India and the Anglosphere


Prediction is a perilous business but it pays to be ready. If 2016 was the start of a worldwide reconfiguration of ideas, institutions and alliances, 2020 is poised to be the year when the contours of the new future become visible. When Brexit finally happens and Trump betters Biden, the benign post-imperial configuration of the twentieth century would give way to a muscular reassertion of Anglo-American hegemony. The commercial and financial globalisation of the previous decades would now bring about a political one: The various regional entrepots melting into a politics of new spheres of influence.

At the wake of Donald Trump's lovefest, many Indians - though not necessarily its government - want their country to belong to the Anglo-American camp. It's a country that loved the previous wave of globalisation and benefitted from it through the deployment of its English-speaking IT workers who brought home the Dollar. Its great hope for the future is, some argue, in becoming a key member of the Anglosphere. This is an old dream issued anew, a great young English-speaking civilisation at a sub-continental scale guaranteeing the next century of Anglo-American dominance.

In many ways, this is the only dyke that can keep the momentous changes in Eurasia at bay. A gradually resurgent China is asserting itself Westwards - its men and money revitalising and reordering the ancient land routes with an ambition to rival the Atlantic. Over a long term when today's politicians will be dead and gone and today's ideas exposed and discredited, there may indeed rise an alternative centre of the world, far away from mid-Atlantic, vibrant with trade and cultural connections. Whether this will be configured as Sinosphere, it's hard to say. China may build the roads and guarantee its safety, but its primacy isn't a given: Because there is India which might as well as participate in this great new conflation of civilisations. 

India's policy, so far, has been to remain consistent with its cold war era position. The natural affinity of its English-speaking elite with the Anglo-American bloc has always been tampered by its distrust of colonial designs: Once independent, it refused to be the junior partner ever again. On the other hand, the existence of Pakistan, an everyday reminder of two-nations theory, has broken the link between India and Eurasia; the old one-Asia solidarities are discarded and forgotten. Regardless of the optics, all Indian governments - since Nehru until the present day - wanted to chart its own course and have its unique way of engagement - non-engagement - with the idea of civilisational blocs. 

But the emerging Eurasian world may present a different opportunity to India: Its great moment of emergence out of the post-colonial hangover. India's civilisational preeminence did not end in the Islamic conquests of the twelfth century, nor what followed was solely Islamic. Instead, India's history, from the very ancient times, can be read as one of continuous engagement and interaction, both within the Eurasian theatre and in the Indian Ocean world, built around trade, exchanges and connections. The nationalist narrative of an India asleep and unaware of herself through many centuries of foreign domination was imported from Germany and Italy in the Nineteenth century and had nothing to do with India's past; it was the other side of the colonial subversion of India's self.
 
This very reading of India's history as a Hindu-Muslim binary is itself a product of colonial hangover, a residue of cultural transformation when Indians learned of their past and their own ideas through the prism of English texts informed by colonial agenda and evangelical ideas. Its foreign engagements after the Empire were limited by the imperial vision and never by its own illustrious record of being a unique fount of ideas and connections. Even as it goes nativist, its nativism is informed by rage and revenge, boxing the shadows of its real and imaginary pasts, and not by any dreams of finding its own place in the world. In the present context, by limiting itself to false choices between being the junior partner of the Anglo-American bloc or being the junior partner of the Sinosphere - or remaining aloof altogether - India is only letting out its deep anxiety about itself.

But it may not be allowed the luxury of fence-sitting for far too long, as a new chapter of Anglo-Americanism is about to begin. Also, letting Eurasia gradually emerge as Sinosphere will be a huge lost opportunity. And, India's future may lie in confident engagement, and not in hurt aloofness, in the world affairs, not just going back to its leadership of the third world in the 1950s but reaching out to its pre-modern history of deep interactions across a broad geographical region stretching from Singhapore (Singapore) to Gandhara (Kandahar) and beyond.

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