.
Later, in Delhi, my good friend and colleague, Anish, calls me and explains:
“Before he dropped me home, he said that he was so mad at you, he was ready to drive into a tree and kill us all.
“Kill us?” I thought I misunderstood.
“Yes. You may want to know that he was a soldier, serving in Kashmir… He told me that much, just a few minutes ago. We had a chat… He said he was court-martialed, because he killed a few civilians there. In Kashmir, in 1996, he was on a mission to capture members of some insurgency group, but things went wrong and the people he was after, had fled… So he opened fire on civilians, killing several of them. He said he used a LMG inside the house, emptying 2 magazines of ammunition, killing at least 3 civilians… Just like that!”
“Why is he driving a taxi?” I asked. “Isn’t he supposed to be in prison?”
Anish just commented, laconically:
“When we discussed this, he was depressed. Not because of what he had done, but because he was caught and punished. He said to me: ‘was I to have managed to kill at least one insurgent, then even if I killed dozens of civilians, I would never have got court-martialed.”
I wondered whether this approach is one that would really serve as an inspiration for the BRICS countries.
Some 1,500 kilometers from Karora Village, in Mumbai, a monster building belonging to the richest man in India, Mukesh Ambani, is allegedly the most expensive dwelling ever constructed on this planet.
Arundhati Roy describes Ambani’s home in her book “Capitalism A Ghost Story”:
“…The twenty seven floors, three helipads, nine lifts, hanging gardens, ballrooms, weather rooms, gymnasiums, six floors of parking, and six hundred servants… In a nation of 1.2 billion, India’s one hundred richest people own assets equivalent to one-fourth of the GDP.”
But to own all those billions is not enough. In order to rule, in order to fully control society, this small group of modern day rajas has to always find a way to morally justify their medieval, feudalist behavior.
The most effective way to do it is through almost total control of the media. Arundhati Roy continues:
“Mukesh Ambani is personally worth $20 billion. He holds a majority-controlling share in Reliance Industries Limited (RIL)… RIL recently bought 95 shares in Infotel, a TV consortium that controls twenty-seven TV news and entertainment channels, including CNN-IBN, IBN Live, CNBC, IBN Lokmat, and ETV in almost every regional language. Infotel owns the only nation-wide license for 4G broadband, a high-speed information pipeline which, if the technology works, could be the future of information exchange.”
The criticism of Indian elites does not only come from the Left. Conservative British news magazine, The Economist, recently ran its cover story about Ambani: “An Unloved Billionaire”, asking the rhetorical question “Why Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, needs to reform his empire”:
“Reliance’srelationship with the government is even more troubling. Anti-corruption campaigners claim Mr Ambani is the power behind the throne of India’s political leaders…”
In Indian ‘democracy’, the real rulers of the country pay politicians, to get to the top, while the voters get paid to vote a certain way, which is suitable to the regime. Mass media shapes public opinion constantly, so it stays exactly where the elites want it to stay.
From an amazing tolerance level for medieval oppressive ‘cultural practices’, to the gross cruelty towards women and ethnic/religious minorities, India is hardly a beacon of light for other BRICS nations, or, for the rest of the world. The way its economy, election practices, foreign policy and government systems are structured, the Indian state is much closer to MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey – although in this group, too, there is Mexico, which is, despite everything, culturally and historically, in the Social Democratic camp), a group which, if allowed to join BRICS, would surely destroy their political and social direction: (http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/08/15/the-challenge-to-the-west/).
But the West is always extremely generous towards its allies and economic cohorts. It promotes and glorifies those countries that are willing to sacrifice their people, throwing them on the sacrificial altar of global market fundamentalism.
Therefore, for the West, both Indonesia and India, two enormous and impoverished countries, are the true democratic and economic stars!
DLF Promenade in Vasant Kunj is a symbol of new wealth, hosting some of the top international retail brands, from Armani to Prada.
