Protecting a civilisation in the age of mercantilism and global citizenship

There has never been a greater need to address the larger and deeper issues which are eating into the vitals of this land’s civilisational consciousness.

Earlier this week, the Indian Government banned 59 mobile applications of Chinese origin invoking its powers under the Information Technology Act 2000. The ban, which is seen as part of Bharat’s retaliatory measures against Chinese aggression at the border, has initiated certain serious conversations and debates both in public and private. Some are of the view that the ban doesn’t achieve much since its impact on Chinese economic interests is negligible, and, in any case, is not expected to affect Chinese belligerence at the border. Some have even gone to the extent of contending that should China reciprocate in kind, the already skewed trade imbalance between the two nations which is to the tune of USD 3.3 billion in favour of China, is bound to hurt Indian interests more given that Bharat is not even among China’s top five trading partners. Perhaps, they are right. After all, hard data cannot be wished away and as a still-developing country, Bharat has all the more reasons to take into account these realities before taking a decision.

That said, as someone who is interested in understanding the basket of realistic military and non-military options available at Bharat’s disposal to counter a bellicose sabrerattling neighbour with imperial ambitions, this author must candidly and unreservedly express his disappointment with the sheer elitist mercantilism that has, dare one say, infected even discussions relating to the territorial integrity of this land. An issue which ought to have been a non-negotiable come hell or highwater, has become negotiable in affluent and influential circles. This tragic new normal must shake the conscience of every reasonable person who understands and appreciates what it is to have a sovereign homeland.

What is even more disturbing is the casual use of ad hominem charges like “warmongering” in relation to those who believe that the Indian Government must not remain supine in the face of Chinese aggression and must use this situation to address head-on and put to bed for good China’s baseless claims with respect to the LAC and Arunachal Pradesh. The loose use of loaded terms such as “warmongering” in the current context is misplaced since a warmonger is one who actively seeks war either for its own sake, or to secure an unjust interest or goal which he believes will be delivered only by and through war. Bharat is certainly not the aggressor in the current conflict and is fighting to protect what belongs to it and is sacred to it, namely every inch of its land. Therefore, those, like this author, who believe that China understands only the language of force and must be spoken to in that language to deter it from nibbling away at Bharat’s land, can by no stretch of imagination or definition be branded “warmongers”.

On the contrary, those who are willing to barter Bharat’s territorial integrity for myopic and self-centred economic interests are the ones whose elitism and rank apathy for national interest are on stark display. Their priorities render secondary the most cardinal and fundamental interest of a sovereign state, namely the sanctity of its borders. This is a consequence of, among other things, internalising this Chimeral and convenient myth of global citizenship which never loses an opportunity to look down upon every expression of patriotism as “jingoism” or “toxic nationalism”, and effectively marginalises it as the trait of the unwashed, unevolved, savage and hence sub-human “native”.

The goal of dehumanising any and every sense of attachment to this land and its indigenous culture has been so systematically pushed through every possible medium and platform for over seven decades now that it has come to a point that there exists an influential cross-section of the Indian society whose first reaction to Chinese expansionism is to protect its own economic interests at the expense of the country’s dignity. Unfortunately, to this crowd, global citizenship simply means those with the means must have the freedom to hop from one green pasture to another to feather their own nest without ever feeling beholden or attached to any land. This opportunistic rootlessness is what passes off as global citizenship, which is worn as a badge of honour by a significant cross-section of Indian elites and the so-called intelligentsia. Not so surprisingly, this elitist opportunism is in stark contrast to the decision taken by several small and medium-sized Indian enterprises and entrepreneurs to sever trade relations with their Chinese counterparts pending the resolution of the border conflict. The contrast between the colonialised “global citizen” native elites on the one hand, and the deeply rooted and patriotic natives on the other has never been starker.

What explains the existence of such diametrically divergent attitudes? At the heart of it, the problem may be traced to the treatment of this country by a colonialised and powerful class of people as merely a marketplace of opportunities or as a launchpad for greener pastures, which represents the subservience of civilizational consciousness to abject mercantilism which masquerades as broadmindedness and pragmatism. While it is true that it makes very little sense to expect people to not scout for better economic prospects especially at a time when the world has become perhaps more open than ever to skilled workforce wherever it may come from and an open market wherever it can find one, the pathological inability to strike a conscious balance between economics and national interest is possibly unique to the current phase of global history more than ever before.

It is surprising that those economies and societies which have been built on slave labour and colonization of other societies are much more aware and protective of their national interest, notwithstanding their ostensible commitment to “open and free markets” and democracy. This could be because they have managed to put together internal safeguards and mechanisms which ensure that there is a committed apparatus that looks out for their national interests without interruption, in particular on matters of sovereignty and security regardless of which political dispensation wields power domestically at a given point in time. Having secured their short-term and long-term interests in this fashion, they go about the business of selling the idea of “global citizenship” to the rest of the world with a view to create markets and loosen civilizational moorings. This works well for them since it preserves their hegemony albeit in subtler, more subterranean and politically correct ways than before.

In stark contrast, Bharat, as a post-colonial society, which ought to value its independence and borders more given its tumultuous history and the troubled neighbourhood it lives in, appears to have bought the myth of a global village hook, line and sinker, which has unfortunately driven its embarrassingly cloying foreign policy for decades now. This may explain the quest of its leaders for recognition as “global statesmen”, which is a euphemism for those who seek validation from “world leaders” and who are willing to play by the rules set by the existing world order, while paying lip service to non-alignment and strategic autonomy for the benefit of their home audience. In the process, the country’s interest is sacrificed at the altar of individual pursuit of glory and statesmanship.

At the societal level, the anecdotal proof of Bharat’s internalisation of the global village myth lies in the content, tone and tenor of its popular discourse, which has now degenerated to a point where it is both fashionable and acceptable to constantly berate those very institutions which protect its borders. It would be naïve to dismiss this state of affairs as an organic consequence of globalisation. This is because it is fairly evident that certain vested interests, both domestic and foreign, appear to be the direct beneficiaries of a systematic weakening of (a) the framework that looks out for Bharat’s security, and (b) its perception in the eyes of a young, idealistic and impressionable demographic. This robs Bharat of the precious committed human resource it needs to protect itself, which obviously cannot and does not bode well for its existence.

While the Indian Government’s immediate priority must be to address the Chinese problem at the border, there has never been a greater need to address the larger and deeper issues which are eating into the vitals of this land’s civilizational consciousness and which, at the expense of sounding repetitive, have not received their due under any dispensation thus far. Miraculously, despite successive Governments and not because of them, vast swathes of the silent majority of this country still believe in the idea of patriotism, the sanctity of their homeland and the inviolability of its borders. It is this silent and largely not-so-affluent majority from all corners of the country which continues to send its children to the armed forces, not because of paucity of safer employment in this day and age, but because it is immensely proud of this tradition. It is precisely this silent pride which is the subject of the experiments and derision of the colonialised native elites. One sincerely hopes that at least now the current dispensation will empower this committed silent majority by replacing empty symbolism, political rhetoric and electoral calculations with concrete policy-based investment in strengthening civilisational consciousness and building institutions which preserve it, so as to secure the present and the future of this living civilisation. That would be living up to the motto of “Civilization First”.

J. Sai Deepak is an Advocate practising as an arguing counsel before the Supreme Court of India and the High Court of Delhi.