14th SAARC Summit: An analysis Aryan-Dravidian Synthesis: Fear or Hope?

- Wali-ur Rahman


Many strategic analysts in South Asia believe that the 14th SAARC Summit in New Delhi on April 3-4, 2007, ended on a note having far-reaching significance for the region. In 1967 the ASEAN started with a modest vision. Today it is one of the world’s most successful experiment. Now the ASEAN is concentrating on its security potential. When Paul Valery had a vision of United Europe in what he said “ Greece plus Rome plus Christianity” at the historic Campidoglio in Rome, he could hardly foresee the dimension of the European Union of 2007. With Asean’s intra-regional trade touching about 50 percent of their total, the EU is enjoying over 65 percent intra-regional trade. Today that of SAARC is hardly 5 percent. 

I personally believe that the SAARC also has the potential of reaching a similar height, economically and security-wise, in time, rivalling both the successful regional groupings forged under chapter IX of the UN charter. The analysis below lends credence to such a development.

We are living at a time when momentous changes are taking place in the world. The established order which had so long provided the threshold of the socio-economic system in some parts of the world has all but disappeared. The redeeming feature at this juncture is that chances of international cooperation and lasting global peace look brighter than ever before.

The global perception of geo-strategic constant as seen through the eyes of Mahan and Mackinder also has undergone a change. Today’s global as well as regional concern is with technology, capital, resources, investment and above all, communications. The communication super-highway, together with satellite discs spanning remotest parts of the globe, has given to countries rich and poor, developed and developing, the much needed access to the factors of production and growth.

Both Hitler and Napoleon earlier had attempted to unite Europe under German and French hegemony. But their ways were unacceptable-they were devoid of idealism. Only Verdun, Somme and Nettuno convinced the Germans and the French and later the British to take a broader look: The idea of Europe was born and cemented, as suggested b Paul valery, by the positive-some game of Greece plus Rome, plus Christianity – the Greek sense of the importance of individualism, the Roman concept of law and state and Christianity linking the church with state power. And the idea struck firm roots when French Foreign Minister suggested that the prospect for Community was to ‘unite in order to live and prosper.’

Bahasa Malay, on the other hand,  seems to have played an important role in bringing the ASEAN countries together. Added to that was the shadow of external aggression that helped them close ranks.

Both EU and later ASEAN through cooperation in larger freedom succeeded in achieving accelerated economic growth. Today’s economic prosperity of both these regions is unmatched in their history. Economic success sent mutatis mutandis, the divisive political issues, to the back burner. This is an achievement they don’t want to sacrifice to the demons of nationalistic urges. While Franco-German cooperation forms the bedrock of EU, Malaysian-Indonesian understanding has pushed the heady days of CONFRONTASI to near  oblivion.

The SAARC geographical region with one-fifth of the global population, shares overwhelmingly a leaven of homogeneity unmatched by many regions of the world. The economies of these countries, if harnessed to full potential, can become a locomotive of growth with unlimited possibility in improving the quality of life of the people of the land whose indigenous civilisation predates the arrival of the Aryans.

The Dhaka Declaration adopted in 1985 at the first summit set out the future vision in unmistakable terms. If there is sharp contrast between Helsinki and Palermo, with Catholicism and Protestantism reflecting on manners and styles of attitudes in Europe. South Asian countries also present a variegated mosaic of religions and attitudes. Both Europe and South Asia can trace their roots to a distant past a culture and civilisation, they can pride themselves with Lionel Trilling admired the intricate plots in European literature because ‘it revelled in the hum and buzz of implication’. That’s why many Americans including Henry James stayed on in Europe. Both Europe and South Asia have been victims of foreign and alien aggression: Huns in the 5th, Saracens in the 8th, Magyars in the 9th, Mongols in the 13th centuries and Turks in the 14th went to the west to Europe. Following the Aryans came Huns, Mongols, Afghans, and Portuguese, French and British – all attracted to the oriental lure.