There are literally armies of guards, some in their white butler informs, others armed with guns. Photographing is prohibited. Surveillance is constant, just as in every place frequented by the elites.
Situated right near the DLF Promenade is the Khushampur Pahari slum, a place that is miserable and rough. Children move around aimlessly and barefoot. It is not as dirty as many of the much bigger settlements in Mumbai or Calcutta are, but still, people here are clearly desperate and deprived.
Mr. Jagdish is a ‘wage laborer’, not permanently employed:
“I have no regular work and the system is geared for the rich. We, poor people who form the great majority in India, don’t count.”
I ask him about the mall, but he insists on calling it ‘that huge building’:
“There is that huge building, but I don’t go there. They built it nearby, but I would never be allowed to enter. I would be beaten up if I try to go there.”
He looks into the distance:
“We are struggling here to meet basic needs. We don’t have clean drinking water and before each election they offer us free electricity supply and water. Promises that are never fulfilled; they lie to us. And they have always lied, whether it is the Congress Party or BJP…”
Electric poles and wires hang loosely above the roofs of the settlement. I ask whether people here are managing to get free electricity supply, by simply stealing the juice as they do in Peru or in Haiti, but the answer is resolutely ‘no’. They check on them, constantly. In fact, people here suffer from gross overcharging by the private company, Reliance Energy(owned by Anil Ambani, brother of the richest man in the country, the abovementioned Mukesh Ambani), which supplies power to this entire area.
“We are receiving a 1,000 Rs (approximately US$16) bill, every month”, explains an old couple next door. “On top of it we have to bribe employees of the electric company, to keep the connection. We have to go begging to more fortunate neighborhoods for water, and it is not always that the people there are willing to help us.”
An old man in the house actually follows what is happening in the world:
“I am aware of changes that are taking place in China, but our government is not doing the same things for us. Here, things are so bad that if we fall seriously ill, we simply die.”
“What about democracy?” I ask.
“Democracy is for the rich.”
Mr. Jagdish chips in: “As you heard, political parties come here, and they promise us free electricity and water, but nothing happens after the elections. Democracy is not working for us; it is the tool for the people with money to keep in power.”
Down an alley, a lady with a child confirms that there is no supply of clean water to this settlement.
Eventually, small barefoot children begin begging.
The ITC Hotel manager in Jaipur, Rajasthan, philosophizes:
“Arvind Kejriwal from AAM Admi Party (AAP) was very critical of the private media, and the mass media got extremely angry with him… You see; Arvind Kejriwal could become the Indian answer to the Latin American leadership!”
So I go to see him and his people.
On 3 August 2014, at the ancient star observatory, Jantar Mantar, in New Delhi, Aam Aadmi party held a mass gathering consisting of around 5,000 local residents, who were demanding fresh elections. There were fiery speeches coming from the podium and the AAP’s leader, Arwind Kerjiwal, agitated the dense crowd with anti-corruption slogans, swearing he would implement reforms, were he to be voted in, back into the office. He was also promising to improve the lot of common man. The reigning cry of the day was of getting rid of the oppressor ruling class through the democratic contest of the ballot boxes.
Here, surely, people knew something about BRICS and the Latin American revolutions?
But it was not the case. The campaign was almost exclusively about corruption.
Mr.Pawan Das, a cable manufacturer from the Shahdara constituency, spoke about the impact of AAP and the ex-chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, and his former 49 days rule in Delhi:
“I noticed the policeman in our factory who used to extort Rs.300 bribe money from me every month, didn’t turn up for 3 months. I egged him on to collect his extortion dues on coming across him, and enquired as to why he didn’t come to get the money, to which he replied, evasively, that he was posted on an election duty. I retorted: ‘were you really engaged in any election duty or got scared by the fear of prosecution instituted by Arvind Kejriwal’s strong anti-corruption measures?’
But BRICS or the fight against Western imperialism – definitely not!
