By M.S.N. Menon
It was the exploration for spices that changed the power equation between East and West, and gave rise to new empires. Not this alone. It led to the discovery of new continents, the development of ship-building and the navigational sciences. At the centre of it all was India, the source of the spices.
But India was also the great catalyst of human civilisation. It began with the Buddhist mission of Ashoka, the greatest emperor of history. He sent his own son, Mahendra, on this civilisational mission. ?Go forth, O bikhus, everwhere for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many…Move forth with dharma as your light,? he told the Buddhist monks. ?There is no higher work than the welfare of the whole world,? according to him.
Ashoka entered into treaty arrangements with Antiochus of Syria, Ptolemy of Egypt, Antigones of Macedonia, Mages of Cyrene and Alexander of Epyrus for the propagation of Buddhism. His was not the way of conquests. Buddhist missionaries were working in all these regions two centuries before the birth of Jesus. Buddhism spread throughout Asia and influenced the thoughts of Europe.
Peninsular India played a major role in propagating Buddhism in South East Asia and South China. Buddhaghosha, Dharmapala, Amoghavarsha, Buddhidharma-these were the great names associated with the first Indian diaspora. The great temples of Angkor Vat and Borobudur, inspired by Buddhism and Hinduism, are among the great wonders of the world.
Simultaneously, the commerce of India spread to Rome and Greece, as also to China. For 2000 years (1000 BC to 1000 AD) India was the dominant economic power of the world.
The second wave of the Indian migration began with the colonial era. It consisted of Indian workers. They went as far as West Indies and Americas (Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Surinam), South Africa, East Africa, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Fiji. They became the pioneers of these lands.
Fiji is a creation of Indian workers. For two centuries, they gave their blood and sweat and tears to this land to make it what it is today. C.F.Andrews, (a friend of Mahatma Gandhi), who did a report on the Indian workers in Fiji, says that ?their patience, fortitude and simplicity won our continual regard.? The University of South Pacific is an Indian creation.
In the Americas, the Indians worked with former African slaves. In all these places, they worked for both freedom and development. Which explains how Dr Cheddi Jagan became the first Prime Minister of Guyana. And Trinidad produced V.S.Naipaul, the celebrated recipient of the Nobel award.
Mauritius is the best example of Indian enterprise. India is proud of the Mauritians. Indians form only three per cent of the South African population. But they enjoy a disproportionate influence in the country, thanks to the goodwill created by the Mahatma. President of the Inkatha Freedom Party, Dr. Buthalesi says: ?Without the blood, sweat, suffering and toil of Indians, South Africa would not be what it is today.?
In East Africa, Indians from Punjab and other places were brought for the construction of the railways. Most of them took to trade and industry after their contracts expired. They contributed much to the political awakening of East Africa. In 1914 they set up the East African Congress and in 1932 the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. It was an Indian who formed the first trade union.
The third diaspora consisted of the highly educated and skilled Indians-doctors, teachers, engineers, IT specialists, etc. It began in the sixties of the last century. It was at first called the ?Brain Drain?. It almost drained India of its human talent. Today, they are to be found in almost all advanced countries making a major contribution in almost all important fields. They enjoy the highest income among immigrants in the USA and also occupy key positions in government and industry. The Silicon Valley is their creation. They have contributed to America more than what America has contributed to India, says former President Bill Clinton. A very high tribute.
The Indian presence in Britain is most conspicuous. There are five Indians in the House of Lords, and about a dozen or so Indian industrialists among the top ones. Today, Indian food is a must with most.
Last, but not the least, we have our workers in the Gulf-about three million of them. Their remittances to India (about 22 billion dollars per year from all the NRIs) constitute the biggest segment of the foreign exchange receipts.
No wonder, India continues to stir the imagination of peoples. They want it to play a major role in the affairs of the world.