Vivekananda foresaw the rise of India
A rishi that he was, Vivekananda foresaw the rise of India as a global power a century before it began. When the world had written off the Hindu religion as worthless, Indian civilisation as dead, and Indians as slaves, the young seer said, “I do not see into the future; nor do I care to see. But one vision I see as clear as life before me is that the ancient mother has awakened once more, sitting on her throne more glorious than ever. Proclaim her to the entire world with the voice of peace and benediction.”
The young sanyasi’s vision then would have been dismissed then as brain disorder. But today as the nation is preparing for his 150th birth anniversary, like many other think tanks have prognosticated, the National Intelligence Council of US said last month that, by 2030, India will overtake China and will emerge as one of the three world powers, with US and China.
Swami Vivekananda knew that India was not an underperforming nation in the past. He knew its potential. Had he known that Indians were underperforming and inefficient people, a man of great intellectual independence, he would clearly have told them so. He saw India as a fallen nation, because of absence of qualities needed to face up to its challenges. He therefore saw in the Indian past the critical guide for its future. He therefore told the Indians to look to the past for inspiration, for spiritual enlightenment and intellectual ideas. postulated that Hindu India needed fearlessness, spiritual patriotism, moral and physical strength, unity, freedom, education, respect for women and an army of dedicated men and women to accomplish all these for removal of hunger and poverty and to rise as Vishwa Guru – Preceptor the world. Half a century after Vivekananda India got freedom. A century later India began rising.
That India is now a rising global economic, political and military power is undisputed. The rise of resurgent India in geo-politics started with the Pokharan atomic explosion in 1998. This single event created the phenomenon of Indian diaspora abroad. Swami Vivekananda wanted India to develop science and power. The atomic programme of India represented both. The West could not ignore a nuclear India in the 21st century just as it could not ignore a nuclear China even in the Cold War days. The rise of India as an economic power started in about 2003-04 when domestic economic forces drove India’s development in a manner unprecedented in the history of economic development. Data for the last couple of decades of economic liberalisation reveals that the Indian economic development was largely driven by domestic savings, domestic investment and domestic demand. This distinguished the Indian model generally from the South East Asian and Chinese models which were rooted in export-led and FDI-led growth.
Development with culture and spiritual emphasis
But did Swami Vivekananda want India developed economically and become like the West? Obviously not. He wanted India to develop economically and otherwise but differently. This is evident from what Swami Vivekananda told India and what he told America. Even as he told India to develop economically, scientifically and generally materially, he turned to America that was fast rising then and prophetically told the Americans that they should import spiritualism from India to handle the ill-effects of their material prosperity. The rich America did not listen to the Indian mendicant. Result. Today half the American families are broken, 41 percent of the US babies born are to unwed mothers, and 55 per cent of American first marriages, 67 per cent of the second and 74 per cent of the third marriages end in divorce – all indices of the huge spiritual crisis in US.
When Eleanor Stark of US wrote in her book titled “The Gift Unopened” that Vivekananda was the unique gift for mankind that was still not opened, she was particularly true of US. Fortunately for India, because of the sustained work done by those inspired by Swami Vivekananda India – from the Ramakrishna Mission to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – India has not only kept alive the spiritual elements of the Indian public and private life but also deepened the spiritual emphasis of Indian culture, society, and civilisation. And this is precisely what he wanted India to achieve, namely economic development with its spiritual, cultural emphasis. The challenge before India as a rising economic power and also its purpose to present to the world is an alternative economic model.
