The International Importance of India

By Lajpat Rai

[The Nation; March 14, 1918]

Now that Germany is knocking at the doors of Asia, it is well to consider the international importance of India, not only for maintaining the balance of power in the great Eastern continent, but also for establishing the basis of a durable peace. Racially India is white as well as brown. The vast bulk of her population come of Aryan stock, being thus racially related to the Europeans. There is, however, enough mixture of the Semitic and the Mongolian stock to make her people cosmopolitan; of the former race there are many among India's seventy million of Mohammedans, and of the latter there are large numbers in the populations of Bengal, Burmah, Nepal, and the Himalayas. There is also some negroid blood in the south. Thus India's racial composition is a guarantee against the exclusive predominance of one race over others.

The languages of India can, for all practical purposes, be reduced to two groups. Sanskrit and the vernaculars spoken in the North, the West, and the Centre, all belong to the Indo-European class; the vernaculars of the South to the Dravidian group. The Hindusthani has a great many Arabic words in it, due to Mohammedan influences. So in the matter of languages as well as race India is the connecting link between Europe and Asia.

Coming to religions, we find that as the birthplace of Buddhism, India exacts respect and homage from the whole of the Far East; and as the home of seventy millions of Moslems, she exercises a unique influence on Western Asia. Buddhists and Mohammedans both go on pilgrimages to India. There are many Mohammedan shrines in India which are held in reverence throughout the Moslem world and are annually visited by large numbers of Mohammedans from Afghanistan, Turkestan, Persia, Mesopotamia, Arabia, and Egypt. Similarly every Buddhist, be he of Ceylon, Japan, China, or Indo-China, must come to India on holy pilgrimage to Gaya and other sacred places.

On the one side, Hinduism is a kind of half-way house between Buddhism and Islam; on the other, between Buddhism and Christianity. It has a remarkably moderating influence. It speaks in universal terms of universal values. It blunts fanaticism and kills militarism. Its tolerance to all modes of thought and all kinds of worship compels well-nigh universal admiration.

Europeans and Americans often talk of religious fanaticism in India. That there is fanaticism in India, none need deny; but the remarkable thing is, not that there is so much of it, but that there is so little. India has a wonderfully moderating effect on fanaticism of every kind. The heat kills it and the monsoons dampen it. The religious differences of India are often used as an argument against her fitness for self-government, and the charge is so often repeated that it has come to be universally accepted as unanswerable. There are few who investigate the facts. In the last thousand years of Indian history, the violence resulting from religious strife will not amount to a fraction of the massacres that have been resorted to in the name of religion in Europe. Hinduism, while it allows full freedom of thought and worship to every individual, is, on the whole, a great harmonizing influence. It emphasizes points of agreement rather than of difference.

What more immediately concerns us is the political and economic influence of India on the future of the world. Her geographical situation gives her a commanding position in the politics of Asia. She is the real connecting link between the Middle East and the Far East. She is a clearing house, so to speak, for the North and the South of Asia. She holds the key of the Indian Ocean. Great Britain acquired her Empire in the East through her power over India. From India she spread to Burmah, the Malay Archipelago, China, and the Pacific Coast. From India she gained control of the Persian Gulf, of Beluchistan, and of Persia. From India she travelled northward to Thibet and southward to Australia. By virtue of her Empire in India, she is virtually the first Power in the Orient. India is at once a great prize and a great temptation.

Napoleons and Kaisers all look on that land with jealous eyes. The white and the yellow, the Jew and the Gentile, all desire it. So long as India is held in subjection by any one nation, the prospects of a lasting world-peace are slight.

Great Britain must protect her Empire in India and must fight all who threaten it from the East and West. For half a century she struggled with France for the mastery of India; for another half-century she struggled with Russia to check the advances of that state towards India. To protect India she must have control of the Persian Gulf, the Bed Sea, and practically the whole of the Indian Ocean. To protect India she must maintain the buffer state of Kabul, must extend her influence to Tibet, and must keep close watch on all the Indian frontiers. To safeguard her Empire in India she must control Egypt and conciliate Turkey. A large part of the wars fought by England in the nineteenth century originated in her fears about India. After a half-century of struggle with Russia, she entered into the famous Anglo-Russian convention, whereby the liberties of Persia were strangled. For the sake of India, she entered into an alliance with Japan, regardless of its effects on China. It is the same fear that haunts her now in this war. German influence over Turkey makes it necessary for her to carry her arms into Mesopotamia and Palestine. And now that Germany once more threatens to knock at the gate of India, this time from the Caspian Sea, she is again face to face with the problem of how to save India for herself.

To my mind, the remedy is simple. It lies in Great Britain's granting home rule to India. With a free, contented India all fears of foreign invasion of the country from the northwest or the northeast will disappear. A democratic India will have an extremely wholesome influence on both Moslem and Buddhist Asia, and will be a check on both the yellow and the white perils. India's millions in affectionate relations with Great Britain will thwart all plans of imperial aggression in Asia by other Powers. We know how Indian discontent has been exploited by Germany in this war. What has been done, however, is nothing compared with what may be done in the future. Already the fear of German plots in Afghanistan and India, through Persia and Turkestan, has begun to disturb the peace calculations of the belligerents. Let Great Britain take a bold step and cut the Gordian knot by granting self-government to India thereby completely winning her friendship and cooperation for all time to come. The measure is overdue. India has an indefeasible right to be her own master, and she has besides, won that right by service to England. She has contributed in no small measure to England's greatness. Most thoughtful men concede that India is bound some day to be free. If Great Britain now of her own free will grants home rule, she will cut the ground from under all plots, whether from the East of from the West. By this one step she can save Russia as well as the rest of Asia. Such a step will increase her prestige in the world, will give home to Persia as well as China, and will make Great Britain a worthy ally of the United States, A few years hence it may be too late.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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