“On asking about their stance on India’s strengthening alliance with the American government and India’s unassuming posture at BRICS meeting, all of them expressed their unawareness about such matters”, explained Anish, in rather decorative language.
Then, at Jantar Mantar, we encountered several individuals who clearly demonstrated the art of sitting on two chairs.
Both Mr. Deepak Lal and his wifevoiced their favorable opinion about the strengthening of ties with America:
“It’s in the interest of India to be a great partner in creating alternatives to the dominant paradigm offered by the U.S., but at the same time India-US relations should remain unaffected”.
Another old couple went on in an even more Kafkaesque manner:
“US-India relation is the way to the rise of India along with creating alignments leading to a multipolar world”.
At the May Day Bookstore in New Delhi, after an avant-garde theatre performance, I met my friend Sudhanva. Comrade Sudhanva Deshpande, is the editor of LeftWord Books, as well as a famous Indian intellectual and actor. He explained:
“You are absolutely right posing the question: “Where is India in all this? It is very a good question because it is well known that for the last several years, a decade or more, Indian foreign policy had turned more and more towards the US. A few years ago, India conducted the Indo-US nuclear deal. That led to a lot of opposition back home, here in India, but the government went ahead with the deal. The Hindu right became more and more oriented towards the US. The government also argued for much closer ties with the Israel. As you know, India is the biggest buyer of Israeli arms in the world today.”
“Earlier this year, in May, in the general elections, the party of the Hindu right, which is Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), came to power. It is led by Narendra Modi, the man who is widely seen as being complicit in the pogrom of Muslims, in his homestay, Gujarat, in 2002, when he was a chief minister. His campaign was a very muscular campaign, a very macho campaign… He presented himself and his party as aggressively nationalist. The pre-election campaign was marked by anti-Muslim violence and rhetoric. As for foreign policy, there had been a long-term trend for more and more orientation towards the West, towards the US. In the current aggression on Gaza, for instance, the Indian government took the stand of so-called ‘equidistance’ from both Israel and Hamas, and this is really… this is compromising India’s long-term commitment to the cause of Palestinian independence. And this goes back to even the 1940’s, when India was not even independent.
The fact that India itself was a colony, and that it fought an anti-colonial struggle – it all seems now as a distant memory.”
I asked Sudhanva about BRICS, concretely: “Is it even possible that India, where it stands right now, could and should be considered as a member of BRICS?”
“I think right now, Indian foreign policy is trying to calibrate its position”, he replies”.
And he continued:
“On one hand there is a trend towards more and more alignment with the US, and on closer and closer ties with Israel. So that’s on the one side. On the other side there are also hard economic realities. And that is what forced the Indian establishment to look towards formations like the BRICS. If indeed it so happens that BRICS will not be just an economic club, but if it starts taking a more determined anti-imperialist position, then the Indian establishment would have to really decide, where it stands. I don’t see India taking an anti-imperialist stand anytime soon, beyond some lip service.”
We talk about the past, about India’s determined anti-imperialist stand in its post-colonial period. Nehru brought this country to Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955, where the Non-Aligned movement was created.
“India abandoned the Non-Alignment movement, effectively, in the late 80’s. In some sense you can say that it happened in Delhi, in the early 80’s, that it was the swansong of the non-alignment movement… The fact was that India became more and more ambivalent towards the idea of non-alignment, which helped to terminate the movement, because India was such an important part of it.”
And then India took a neo-liberal turn, in the early 90’s, and even the past was forgotten.
What can be expected of the present nationalist government of Narendra Modi, in relation to BRICS?
Benny Kuruvilla is from Kerala, a recognized expert on BRICS, and political lead at the ‘South Solidarity Initiative’. I met him, and his Chilean wife, Susana Barria, a labor organizer, after a demonstration in support of Palestine, in front of the Kerala House, in the center of New Delhi.
