Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently toured our end of the Anglosphere, meeting with President Bush to discuss issues of mutual interest to India and the United States. Before that he visited Britain, stopping off at Oxford.
The university awarded Dr. Singh an honorary degree, and his acceptance speech was charming and gracious. At times he seemed to be reading from the Gates of Vienna talking points:
|Today, with the balance and perspective offered by the passage of time and the benefit of hindsight, it is possible for an Indian Prime Minister to assert that India’s experience with Britain had its beneficial consequences too. Our notions of the rule of law, of a Constitutional government, of a free press, of a professional civil service, of modern universities and research laboratories have all been fashioned in the crucible where an age old civilisation met the dominant Empire of the day.|
|These are all elements which we still value and cherish. Our judiciary, our legal system, our bureaucracy and our police are all great institutions, derived from British-Indian administration and they have served the country well.|
|The idea of India as enshrined in our Constitution, with its emphasis on the principles of secularism, democracy, the rule of law and, above all, the equality of all human beings irrespective of caste, community, language or ethnicity, has deep roots in India’s ancient civilisation.|
|However, it is undeniable that the founding fathers of our republic were also greatly influenced by the ideas associated with the age of enlightenment in Europe.|
Dr. Singh reminded his audience of the startling fact that India has the largest number of English-speakers of any country in the world:
|It used to be said that the sun never sets on the British Empire. I am afraid we were partly responsible for sending that adage out of fashion!|
|But, if there is one phenomenon on which the sun cannot set, it is the world of the English speaking people, in which the people of Indian origin are the single largest component.|
|Of all the legacies of the Raj, none is more important than the English language and the modern school system. That is, if you leave out cricket!|
|Of course, people here may not recognise the language we speak, but let me assure you that it is English! In indigenising English, as so many people have done in so many nations across the world, we have made the language our own. Our choice of prepositions may not always be the Queen’s English; we might occasionally split the infinitive; and we may drop an article here and add an extra one there.|
|I am sure everyone will agree, however, that English has been enriched by Indian creativity as well… Today, English in India is seen as just another Indian language.|
All those local dialects of the same language, modified and adapted to serve the needs of commerce and government all over the world… Roll over, Shakespeare!
But Dr. Singh’s tour did not meet with universal approval at home. In an editorial in The Times of India, Percy Fernandez wrote:
|On being asked whether India would expect the United States to say no to Pakistan for a similar nuclear technology agreement that was signed between Bush and Singh, the Indian Prime Minister did say what he had to and rightly, that it’s a decision the United States has to make. But he didn’t stop there. He went on to add that he was realistic enough to recognize the role that terrorist elements have played in the last few years in the history of Pakistan.|
|He also said Taliban was a creation of Pakistan extremists, how Wahabi Islam flourished and, numerous madrassas were set up top to preach this jihad based on hatred of other religions and Pakistan is not a democracy in the sense that we all know. One would not want to doubt the intentions of his remarks but it was the timing and its appropriateness that is fiercely in doubt.|
|Was Dr Singh any different than his predecessor, Prime Minister AB Vajpayee? No, not in any sense. Vajpayee in his address to the US Congress in 2000 said that religious war has been proclaimed to be an instrument of Pakistan’s state policy. He said that he believed forces outside India could use terror to unravel the territorial integrity of India.|
Dr. Singh’s comments seem sensible and commonplace to those of us who urge resistance to the Great Jihad. But India is in the process of a delicate rapprochement with Pakistan, and some members of his own party find the Prime Minister’s remarks less than tactful.
And Dr. Singh has cannons to his right as well. Former Prime Minister Vajpayee is in the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has criticized the Prime Minister for his shameful embrace of India’s former masters:
|The Bharatiya Janata Party has demanded an apology from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for praising the British colonial rule during his speech on Friday at the Oxford University.|
So it is a fine line that must be walked by the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy.
Just imagine it: more than a billion people, dozens of languages, several major religions including a large Muslim minority, and still India is a functioning democracy. One can only hold its leaders in awe.
And just next door in Pakistan lies one of the world’s largest concentrations of Muslim extremists and terrorists. The Great Islamic Jihad makes itself felt every day in Kashmir, and the restive Muslim minority in the other parts of India continually pushes the envelope, wanting more space, more rights, more Islam. With the nuclear option hanging over both countries, the diplomatic abilities of Dr. Singh are of great moment indeed.