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India: Mental Slaves

May 3, 2009

The Statesman
May 2, 2009

Although Indian intellectuals take pride in
fierce independence, some have from time to time
allowed themselves to be mentally enslaved by
foreign hegemons. “Macaulay’s children”, like
Janakinath Bose and Satyendranath Tagore, emerged
from British-educated institutions in the late
19th century to buttress Western colonial rule.
Without such articulate but pliant native
collaborators, says historian Niall Ferguson,
“British rule in India simply would not have worked.”

Thankfully, India’s fertile soil also produced
their foils. Seers like Aurobindo Ghosh, who
wrote the stirring New Lamps for Old in 1893,
named British imperialism for what it was ~
oppressive alien rule. Even as the intellectual
space was being smothered by the colonial
educational apparatus and its assembly line of
privileged "natives," the counter-narrative of
nationalism could not be eradicated.

Following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, a new
strand of sycophancy emerged in India as a
satellite of the Soviet Russian state. Not all
Indian communists condoned the excesses of
Stalin’s Russia though. Mahendra Nath Roy decided
as early as 1929 that he could no longer defend a
totalitarian state in which "purge" and "Gulag"
substituted for governance. Ideologically rigid
Indian Marxists, however, accused Roy of deviation from the “Moscow line”.

Well until the collapse of the USSR, India had a
gaggle of intellectuals that unquestioningly toed
the dictates of the Communist Party of the Soviet
Union. They argued against objective factual
reality that the Soviet invasions of Hungary
(1956), Czechoslovakia (1968) and Afghanistan
(1979) were beneficial to the victims for
allegedly freeing them from Western imperialism.

Quick to condemn the atrocities of the USA in
countries like Vietnam and the Congo, dogmatic
Indian Marxists got tied up in moral knots when
Moscow committed crimes against humanity.

In the 1960s, mirroring the Sino-Soviet split, a
breakaway faction of Indian Marxists shifted
allegiance to the “Beijing line”. Disguised as
“internationalists”, they threw their lot behind
Mao’s violent totalitarianism and supported
China’s war against India in 1962. The choice was
not difficult for this lot since their homeland
was a capitalist state," while the dreamland to
the north of the Himalayas was a “socialist state”.

Procrustean loyalty to China robbed Indian fellow
travellers the freedom to analyse international
questions with an open mind. As Mao’s military
machine rolled into Tibet and committed nothing
short of cultural genocide in the 1950s and
1960s, pro-Beijing Indians parroted official
Chinese propaganda that the land of the lamas was
being emancipated from "serfdom."

Teleological Marxist visions of linear
stage-by-stage ascent from one mode of production
to the next was so ingrained in the minds of
pro-China Indians that they could justify the
destruction of Tibet’s age-old autonomy and
non-materialistic civilisation as necessary for "progress."

By regurgitating the occupying power’s doctored
history of Tibet, India’s Maoist mavens revealed
the hollowness of their anti-imperialism.
Unspeakable horrors perpetrated on Tibetans in
the name of modernisation were repackaged and
presented by China’s Indian friends as "liberation."

The saving grace was that covering up China’s
crimes in Tibet was a minority position in
India’s intellectual spectrum. Even socialist
leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru could see through
the smokescreen and felt deep sympathy for
Tibetans under Chinese yoke. New Delhi’s decision
to offer asylum to the Dalai Lama and hundreds of
thousands of his persecuted people was an affirmation of Indian independence.

But China-worshipping Indian ideologues kept
hammering away in their mouthpieces that the
Dalai Lama was an agent of Western imperialism
and that his Central Tibetan Administration based in India was a travesty.

World public opinion has been firmly behind
Tibetan non-violence and spirituality as
alternatives to consumerism and violence. But
India’s Maoist intelligentsia harped on about pre-1949 Tibetan “serfdom”.

Mass murder and demographic re-engineering,
radioactive nuclear testing, super-exploitation
of minerals and other acts of impunity by the
Chinese state in Tibet never tugged at the
heartstrings of these zealots who only saw the
bright side of communism. Hitler was visible to them but not Pol Pot.

Some contemporary Indian media luminaries are
continuing this tradition by visiting Tibet at
the official invitation of Beijing to act as
eyewitness to the alleged benefits that Tibetans
had received from being forcibly incorporated
into China. Like “embedded journalists" who went
along with the occupying US army into Iraq after
2003, these figures are being shown the sanitised
version of Tibet’s “liberation”.

Glowing tributes to China’s crushing of the
Tibetan spirit emanate from their pens,
reiterating the old Indian Maoist shibboleths of
how Tibetans were saved from “feudal slavery” by Mao’s marauders.

Happily reliant on the pre-arranged itineraries
of their hosts in Beijing, India’s China admirers
cannot admit the simple truth that more than
300,000 PLA troops had invaded the bodies and
homes of ordinary Tibetans and terrorised them.

When the vast majority of Tibetans living under
Chinese colonialism decided to boycott Losar, the
Tibetan New Year, to mourn the killing of
hundreds of protesters by the PLA last year, some
blinkered Indians announced to the delight of
their Chinese hosts that they found Tibetans in a
festive mood filled with excitement.

In recent tributes to the Chinese state’s
celebration of "Serf Emancipation Day" (the day
the PLA occupied Tibet and dissolved the Dalai
Lama’s government in 1959), India’s pro-China
lobby not only dished out the formulaic servile
praise for Beijing but also critiqued
"pseudo-scientific" history of the "so-called
Tibetan government-in-exile." It cited
unabashedly from “documents in the possession of
the Chinese government” as if they were paragons of objectivity.

Some of these lobbyists are using their bully
pulpits to influence Indian readers in the
English language just as the PLA “re-educates”
recalcitrant Tibetans after rounding them up for dissent.

The current-day manifestation of meek dependency
in sections of the Indian literati is not limited
to moral bankruptcy on the question of Tibet.
Some among them are embellishing authoritarian
credentials by staunchly promoting the
militaristic government of Sri Lanka, which is
prosecuting a vicious war in contravention of
humanitarian and human rights laws.

By advertising personal friendships with
"ethnocratic" rulers of the Sri Lankan state who
epitomise Sinhalese chauvinism and by reducing
the war in Sri Lanka to their distaste for the
terrorism of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam, these Indian opinion makers are reifying
the genuflecting tendency which has a long history.

Likewise, there is a constituency of elites in
India which defends the egregious policy of
Indian cooperation with the military junta in
Myanmar on the grounds that this serves “pragmatic” national interest.

Paradoxically, despite living in a free and
democratic environment in which they can express
their views publicly, these Indians have no
appreciation of the freedom that human beings
around the world are struggling to obtain from
repressive political structures. They define the
parameters of "freedom" selectively in order to
further personal prejudices or to act as public
relations fronts of foreign interest groups.

The challenge before India’s intellectuals is to
rise above the partisanship of
pseudo-progressives and to determine an
independent line on every major international
question, be it Tibet, Sri Lanka or Myanmar.
Should they fail to do so, India would be left
burnishing "old lamps" of untruth and groping in
the dark for a distinct place in world affairs.

* The writer is a researcher on international
affairs at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and
Public Affairs in Syracuse, New York)
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