Last week, eyebrows were raised over yet another media appearance by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief, Mohan Rao Bhagwat. This time, the fuss centred on his categorical public announcement that the next national president of the Bharatiya Janata Party would not be a Delhi-based leader, and that L.K. Advani would soon relinquish his post as leader of the Opposition. Fortuitously for the Indian foreign policy establishment, his prognosis that Pakistan and Afghanistan “are a part of us and will return one day” did not arouse corresponding attention. (via The Telegraph – Calcutta (Kolkata) | Opinion | A shift in position).
From Ashvakan to Afghans
The task of subduing the Afghan, (a possibly corrupt form of Ashvakan, meaning horse specialists in Sanskrit), from the time of Alexander to the latest Russian and American misadventures in Afghanistan underscores, the nature of the Indo-Afghan relationship. From the time of Tomyris (Thamyris), when Indian elephant units helped the Afghans to massacre Persian invaders under Cyrus the Great, or when the Afghans hopelessly tied up Alexander.
Alexander’s Indo-Afghan campaign ‘gave him the runs’ (dysentery), his soldiers deserted him in droves, he had to make a marriage alliance, pay nearly 1000 talents (25,000 kg in gold) for an alliance, his dear horse Bucephalus died, he was himself injured twice, made to release prisoners (without a ransom).
End result – he massacred defenceless non-combatant populations and armies alike, when ‘opportunities’ presented themselves.
Islamic ‘conquest’ of India
While Islamic armies were marauding Europe, Central Asia, Africa, India held out. When Genghis Khan’s Mongol armies were running rampant, Islamic refugees found shelter in India, during the reign of Iltutmish. In 1221 Genghis Khan‘s Mongol armies pushed Khwarezm-Shah and other Persian refugees across the Indus into the Punjab, India.
During early Islamic rule, when India was still viewed as militarily difficult target, the Mongols did not think of attacking India. Remember, that the Mongols attempted to invade Japan, a rather poor country then, without the Sado gold mines! The Japanese blessed their good fortune, when typhoons or (‘The Divine Wind” is what the grateful Japanese called) the Kamikaze, that scattered the Mongol invasion fleet in 1274 and 1281. The Kublai Khan himself barely escaped the fury of the typhoon during the second invasion.
India, the richest economy of the world at that time, with known and famous for its wealth, was spared by Genghis Khan! Just why would history’s foremost looter, invader, pillager spare India?
Encyclopedia Britannica says ‘Fortunately, the Mongols were content to send raiding parties no further than the …” (emphasis mine). As Indian military reputation waned under foreign Islamic rule, the Mongols mounted a military expedition. The Mongols could succeed in India only under the foreign rule of the much-derided Islamic Tughlaks. (in the northern Punjab region), which Iltutmish wisely ignored
End of foreign Islamic rule
The 200-year foreign-Islamic rule from 1206 AD to 1400 AD ended when Ibrahim Lodi, an Afghan horse trader, cobbled together an alliance and sent the incompetent foreign rulers packing. The Lodis, were in turn deposed by another Afghan family, the Mughals.
The Mughals realized, early on, that freedom to Indians was non-negotiable – and enlisted Indian generals, kings, allies to expand their boundaries. The depredations of the foreign ‘Islamic’ rulers were partly reversed by these rulers of Afghan extract – with land reforms, tax reforms, reduction in forceful conversions, et al. The Lodis and Mughals partially reformed the Indic political model – deformed beyond recognition, during the 200 years of foreign Islamic rule. Land holdings remained concentrated in a few hands. Taxes were imposed and increased on the trading classes. Licenses and firmaans were reduced – but remained.
In the last 200 years
The only people who could win against the Afghans were the Indians – last under Ranjit Singhji. The British, and more recently, the Russians and Americans have failed miserably. British possessions of Afghanistan and Balochistan, which were handed to Pakistan on a platter, were a part of the Sikh-Punjab Empire, which fell into the British lap.
Till about 1960’s India-Afghanistan trade and relations were close and neighbourly. Rabindranath Tagore wrote the short story, ‘Kabuliwalla’. Subhash Chandra Bose escaped from Colonial Raj imprisonment during WW2, using the Afghan route to reach Germany finally.
In early 1970s, in Hyderabad, कागजी बेदाना अनार (seedless pomegranates) from Kabul, were available at around Rs.4 a kg – at today’s value is about Rs.100 a kg (based on gold prices). Local varieties were sold at less than Rs.1 a kg.
Between 1950 to the post-1973, Nixon Chop world, saw increasing of walls, barriers, battening down of national boundaries. Marxism-Communism seemed relentless and inevitable. Closed economies were seen as the panacea of all problems. Trade was a dirty word. During this period, something momentous happened – a complete and total closure of the Indian mind. India’s international profile underwent a profound change. Indians, who earlier saw the world as a their stage, suddenly retreated into a shell.
Right and wrong
So, yes RSS view is right.
India and Pakistan are a part of the Indic family. What this means is to see Pakistan and Afghanistan not as troublesome neighbours, but as prospective future allies. The Indian political construct was always to surround the Indian heartland by buffer states – like Bangladesh, Nepal, Tibet, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was not to take over these countries and expand into an unwieldy land mass.
So, when RSS, dreams of an Akhand Bharat, they are wrong. The idea of Bharat was value driven and not power-driven or ruler driven. What Bharat needs to focus on is not to create an Akhand Bharat, but a real Bharat, which will become a model for other countries, especially of the Greater India.
Back to the future
But the Indic model was never to have one king who ruled over others. The Indic model allowed for smaller kingdoms to compete for populations – based on opportunities, freedom, equity. Land holdings in the hands of the populations remained a unique Indian feature for thousands of years – and the West saw this feature only in the last 150-250 years. Religious restrictions in India were not even discussed – unlike the Desert Bloc where the ‘Cuius regio, eius religio’ principle (meaning whose land, his religion; CRER) was established.
In the Desert Bloc, the land, the religion and the very life of all subjects belonged to the king – unlike in India. And that is the Akhand Bharat that we all need to work for!