Benny readily clarified:
“Modi and his government would be happy to be part of the Western alliance and of the BRICS… This is really an ultra-nationalist government, and it has to reassert its ideology… In the past it was all very different: during the Cold War, India was very close to Cuba, and to the USSR. Now that India has a very pronounced right-wing government, it is very reluctant to side with the anti-Western block. I don’t think India will go along with the idea that the Western concept should be cancelled. Indian Left-wing forces are very weak now, and this government is so happy to be part of big-boy’s club; for them it is the place in the sun! What is happening in BRICS and in Latin America is mainly monitored by the local intelligentsia; mainly by the upper class.”
Susana appeared to be more optimistic and hopeful, believing in change, and in a way she echoed what Noam Chomsky told me about the Arab world, several years ago:
“Look, some 5 years before Hugo Chavez came to power in Venezuela, everything was bleak, in many parts of Latin America. We did not think that everything would be reversed so fast. We should not underestimate that things could change very fast.”
But India is not Venezuela. All three of us agreed that the Indian Left is too ‘purist’. It is stuck in theoretical definitions of what Communism or Socialism should be. For its taste, China is not socialist enough; most of the Latin American countries are not really purely Marxist. In the end, much is being discussed here, but very little achieved.
The next day I asked my friend Anish Gopinathan, a former international banker who spent several years working in Dubai, before returning, disgusted, back to India and began studying the Chinese language, and culture, whether all that I asked and heard so far made any sense. He replied:
“Yes. In 2002 MP Modi was the Chief Minister in Gujarat, during the pogrom. For years, there was a US ban on him, a refusal to issue him an entry visa. That ban was lifted around the time of elections…”
The same happened in Indonesia, against Prabowo, an ultra-nationalist who was accused of crimes against humanity in Indonesia and blacklisted by the US Department of the State, but was quickly rehabilitated when he almost won the presidential elections earlier this year.
“Modi is pro-business and pro-West. But in a way, he can also sometimes stand against the West, and for India. You often mentioned the Indian colonial hangover, when Indian elites shamefully idealize the colonial era. Well, Modi is one politician who does not have this hangover… For instance, he insists on using Hindi at international meetings. All our elites were conditioned in the West: Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Manmohan Singh… But not Modi! In fact he represents a big break against that colonial hangover… But the price is – he wants his Hindu state!”
Hindu state… We flew to Varanasi, to the ‘holy city’ built on the banks of Ganga River. It is a depressing, oppressed and miserably poor city, but at the same time it is the place that the current MP – Mr. Modi – was elected from.
We went to Kashi Vishwanath Temple, to talk to Brahmin priests, about their vision for India.
The results were shocking.
Mr. Pandey spoke to us in front of two military sentinels guarding the entrance to the temple. He was a Brahmin priest, associated with this place of worship since his childhood:
“I am here, I am a priest, because… actually… I couldn’t get a job anywhere else. Really, no regular employment for me… And so, this is how I make a living… To me, religion is important, because it gives me some income… I like Americans, because they come here, and give us money… Somehow I sense that they feel good, giving us money… I have no idea about the developments in China, Russia or Latin America… I really don’t care.”
Mr. Shyama Prasad Sharma who also works for the temple, clarified his views:
“Latin America? BRICS? No, we don’t have time for stuff like that. We are busy here, at this temple, with business, with trade.”
What about something higher, more enlightened than that?
He walks away.
Anish is outraged:
“This is like some market place; market mentality. It is like some fish market or vegetable market, or stock market! No time for any big questions in life! This is what BJP is fighting for. Hindu state… It is exactly what the mullahs in Pakistan are trying to create in their madrasahs. A cold, religious society; the code of primitive society…”
Desperate, we approach a simple man, a vegetarian food vendor. His name is Mr. Anoop Upadhyaya and he somehow brings things into perspective:
“I voted for Modi because my parents ordered me to do it. I don’t expect much improvement from his government. If they deliver even some 25% of what they were promising us, I would be satisfied. We are always ‘Bhajpa’ (BJP)… That is what we are. We don’t think about it, don’t question it.”
