Vishwa Bharat vs. Akhand Bharat

For decades, I have opposed the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s vision of an Akhand Bharat. This is little more than a vision of India dominating the sub-continent, based on the vague but unhistorical notion that the whole region somehow belongs to Hindus. The concept of Akhand Bharat has much potential for creating strife between communities and neighbours, rather than for building bridges.

However, after the US decision this week to expand visas for high-tech foreigners to 600,000 over the next three years, I see merit in a much more ambitious vision: Vishwa Bharat. Akhand Bharat implies that we should use muscle to dominate the subcontinent. Vishwa Bharat implies that we will use brain-power to gain a major role, but without any explicit domination, in the biggest economies of the world. Forget about an aggressive RSS takeover of the sub-continent, we should aim for a friendly takeover of the whole world, starting with the USA. Actually, takeover is the wrong word. More correctly, we must aim at a global inter-mingling where our sheer numbers matter. The world has six billion people, of whom one billion are Indians. Since population growth has slowed or halted in China and large parts of the West, by the year 2050 one in five human beings will be an Indian.

So, if globalisation facilitates the free movement of people, Indians should in due course account for a substantial chunk of the population in all countries that are desirable destinations for migrants. Totally free movement is impossible: nation states will not allow free immigration. But we are witnessing today something approximating the free movement of brainpower. The US will give H-1B visas (six-year work permits, which typically translate into permanent residence) to 200,000 foreigners per year for the next three years, and Indians have traditionally accounted for half the H-1B quota. Following in the steps of the US, Germany, Japan, Britain and other western countries also see the need to attract foreign brainpower to stay competitive, and have also started offer visas to high-tech foreigners. The world is moving into a knowledge era, and national barriers have always been lower in knowledge areas than in manufacturing or services.

Nobody should think that Indian are rising fast the world over only in computer software. They are rising fast in all fields. Prof. Jagdish Bhagwati has noted how rapidly Indians are beginning to occupy top academic posts in American universities. Ravi Suria and Ashok Kumar are stockmarket analysts who have made major waves on Wall Street. Rono Dutta is head of United Airlines, the world’s biggest airline. Victor Menezes is close to the top of Citigroup, the biggest financial group in the world. Rajat Gupta heads the biggest management consultancy firm, Mckinsey. Even in Hollywood, Indian directors like M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense) and Tarsem Singh (The Cell) are rising to prominence. The Pulitzer Prize for literature has been won by Jhoompa Lahiri, the Booker Prize by Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy.

So do not think for a moment that the globalisation of Indian brainpower is limited to software. It is expanding in all skilled areas. Silicon Valley has unquestionably produced the largest number of Indian millionaires, but Indian brainpower extends now to every corner of US intellectual activity and business.

And that means political clout too.

Globalisation will not distribute Indians uniformly all over the world.

Free movement of goods and capital is increasingly viewed by countries as acceptable, but not free movement of people (which affects the very notion of nationhood). So the masses of UP and Bihar cannot hope to migrate to high-wage countries. But those with brains can. Globalisation is increasingly letting the brightest Indians to occupy top positions in the most powerful corporations of the world, and influence the greatest political powers in the world.

The process is in its infancy still. But remember that most H1-B visa holders will become US residents, and bring over several family members too. Something similar will happen in Germany and other Western countries. So, in a few decades, we can look forward to the creation of a huge global brainpower network of 50 million people of Indian origin. These will constitute a tiny fraction of the global population, but a big slice of the influential global population.

They will matter in academics, business, stock markets, law, medicine and the arts. And so they will matter in politics too. They will truly constitute a Vishwa Bharat.

However, nobody should think for a minute that this will simply be a way for India to influence other countries. The same globalised Indian network will become a major way for the world to influence India. Today’s 1.5 million Indian Americans are not just Indians in American clothing; many of them are fiercely loyal to the US and share many of its values. Theirs is a hybrid vision encompassing the values of their country of origin and country of citizenship.

So they will not only be a conduit for India to influence the world, but for the world to influence India. They will constitute an extremely powerful force for globalising India, since they cannot be dismissed by the Indian left or right as imperialist foreigners.

Vishwa Bharat will be a two-way flow of ideas, culture and influence. It will mean intermingling rather than domination by any community or country. In a very real sense, it will mean fulfilment of Mahatma’s Gandhi’s vision of inter-cultural globalisation. He said,”I do not want my doors closed and windows stuffed. I want the breezes of all lands to blow through my house. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any of them.”

What do you think?