By James M Dorsey
When Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, he set a sign for a critical mass of world leaders who, like him, think in civilization rather than national terms. In the minds of these leaders, Ukraine is about much more than the future of a former Soviet republic or the recasting of the European security architecture.
Much like Putin’s ambition to establish a Russian world defined by the geography of Russian speakers and followers of Russian culture rather than internationally recognized borders, men like Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi see themselves as a 21st century world order in which civilizationalist aspirations trump national sovereignty, freedoms and rights of minorities. For them, creating a 21st century world order involves coercion and possibly, if necessary, using military force to redraw maps to fulfill their sometimes downplayed aspirations.
It comes at the expense of the independence of countries like Ukraine, the rights of coastal states in the South China Sea and ethnic and religious minorities such as Indian and Chinese Muslim Muslims, and possibly much of non-Indian South Asia. Without a doubt, Xi and Modi are closely watching Ukraine for lessons learned. Putin has crossed a Rubicon at enormous human, political and economic costs with no immediate possible turnaround.
Xi has other direct fish for frying. He is unlikely to cross a similar Rubicon anytime soon to realize his ambitions in the South China Sea and Beijing’s One China policy, which sees Taiwan as an integral part of the mainland. Nor is Modi, whose ideological home embraces Akhand Bharat’s concept of an India stretching from Afghanistan to Myanmar and encompassing nuclear-armed Pakistan as well as Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
American and European diplomats take heart that since Modi became prime minister in 2014, Modi has refrained from publicly referring to Hindu nationalist geopolitical ambitions. He apparently last spoke publicly about those ambitions in an interview in 2012, when, as Chief Minister of Gujarat, he suggested that “Hindustan, Pakistan and Bangladesh should rejoin”.
Nevertheless, a lesson the war in Ukraine offers is that the United States, Europe and their Asian allies take civilization aspirations lightly at their peril.
Despite warnings from US intelligence and statements from civilized, nationalist and far-right voices close to Putin, many mistakenly believed that the Russian leader played bluff in the run-up to the invasion but would not send troops to Ukraine.
Six weeks after the invasion of Ukraine, a prominent militant Hindu nationalist with close ties to Modi predicted, in the first indication of a timeline, that the Hindu nation’s ambitions could be achieved in the next 15 years.
“You spoke of 20-25 years, but if we increase our speed, I say 10-15 years… I have no power at all… it’s with people. They are in control. When they’re ready, everyone’s behavior changes. We prepare them… We will walk together as an example, without fear. We’ll talk about nonviolence, but we’ll walk with a stick. And that stick will be heavy,” said Mohan Bhagwat, the leader of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
The RSS, with some six million members, is Modi’s political cradle from which his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged. Founded nearly a century ago, the RSS is a militant, right-wing Hindu nationalist paramilitary volunteer organization.
Modi’s policies, including his 2019 amended Citizenship Act granting citizenship to Hindus from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, but not Muslims, as well as stripping the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, that year, appeared to be nodding to Akhand Bharat.
Muslims in India make up the third largest Muslim community in the world, accounting for 14 percent of India’s 1.4 billion population.
It may be a bull’s eye, but Modi could be the only great civilisationalist leader with whom involvement has the chance to curb, if not tame, all of his irredentist instincts. Those instincts are probably one of the reasons India has tried to find a middle ground in the Ukraine crisis.
Unlike Russia and China, with whom battle lines have been or are being drawn, the involvement of the United States, Europe, Japan, South Korea and other Asian states with India is based in large part on a perceived shared geopolitical interest to oppose the rise of China in the Indo-Pacific.
In a broadening of engagement beyond existing close economic and political ties, including the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has invited Modi to a Group of 7 (G-7) summit in June the Bavarian Alps. †
The Quad is a strategic security dialogue between Australia, India, Japan and the United States, while the G-7 groups Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Great Britain and the United States.
Another positive sign of commitment is that Hindu and Muslim religious leaders and religious nationalists are quietly exploring common ground in shared humanitarian values.
Ram Madhav, RSS executive committee member and former BJP secretary general, said in an interview with this writer last week that “Eastern civilizations (and) Eastern religions all share the same civilizational value system.” Madhav referred to Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, and “an Islam with an Eastern value system like Indonesian Islam.”
Madhav, widely regarded as moderate by Hindu nationalists, referred to a concept of humanitarian Islam put forth by Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim movement in the world and in Indonesia.
Nahdlatul Ulama advocates reforming what she calls “outdated” and “problematic” elements of Islamic law, including elements that encourage segregation, discrimination and/or violence against anyone considered non-Muslim. Furthermore, it unreservedly accepts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and foresees interfaith relations based on shared common values.
According to Madhav, the RSS’s view of Hindu nationalism or Hindutva already contains principles of humanitarianism as articulated by Nahdlatul Ulama. The movement’s critics reject that claim. In addition, the RSS’s alleged association with widespread inter-communal violence and alleged discrimination against Indian Muslims casts doubt on this. (IPA service)
By appointment with the Arab Post
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