We ask about BRICS.
He does not react, as if we were talking about some distant planet.
At some point I had had enough and I expressed a desire to visit some old-fashioned school to talk to teachers who were already there, teaching, before India entered the pragmatically-oblivious realm.
I was taken to Bhigan, just across the border from the capital, on the very edge of Haryana State, to a well-organized, clean and optimistic looking primary school.
I don’t know if what I saw was true or whether my friends were just being too kind to me, creating a spectacle, similar to that in the film ‘Goodbye Lenin’.
The educators and the principal – Mr. Kuldeep Singh Chavhan, as well as the history and physical education teacher – were extremely kind, knowledgeable and supportive.
We all expressed our admiration for the Soviet Union, and then we condemned Western imperialism.
“Friendship with Russia!” Screamed one of the teachers.
“Israel is the oppressor! US are behind Israel!”
Then the Principal spoke:
“We are very well aware that the US is trying to buy India through its multi-national companies!’
Then I spoke.
It all felt like a scene from a long time ago, even before I was born…
We did not hug, kiss or embrace. We did not sing. But it all felt fantastic.
A dog barked outside.
Children began leaving the school. We were still speaking.
Then I asked about BRICS.
“There is an issue,” the Principal admitted. “I am not really aware of the BRICS’s cooperation with India.”
“But…” I howled: “India is member of BRICS.”
“But Modi went to Brazil!”
“I don’t know”, said the Principal, sadly.
‘It’s better if we sing!’ I thought.
From the other geographical extreme of the country, in the poorest Dalit villages around Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu, my dear friend Venkat (he wanted to use only his first name for this report), a Cambridge-educated Brahmin, who was so appalled by the helplessness of the poor people, that he went against all that the upper cast and the elites represent, wrote to me:
“The Indian social and political landscape hasn’t changed in years. Like the distant mirage, new governments come and go giving hope to the parched souls who are soon left out to die with still hope in their eyes!
The new middle class, thanks to the growth of IT, has often been praised and written about but this is only a small percentage although in a country of this size even such small percentages works out to be huge in numbers!
An average rural person is still struggling to make ends meet and still hoping for the “paradise’ that every politician promises! There is no time to read, think, discuss about other issues that affect the nation or the world. Cricket stars, film stars and sleazy politics fascinate conveniently Indian media, as the mass media are only concerned about TRP ratings and not about what people think and want!
So, discussions about BRICS or what happens in Syria or Iraq doesn’t really matter. Many villagers accept the stereotypes that the western media has painted. For example – the US is the land of wealth; China means cheap goods, Latin America – Che on your T-shirts and Cigars, Africa- famine and dangerous diseases, Middle East- only war!
The education system is being so commercialized that Indian youth are actually produced in large numbers, lacking even the skills that Industry wants!
Unless ‘real’ education is given to our children, we may not have a ‘thinking’ population in the future. But only if people are educated, can we hope for a greater critical mass of intellectuals who can guide the country.”
After having our boarding passes scanned at the gate and before entering the airplane, passengers had to go through three more military checkpoints! The entire state of affairs appeared to be thoroughly Kafkaesque. This confused, frustrated ‘police state’ was using its military, cops and other armed forces to intimidate and to keep at bay its own citizens. It has been doing it, for decades, in the most open and despicable way.
I still remember how in Gujarat, after that horrid sectarian pogrom of 2002, the Akshardham Temple killing and both (then) Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and Sonia Gandhi, decided to visit the area. A huge crowd gathered, to welcome the politicians. It was a very peaceful crowd, consisting mainly of poor onlookers. But the police began beating the people with batons, savagely, just ‘preventively’ I was told, as if it were the most natural thing on earth: ‘The largest democracy on earth at work’. Nobody dared to protest against such treatment.