India’s confidence was undermined by colonial scholarship
The single most critical question which had tormented the Indian establishment consisting of most thinkers, intellectuals, academics, political leaders, policy makers, economists, sociologists of India since Independence is whether the Indian religions, culture, traditions, lifestyle and values are compatible with contemporary times, particularly for economic development. This was because in free India’s discourse, the proponents of our sense of this ancient nation, Hindu philosophy, culture and lifestyle had always been on the defensive for the last several decades because the colonialists had made us believe that the West was always advanced in economics and technology and we were always backward in both. Since soft India was militarily conquered and colonised, the colonial and the other Western thinkers, consistenly labelled India as barbaric [Wm. Archer]Winston Churchil], or as semi-barbaric [Karl Marx], or as disqualified for development in modern capitalism because of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs [Max Weber] or as a functioning ararchy [JK Galbraith] and exerted great negative influence on the Indian mind and on Indians’ opinion about India. Of them, according to studies, Karl Marx and Max Weber, neither of whom visited India nor otherwise deeply familiar with Hindu culture and traditions, have exerted the greatest influence on Indian academic and intellectual establishment.
The continuing tsunami of such negative academic and intellectual vibrations devalued Hindu philosophy, culture, society, traditions and values in the mind of the Indian scholars and rated them as backward and unsuitable for contemporary world. A well-known Indian economist Dr Raj Krishna even described, as late as in 1978, the moderate GDP growth rate of India as ‘Hindu Growth Rate’ This term was later popularised by the then World Bank chief McNamara to say that India would always survive on aid from West and deride India. Undeniably the Indian mind was dominantly influenced by Western scholars and philosophers. It is this mentality of looking at us through the prism of the aliens which Swami Vivekananda challenged. He asked India to look within. But this did not happen till the West began to look at itself and at India and generally Asia.
The U-turn – Western scholars now disprove the detractors
With the result, what Vivekananda wanted India to do, namely to look at itself and not the West, in the last decade or thereabouts, the perception of the West about India and therefore about Indians about India has undergone a change. With the rise of Japan in 1970s, of the East Asian nations in 1980s, of China in 1990s and of India at the dawn of the 21st century, a huge geo-political and cultural power shift has been taking place in the world from Euro-American West to Asia. The assumption in, and of, the West till Asia rose was that West was the First [rate] World and the rest belonged to the Second and Third [rate] Worlds. The rise of Asia, Japan first, prompted the Western scholars study whether such rise was founded on any potential inherent in them. On such study, Paul Bairoch, a Belgian economist, came out with his stunning finding that as late as in 1750, India, with 24.5% and China with 33% had a combined share of 57.5% of global GDP, when the share of Britain was 1.8% and that of US just 0.1%. This led to two huge debates in the West. One, whether the West had a lesser standard of living compared to Asia as late as in 18th century; two, whether the rise of West was due to any superior qualities or capabilities inherent in it, or, it was just exploitation of its colonies. Based on Bairoch’s study some historians like Ferdinand Braudel said that the standard of living of the West was not higher than that of Asia before industrialisation.
Some felt that the West exploited the Rest and particularly Asia and grew and others differed.
As if to resolve the debate, the Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation [OECD] a forum of developed nations of the world, constituted a study – the Development Studies Institute – under Angus Maddison, a great economic historian, to study, in substance, whether Paul Bairoch was right. Angus Maddison, who felt at the start that Bairoch was unlikely to be correct, ended up endorsing him completely. In his study ‘World Economic History – A Millennial Perspective’ , Maddison not only confirmed Bairoch, but went on to say that India was the world economic leader for 17 centuries from the beginning of the Common Era, with China, which overtook India later, as No 2. And after CE 1800, both of them lost out – with India crashing to 1.8% and China 6.2% in 1900. As the British Historian William Dalrymple wrote, the current rise of India is not a rags to riches story, but that of an empire, which had lost out temporarily, striking back to acquire its due position in the world. These studies have completely disproved the views of Marx and Weber, Galbraith and Raj Krishna and also established that the Indian culture and way of life could and did build a successful globally powerful economic model for India. So, India rich in cultural heritage was also economically prosperous. It was therefore canards spread by colonial scholars that Indian culture and traditions were incompatible with economic prosperity.
