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In praise of India

Today the 9th EU-India summit has kicked off in Marseille. As a student of South Asian affairs I would like to mark this event with a little reflection on India as one of the great hopes for our world in the 21st century.

When I arrived at SOAS to study politics I had to decide which region in Asia or Africa I wanted to specialise in. I had lived in China for two years so I already had a relative head start on East Asian history so that seemed like the safest choice. However there was something about South Asia, and specially India, which intrigued me, cultural pluralism.

India is home to 1.13 billion people, 21 official languages, 1,652 dialects and a vast number of different religious groups. India is so heteregoneous culturally that is hard to understand how such a vast country with such a tumultous history has been able to stay united and democratic since its independence for 61 years. The answer to that question is constitutional patriotism. The idea that the Indian nation, formed by all Indians without exception, is rooted in a set of common democratic values. In the privacy of his home one can follow his customs but once out in public a set of common rules are followed so to guarantee equality and social harmony. That unspoken value of respect and sacrifice for the common good shared by all Indians is what has kept the nation together and what fascinates me about this country.

But that’s not all, together with that sense of social responsibility comes one of political responsibility. Despite high economic growth during the years of BJP rule the lack of redistribution of that wealth was punished in the ballot box by India’s rural communities that put the Congress Party, and the current PM, Manmohan Singh, in power. India has kept growing but its people has let the political class know that the Chinese model of fast growth with complete disregard for its social impact isn’t going to happen there.

India’s past and present isn’t perfect. Poverty and social conflicts still exist within and the Kashmir and northeastern conflicts still cast a shadow over the future of the country. But a country that is able to elect a Muslim President and a Sikh PM, despite the fact that 800 million out of 1 billion of its citizens are Hindu, is to be admired and its unity in diversity celebrated.

And what issue is more important today to us in the West, at a time when our societies are becoming culturally more plural, than to build a common identity that belongs to us all but at the same time respects and celebrates our rich cultural diversity.

Europe can learn a lot from India and it is time for us to have a serious look at a country that despite all its defects and challenges is emerging as probably one of the most stable and admired nations in the new world order.

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