French Revolution was the other most significant influence in the interaction of intellectual relationship of Europe and Asia: As Panikkar has said, “Negros in Haiti, Tipo in Mysore, Dutch radicals in Indonesia, all felt the ripples of this movement. Lord Wellesley's aggressive policy leading to the conquest of large areas in India was one consequence, for it was the fear of the revolutionary French that provided the main motive of his policy of conquest.”
Both the Brahmin and Chinese official philosophies tended to be materialistic. We should not underestimate the mystical and metaphysical strain impacting on the people of the areas. India as the crucible of history has absorbed various influences over the centuries. The Greeks and the Kushans instead of influencing India became Indianized. “Heliodorus erected the famous pillar to Vasudeva and Menander became a devotee of the Buddha.”
South Asian history is therefore, closely linked with the history of the West. The influence of Bhagawat Geeta, Upanishads and Sanskrit on the Western ethos with Islam and crusades playing the role of grand communicator in facilitating the efflorescence of European Renaissance is borne out by facts: In addition, the influence of the legal system (Roman law)and interface between literary giants like Tolstoy, Roman Rolland, Maxim Gorky, W B Yeats on the one hand and Rabindranth Tagore, Madhusadan Dutt on the other, have been complimentary.

If we take a closer look into the history of India, our ability to understand the prevailing doubts permeating the body-politic of the SAARC countries and their state craft, secular or non-secular, will become far more easy.
Alongwith the existence of the civilizations of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa , we know of similar civilizations in the Sultej Valley in Rajasthan, in Ahmedabad, and also in the area which now constitutes North Bengal. In the scale of civilizations, the Aryans were perhaps inferior to the people of Mohenjo Daro, but their more aggressive character, and their superiority in the art of warfare assured them victory over the local population.
Chandra Gupta Maurya, whose empire stretched from Afghanistan to the borders of Bengal, received envoys from foreign kings and potentates as reported by Megasthenes. As legend has it, Alexander took away with him numerous Indian scholars, some of Bengali origin, at the behest of Aristotle, who wanted to learn more about the Indian solution to the problems of metaphysics. It is interesting to note that Kanishka, around 78 AD, a Buddhist, with capital in Purushaputra or modern Peshawar, used a particular dress, which corresponds to the modern version of achkan and pajama, widely used till today In India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.

In India, the civilization that we inherited can be termed as an Aryan-Dravidian synthesis. It can be said that in India, and the present SAARC countries, the ancient culture is almost as extensive as civilization itself. “In ancient India the higher civilization of the pre-Aryans suffered military defeat at the hands of the invading Aryans but in time transformed the Aryan mentality itself by enriching the cultural life of the conquerors. “We have learnt from history that the Mycenean civilization was defeated but the result was a higher Hellenic culture. The same phenomenon can be noticed in the cultural conquest by Greece. Remember the Greco-Roman arch in the European Union?


Back home in India the Muslim victory resulted in the synthesis and reconciliation of the great cultures: The emergence of Ramananda and Kabir, Nanak, Chaitanya and Mohiuddin Chisty is the outcome. As many historians agree, the growth of Vaishnavism in Bengal can to a large extent be attributed to the fusion of these two great cultures.
Sher Shah opened up through the Grand Trunk Road the whole swath from Kabul to Chittagong. Inspite of the internecine quarrels between the Hindus and the Mughals, many Rajput ladies happily married into the Mughal royalty. The great Akbar introduced Din-e- Elahie and Aurangzeb, the epitome of piety and faith married a Hindu lady – the Prima Donna in the palace.

The mutual tolerance and grand vision displayed by our predecessors seem to be in low premium today.

In a recent seminar a participant, while reflecting on the unresolved Farakka issue, termed South Asians ‘as the most’ suicidal maniacs in the planet today!’ The problems of South Asian countries juxtaposed against the economic backwardness of the region lends a sense of urgency towards the need for a reasonable solution in a reasonable timeframe. Another resource-person at the same meeting said, 'North-East of South Asia is the world’s poorest swath of poverty. We must collaborate to get out of the situation.’ UNDP’s annual Reports on South Asian HDR only corroborate this.

The resulting thraldom reminds one of the situations arising out of the intractable Schleswig-Holstein question. Lord Palmerston is reported to have reminisced in the wake of the failure of a negotiated settlement, - “Only three people understood this problem – one of them is dead, one turned lunatic, and I am the only living person – but I have forgotten all about it.”

Not a very reassuring situation! ... A brief apercu of our history and heritage, our mores and morals are to be noted if only to recall and reinvent our past: Unless we learn to accept, through courage and statesmanship, our legacy of the past, our roots, we may find it difficult of reconcile our conflicting positions. An agreement on the irreducible minimum is possible if we pay heed to our history.

Europe recognized its graeco-Roman past. ASEAN reinvented their umbilical link. There is no reason why South Asia should falter. 

My optimism about SAARC is based on the experience of history, not only of the EU and the ASEAN, but the progressive history of mankind.


(The writer is a former secretary, foreign ministry and senior member of the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), London)


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