Spirituality, Culture and Development
Swami Vivekananda’s emphasis on spirituality, culture and development is clearly incorporated in Indian model of development. How the cultural value of society and family influence over the individual is not just a theoretical idea but an effective functioning economic and commercial value is brought out in a commercial research to sell products, which says “In India, social acceptability is more important that individual achievement and is given priority in an individual’s life. Group affiliations are given precedence with family traditions and values. For most Indians, family is the prime concern and an individual’s duties lies with the family. In India people’s search for security and prestige lies within the confines of the near and dear”. It is traditional cultural values which have sustained the Indian family, society and economy, even when the Indian state had remained hostile to our dharma for almost a millennia, and continues to be even today. These values constitute the social, cultural, and civilisational capital of India.
This cultural orientation is self-evident in the Indian economy. The family savings in India which is the direct product of family culture is now 25% of the GDP and according to Goldman Sachs, a top global banker, this has ensured that India does not need foreign investment for its infrastructure development. Since 1991 to 2011 the amount of foreign investment that has funded Indian development was only 2% of the total; while the rest 98% has been funded by local savings in which the family tops with 70% of the national savings. It is the culture of protection of the elders, care of young and the responsibilities which the family undertakes as a cultural institutions, and the disciplining of the relations between humans and between humans and nature through the concept of dharma and sustained by culture that has protected our economy and society. In contrast, in the West, the care of the parents, unemployed and the infirm are all the concern of the state. All family obligations are nationalised in the West, while it is dharma and culture founded on dharma which takes care of all family obligations.
What values the West needs from Hindu India today are what is precisely at risk in India
The West needs to learn from Hindu India’s culural values
(i) To rebuild and protect the family and social foundations of its economy,
(ii) To reinstate reverence for nature and
(iii) To revive respect for women. Individual rights, gender rights, children’s rights, elders’ rights, and other rights consciousness have undermined the respect for women and brought down the sustaining structures of the family and caused lack of reverence for nature in the Judeo-Christian Western civilisation and led to the current environmental crisis. Though, fortunately in India, these sustaining values – family and society, respect for women and reverence for nature – are still functioning form, they are at great risk because of the continuation of colonial mindset through the intensification of the process of westernisation of the Indian intellectual, educational and media and generally the secular establishment, in the name of modernisation which is just an alibi for westernisation. The Indian intellectual establishment is unable to draw the line between the individual belief system and the country’s ethos and way of life, it tends to throw the baby out with the bath tub – namely discard national culture as conflicting with secularism, which according to the Supreme court it does not.
Because of the Indian establishment’s lack of intellectual and political courage and because of the concept of politcal correctness, the very spiritual and moral values which Swami Vivekananda emphasised and which sustain the Indian family, society, economy and environment and which the West desperately needs to import from India for its own good and even survival, are at risk in India. The public discourse promoted by the politically correct establishment is making it fashionable to follow the very western model which has brought down families, societies and economy; undermined the respect for women and made them carbon-copy the West and fight for their rights at the cost of respect; and destroyed reverence for nature which has invited the global environmental crisis. Indian people need to reinforce their conviction in those spiritual and moral values which most of them practise even today and the young India must be made to imbibe these values, first in the interest of the Indian economy, society, and environment, before India can teach these values to the West.
The world – particularly the Western world – is keen to follow our values and is already following it. Lisa Miller, the religious affairs editor of Newsweek magazine wrote a stunning article on August 14, 2009 titled “We are All Hindus now” referring to the changing American beliefs. She said that data shows ‘we are becoming more like Hindus and less like Christians in the ways we think about God, our selves, each other, and eternity; 65 per cent of us believe – like Hindus – that “many religions can lead to eternal life”; they include 37 per cent of white evangelicals, the group most likely to believe that salvation is theirs alone; a third of the Americans burn, not bury the dead; a quarter of the American believe in rebirth. The West needs us, and imports, our spiritual and cultural assets. Is not that Dhrshta Swami Vivekananda proving right? Is not America now opening the gift from Swami Vivekananda it had kept unopened for over a century? But ironically when the West is looking at us, many of our intellectuals, academics and thinkers are looking to the West! QED: To make young Indian consciously imbibe Hindu cultural values as Swami Vivekananda emphasised which contemporary India largely follows is the biggest agenda of India and also its challenge.