At the time of the British withdrawal, 565 princely states were officially recognized in the Indian subcontinent and, that “in 1947, princely states covered 40% of the area of pre-independence India and constituted 23% of its population.
The land mass that stretches from the lower ranges of the Himalayas towards the south has rarely been ruled as a single entity till the British claimed overlordship over all that and more some two and a half centuries ago. The most extensive coverage by “empire” was by the Maurya around 2400 years ago. In that episode, Chandasoka brought within his domains a territory that extended westward beyond Afghanistan as far as Persia. When he encounters a Buddhist maiden and turns away from violence, he is regarded as ‘Dharmasoka’; thereafter he decides that ‘empire’ should enlighten and bring peace. Among his major conquests was Sri Lanka to which he sent his son, Arahat Mahinda followed by his daughter, Sanghamitta.
I encountered the fall-out of that heritage at Islamabad some thirty years ago. In the course of a desultory conversation on the ‘SAARC Terrace’ with a distinguished public servant of Pakistan who was then, in retirement, serving as Chancellor of the University of Islamabad, he said that since the days of the Mughal empire, the aggression of the Hindus in India had been checked by Buddhist societies. He mentioned Nepal in the north, Sri Lanka in the south, Taxila in the west, Mainamati and Chittagong in the east.
However that may be, what has distinguished the foreign relations of ‘India’ since 1947 is its hostility towards its neighbors: it is no secret that India has never had a friend along its borders. Its record with respect to Indians imported here by the British to fell our forests and plant coffee and tea is more than a footnote to that history: by a pact signed over half a century ago, Sri Lanka agreed to give citizenship to 375,000 of such ‘stateless’ people and India agreed to take back 525,000 of them. Sri Lanka proceeded to honor its commitment – while India obstructed the process of repatriation on Indians that it had agreed to. India’s bad faith has continued to date: it seeks to treat those who were granted Sri Lankan citizenship as if they were citizens of India whose ‘interests’ India is duty bound to protect.
Quite recently the current Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, came to Tamilnadu and declared that the Tamils were his ‘brothers’ and sisters’.
One wonders whether he has ever addressed any member of the ’scheduled castes’ in India in such terms: they constitute some 70% of its population. The South Asia State of Minorities Report 2020 has found that since the BJP was returned to political power in India as of May 0f 2018 “Hate crimes against minorities have seen a spike – taking the form of mob lynching and vigilante violence against Muslims, Christians, and Dalits. BJP also strengthened and expanded a series of discriminatory laws and measures that target religious minorities. These include anti-conversion laws, blamed by human rights groups for empowering Hindutva groups to conduct campaigns of harassment, social exclusion and violence against Christians, Muslims, and other religious minorities across the country’.
Just last November, India’s Supreme Court in a judgment held that all insults and intimidations to persons from the Dalit or tribal communities cannot be constituted as an offence under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. They must be made in public with witnesses present and prepared to testify in a court -of-law before such assault is deemed to be an offence.
Though it is well known among historians of this part of the world that what ‘India’ has in the way of culture came mostly from the Mughals who in fact governed a much more extensive area of the sub-continent than the British did, it has become necessary in these days to reiterate those basics.
Such significant contributions as Persian art and culture, as well as architecture are generally known. What ‘India’ has sought to ignore have to do with the Mughal contributions to just governance. They include centralized government that brought together small kingdoms and requiring them to respect human rights, a system of education that took account of pupils’ needs and culture, – and periods of great religious tolerance.
Wikipaedia has it that “at the time of the British withdrawal, 565 princely states were officially recognized in the Indian subcontinent and, that “in 1947, princely states covered 40% of the area of pre-independence India and constituted 23% of its population.
An early example of the mind-set of Indian politicians occurred at the Bandung Conference: Nehru told our Prime Minister, Sir John Kotalawela, that he should have shown him (Nehru) the text of his speech before making it. Sir John told him “You did not show me yours”. Touche.
Perhaps Nehru was irked that Sir John had reiterated the ‘panchaseela’ that were the foundation of the relations sought between the African and Asian nations represented at Bandung: they were, in essence, that there would be no aggression among them and that they would not interfere in each other’s internal affairs.
And being the Buddhist head of a Buddhist country, Kotalawela used the Dhammapada to underline the message of peace.