Dear Mr. Modi:
I am not your devotee, nor have I followed your career very assiduously. To tell you the truth, I am not even one of your citizens, having long forsaken my Indian passport.
But I am writing today to bring to your attention a rare opportunity.
As you are perhaps aware, America has abandoned its role as the “the leader of the free world.” Of course some people question if the United States was ever a moral leader, or even free, for that matter. A case in point is its treatment of African-Americans. Another is its support of autocratic regimes sheerly based on its economic and geopolitical interests.
Still, millions have come here from other parts of the world, seeking liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
But now that the world’s second largest democracy has chosen an isolationist president, many are wondering who will fill the vacuum; who will be that shining city on the hill. Some are even looking to China, which is ludicrous, since China is neither a democracy nor a free country.
So Modiji, I put it to you. Why not India, the largest democracy in the world?
If the U.S. Declaration of Independence cites the lofty words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal,” India’s constitution proclaims a loftier ideal, Satyameva Jayate, Truth Alone Triumphs.
The American democracy was originally formulated to give a voice only to white landowners. The Indian democracy categorically includes all races and creeds.
If America seems like a democratic marvel, then India, with its 1652 languages, 645 tribes, and dozens of religions, is a living, breathing experiment in plurality. Every time I return home, I wonder at its dynamism, its energy, and its optimism.
So, Mr. Modi, step out of your petty regional, religious and caste politics and look at the world. Since you love boasting of Hindu culture, educate Donald Trump about the Sanskrit dictum, Vasudeva Kutumbakam, the world is one family.
You have already taken the first step toward your global role. You have vowed to go beyond the goals set by the Paris Accord and protect the climate. You have proclaimed a partnership with France’s new President.
I congratulate you on these actions. But you have a long way to go. Your legacy of communal violence plagues you. Amnesty International recently published a report saying you are fostering a climate of intolerance through arbitrary arrests, caste-based discrimination, and extra-judicial killings. This will simply not do. You need to move away from your party’s Hindu nationalistic agenda and assume an inclusive posture. Noblesse Oblige, it is said, and once you begin to see yourself as a world leader, you will be able to resist the BJP’s petty agenda. You will realize that you cannot be a global leader and mistreat your Muslim citizens.
India has what no European democracy has, limitless intellectual capital. If Indian workers left the high tech industries of the United States and Europe, their economies would collapse. What’s more, India has the largest population of young people. In 2020, the average age in India will be just 29, compared with 37 in China and 48 in Japan. The median age in the United States will be 37, but only because of the influx of immigrants.
I wish these demographics were different; I do believe that the world’s population needs to be controlled if we are to battle climate change. But since Indian cultural norms dictate that everyone should get married in their twenties and produce one or two children, it is unlikely that the statistics will shift.
So let’s put this reality to good use. With our skilled workers, our journalists, our writers and our social innovators, we can not only influence the world, we can change the global paradigm. Some of the most innovative policies in public health, affordable housing, education, and renewable energy are being developed in India. At the same time, the American Congress is embracing retro policies of producing electricity from coal and controlling women’s wombs through denial of contraceptives. One even wonders if the United States is slowly regressing into a medieval serfdom.
But that’s hardly surprising when one looks at the fact that in the historical context, America’s role as a world leader was purely accidental. In the wake of the Second World War, America’s industrial machine thrived to produce munitions as Europe lay in ruins and Asia and Africa smothered under the chokehold of colonialism.
American intellectuals are quick to point the finger at the three wars that India and Pakistan have fought, conveniently forgetting the needless conflicts that America has waged against remote countries that posed no immediate threat, such as Vietnam, the Philippines, and Korea. Remind them that India has never colonized another country; that our tradition of ahimsa or nonviolence originates in our ancient scriptures.
Don’t fall prey to America’s rhetoric about Islamic terrorists; remind the world that India has lived next door to Pakistan, a US-backed dictatorship, without blowing it up in a nuclear apocalypse or festering a decade-and-a-half long war, as America has done in Afghanistan and Iraq. Tell the world that almost as many Muslims live in India as in Pakistan. Shed your tendency of looking back to the distant past, centuries before the British arrived on our shores, or even centuries prior, when the Mughal invaders came from the Middle East. That is as foolhardy as an exercise as Trump’s slogan to Make America Great Again.
Instead, demonstrate to the world the practice of diversity. Show that there is another, better way.
Modiji, don’t preach Hindu philosophy, practice it.
Sarita Sarvate (www.saritasarvate.com) has published commentaries for New America Media, KQED FM, San Jose Mercury News, the Oakland Tribune, and many nationwide publications