The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- India and Europe have much to learn from each other

While globalization has economic implications, it also poses critical cultural questions. These questions go beyond the cultural sphere and have in turn an impact on the political and economic spheres. One of the critical cultural questions relates to cultural identities. These identities become important in the face of the homogenization of cultures that globalization is believed to impose. Those who value cultural diversity see this as a threat. But there are others who see this diversity itself as a threat to world peace, especially in view of religious and ethnic intolerance.

These questions have relevance globally. They have relevance for Europe and India as well. Indeed, Europe and India share several similarities, especially with respect to the issue of identities and the threats these identities face. It is, therefore, important to promote dialogue between Europe and India so that they may gain from each other's experiences. Can they offer alternatives beyond homogenization or the clash of civilizations' Can two of the world's oldest civilizations offer something positive for themselves and the rest of the world in this era of rapid change' Can they come together for a strategic partnership'

These questions were in the forefront of an international cultural forum that was organized by Bertelsmann Stiftung in New Delhi recently. The mission of Bertelsmann Stiftung, as perceived by its founder, Reinhard Mohn, is to encourage social change in the interest of the common good. For selectively invited participants drawn from Europe and India, representing different spheres of expertise, an opportunity was created for a round table debate on the issue of cultures in globalization. The objective of the conference was to promote a Europe-India dialogue.

Two opening lectures by Werner Weidenfeld and Karan Singh, delivered at the auditorium of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, struck the right note for the conference. Weidenfeld, a distinguished German expert on contemporary European issues, highlighted the complexity of Europe. He drew attention to the fact that, while European nations have been at war with each other, they have created common philosophy and art, and also an outlook that is known as the Enlightenment. This outlook emphasized the use of reason in scientific as well as public domains, and, through a critical review of existing doctrines, promoted a rational and secular view of the world. There are different elements in European history, and he concluded that it is possible to draw from those elements that are most useful for the present world. Singh, an eminent Indian thinker, was concerned with the question whether we can move to global society peacefully. Hailing the emergence of the European Union as a remarkable achievement, he drew attention to the fact that Indian civilization has always emphasized confluence, not conflict. It is in this respect that India has something to offer, just as the effort to build the European Union has shown that Europe is trying to become what the Indian Union already is. There is a need for strategic partnership between Europe and India, for they have much to contribute to each other.

While these lectures were given from different perspectives, they proved to be complementary. The speakers answered the questions of the conference positively by emphasizing that, at the time of the rapid change that we are experiencing at present, complex entities such as Europe and India could contribute to each other and, through a positive outcome of their dialogue, to the world at large. Europe and India could indeed go beyond homogenization or clash. In these lectures, though, there were already indications of problems that need to be overcome. Thus, for example, Weidenfeld indicated the problem of strategic deficit and Singh talked of the problem of global threats, such as fundamentalism.

The need for dialogue and the problems to be overcome to make this dialogue fruitful in terms of action were discussed at length in the conference. Through a frank assessment of the differences between Europe and India that come in the way of a useful strategic dialogue, the participants felt in general that there is no reason why similarities cannot be brought to the forefront and expanded. It is possible, for example, to draw from the ideals of the Enlightenment.

There are indeed differences between Europe and India as has been shown by the World Trade Organisation discussions on tariffs and subsidies at Hong Kong. Such differences, it has been argued, will persist so long as rich nations try to impose unequal trade agreements on others. Without wishing to deny the importance of such differences, my own view is that Europe and India have much in common, such as long cultural histories, diversity, and a commitment to plurality and democracy. Though there are problems in Europe as well as in India with respect to plurality and democracy in actual terms, it cannot be denied that they are recognized as ideals worth pursuing. It is true that the European Union is trying to be what the Indian Union has already achieved; it has to be also noted that, at a broader level, the Indian subcontinent, torn as it is by conflict, has much to learn from the European Union. The emergence of the European Union is useful not only for reducing tensions within Europe, but also for providing a model for reducing tensions elsewhere. If the Germans and the French can live in peace, why can Indians and Pakistanis not learn to do the same' It is often said that India and Pakistan are divided by religion. But this position overlooks the fact that there is a significantly larger number of Muslims living in India than in Pakistan. Moreover, at the ground level, Islam in the subcontinent has syncretic elements. This legacy is first of all attacked by the fundamentalists.

Yet another point to note is that the European Union has adopted as its motto 'unity in diversity'. This has been the cultural ideal of India from ancient times. Apart from a philosophical outlook connected with the idea that was developed, Indians had to make sense of diversity of all kinds. As a result, as Singh noted in his lecture, confluence, not conflict, was considered important. Nationalist leaders in India emphasized the point of unity in diversity. Thus, in a paper published in 1938, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote: 'Superficial observers of India...are apt to be impressed too much by the variety and diversity of India. They miss the unity of India, and yet the tremendous and fundamental fact of India is her essential unity throughout the ages.' He went on to say that India could maintain its fundamental unity through a process of assimilation and adaptation. If Europe that suffered until recently from wars finds peace in the ancient idea of unity in diversity, it shows we can rethink old ideas for our times. We can dip into rich cultural traditions across the world, including those of Europe and India, for the purpose.

This does not mean that we do not have to think for ourselves. While at the beginning of the previous century, there were many competing ideas, this cannot be said for the present century. All that has been produced so far that has attracted broad attention is what can be called the thesis of the evil other that has been advanced from opposite sides. And then there is the end-of-history thesis of Francis Fukuyama and the clash-of-civilizations thesis of Samuel Huntington. Clearly, there is a need to go beyond these simplistic and harmful positions. We need to develop an overview with fresh eyes of what is happening and what is likely to happen so that, through human intervention, we can promote what is desirable and hinder what is undesirable as far as possible.

Changes in the world have been faster than our thoughts about them. 'The owl of Minerva,' wrote Hegel, 'spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.' To us this luxury is not given. We have to come up with creative solutions as the reality unfolds itself so that we do not plunge into the darkness that threatens to engulf all of us. This is particularly true in view of the threats arising from the capacity that has been created for destruction and environmental degradation.

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