After talking to many, it appears that the poor see it all very clearly now: in the villages and in the slums, they laugh and cry or gesticulate angrily whenever the word ‘democracy’ is uttered in front of them. Most of the poor (that is the great majority of the country) have no doubts that they are living in a country whose rulers and oligarchs, backed by the security apparatus, are alimenting on their sweat, misery and blood.
Those ‘educated classes’, including most of the intellectuals from the Indian ‘Left’, live in a continuous and great deception. Most of them are desperately clinging to the notion that has been spread by the old and new Western colonial masters: that India is actually the largest democracy on earth.
Even those individuals in India who see clearly that both European and North American ‘democracies’ are increasingly becoming nothing else other than a grand farce, do not dare to admit that their own, Indian, multi-party system (aped from the West) in which all major political parties are controlled by corporate interests, as most of the mass media is, have been totally failing to represent the interests of the Indian majority.
‘Democracy’ is not a secretive and complicated scientific formula. It only means, in Greek, ‘the rule of the people’. And it goes without saying that most of the long-suffering Indian people that I spoke to, do not feel that they are ruling their own country!
Just before I took off from Delhi, I found myself sitting right next to a member of the new local elites. A Sikh man, who began with the usual line of interrogation: where am I from, where do I live, what is my line of work? Dutifully and calmly, I replied. Then he offered his short biography: he was a manufacturer and owned 3 homes in 3 different parts of the world: one in India, one in Bangkok and one in Vancouver. “I am taking my family back to Bangkok, now”, he explained. “I have a wonderful house there. It is such a great place to live.”
“It is quite complicated there, lately”, I suggested, neutrally. “After the coup…”
My statement shocked him: “Why do you say that? It is all very simple. One and a half months ago it was complicated, but after the army took over, everything is great.”
“For you, maybe”, I said, “And for the Thai elites, as well as for their Western handlers.”
He gave me that look, indicating that I was actually nothing more than a piece of dirt to him; that very look, which has increasingly began appearing on the faces of the new Indian ‘elites’, in those 5 star malls and hotels, in both India itself, and in countries like Thailand and Malaysia, which are now inundated by corrupt Indian officials and businessmen.
The conversation ended: from then on, arrogantly, he refused to reply to anything that I uttered, ignoring my attempts to be at least essentially civil and polite to someone who was occupying the seat next to me.
I did not ask about BRICS. I knew what he would reply: “They should all go to hell!” or something of that nature.
BRICS countries have to maintain high standards, if they are to make a significant difference in this world. Their determination to fight against colonialism, imperialism and for true freedom for countries worldwide cannot and should not be diluted.
If states like Indonesia, with governments full of war criminals and mass murderers, and one of the most inhumane economic/social systems on earth, are allowed to join, if Turkey, a member of NATO and one of the closest allies of the West in the Middle East, with several Western air force and military bases, is allowed to join; if India, which is openly and shamelessly collaborating with the West while sitting on two chairs is allowed to maintain its membership, then BRICS will soon lose all of its clout as well as its moral upper-hand.
If such a scenario takes place, the world will lose an alternative, and that would be an enormous tragedy.
India matters. Its people matter! It is a great and important nation. It used to be ‘our nation’. It used to stand firmly against colonialism and imperialism. In many ways, and in many of its parts, it still does.
India should wake up. It is needed. It should rebel against the oppressive system, both domestic and global. And it should become a proud BRICS nation: with all its heart, and not just on paper!
Symbol of Indian democracy
André Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. The result is his latest book: “Fighting Against Western Imperialism”. ‘Pluto’ published his discussion with Noam Chomsky:On Western Terrorism. His critically acclaimed political novel Point of No Return is re-edited and available. Oceania is his book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about post-Suharto Indonesia and the market-fundamentalist model is called “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear”. His feature documentary, “Rwanda Gambit” is about Rwandan history and the plunder of DR Congo. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and Africa. He can be reached through his website or his Twitter.