Every time someone needs to extol India’s virtues-be it the PM at his galas for the diaspora in different countries, the FM, while pleading for FDI at different fora abroad, or sundry political and business leaders or foreign diplomats while making domestic speeches-they have to rely on some stock phrases. Largest democracy in the world, diverse, emerging economic behemoth, global bright spot, young, are some. For the more imaginative, Lord Ganesha is held up as proof of India’s prowess in cosmetic surgery and the Pushpak Vimana as our contribution to aeronautics. On the eve of our 66th Republic Day, I am guessing we will have to hear more of the same. So I have helpfully compiled a list of five of India’s contributions to the world which I haven’t seen being used in public discourse before.
[I would add in a disclaimer about tongues being in cheeks, or taking stuff with pinches of salt, but that goes without saying in a country where scientific conferences point to Lord Shiva as an environmentalist.]
We invented the concept of ‘soft power’. (Or it could have been Egypt.)
Much before McDonalds’ and KFC, Ashoka pointed out that it was better to win people and territory over through ideas than through the coercion of war. [There might have a Egyptian king called Akhnaton before him who said that too, but Ashoka could not have known that]. Of course, our soft power was in Buddhism and peace. The Americans exported obesity and reality TV.
We made the USA.
Bengal, that Communist fiefdom for more than 30 years, played a crucial part in the making of the flagbearer of all things capitalist, the United States of America.
Between 1756 and 1763 the French and the British were fighting the Seven Years’ War for control over more colonies across the world. Some part of this was being played out in India as well as the two battled it out mostly in South India. The British won, largely due to the resources they were able to command from Bengal after 1757, when they used supreme levels of skulduggery to beat Siraj-ud-daulah.
Winning in India, no doubt contributed to the overall win over the French. It also led the British to demand that the American colonists pay them ‘rent’ for the land they were using in America, since it was after all the British government that won it for them. Subsequently, the Stamp Act and the Townshend Act led the colonists to
get weary of cheapo Britain fight
the American War of Independence in 1776 and establish the United States of
America. And who should they thank for it? The nice, self-effacing Bengalis.
The French revolution, you ask? All us.
Incidentally, the Colonists in their War of Independence were being supported by the French, who in a close approximation of cutting off your nose to spite your face, managed to bankrupt themselves in the process. This in turn caused the French revolution. [Aside: I think Bengal should let Odisha claim the roshogolla. Since they you know, helped create the modern world, as we know it today.]
The industrial revolution was our idea.
We have all heard of how British merchants coerced India to sell (cotton) cheap and buy (final goods) dear, leading to ‘primary accumulation’ of capital that allowed the industrial revolution to take place. But we may have had a more important to play-essentially, by creating a market for cotton textiles in the first place. The British capitalists piled on, realising that there was a ready market they could serve, if they could only displace the market leaders. This was hardly going to be difficult given their political control over India-imagine Steve Jobs as the majority shareholder in Nokia. But they went about it the civilised way first-by raising tariffs on Indian goods. By 1813, they were able to pressurise their government to end the monopoly of the East India Company in India, and subsequently flood the Indian markets with cheaper machine made goods. Interestingly, they also tried to increase the uptake of British goods in India by bringing in English education and Christian missionaries.
Maybe the firang love for FabIndia is their way to atone for the past.
Desi kids, your childhood dynamic with your friends/ siblings is the model of international diplomacy/ belligerence
North Korea is claiming that it has tested its first hydrogen bomb. In retaliation South Korea is broadcasting criticism against the North Korean government through loudspeakers on the border. North Korea is returning that in kind. It’s basically like when you were five and cheated in kho-kho and then somebody called you a cheater-cock and you got back by saying “no ji, jo bolta hai wahi hota hai”.
Have you heard of China's frenzied island re-claiming activity in South China Sea? You, with your spitting-lightly-over-the-chocolate-before-the-blasted-sibling-can-make-a-claim behaviour, inspired it.