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Modi unveils pillars of an Indian civilizational state in three back-to-back speeches

PM Narendra Modi

In three major addresses this week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has laid bare the rise of India as a civilizational state, which has begun to exercise global leadership in key areas such as renewable energy and arresting Climate change.

The triology of speeches had a common theme — the idea of a “new India,” which has indigenous roots that is anchored in the stirrings of its deep civilization. Implicitly, PM Modi’s utterings reject westernization as the way forward for India’s rise in the digital age, without closing the door for suitable ideas from abroad. During his address on Monday at the Indo-Japan Samwad conference PM Modi pointed to India’s continuous role in spreading the message of Buddha to reinforce India’s credentials as a civilizational state.

He announced that India will host a world-class digital library on Buddhism, which will become the fount for the evolution of Buddhist thought in the 21st century. The new library will not only contain archival material related to Buddhism, but would also become a centre for research to address contemporary global problems, based on Buddhist values, Modi said during his address.

He added: “The library will collect digital copies of all such Buddhist literature from different countries. It will aim to translate them, and make them freely available for all monks and scholars of Buddhism. The library will not only be a depository of literature. It will also be a platform for research and dialogue – a true Samwad between human beings, between societies, and between humans and nature.” Analysts point out that India’s latest initiative docks with its role in far history to study and spread Buddhist values from foundational centres such as the famed Nalanda University and Sarnath.

The address also acquires significance as there has been a campaign in key intellectual circles, including in China and Pakistan, to deny India the status of a civilizational state, by pointing out that historically, India did not have administrative unity.

In Chinese academic circles, there has also been a conscious effort to raise the profile of Buddhist sites in Taxila and the Swat valley, implicitly undermining the importance of key Buddhist founts in India. In an effort to appropriate leadership and globalise Buddhism, the Chinese are developing Lingshan as the “Vatican” for the spread of Buddha’s teachings. China has also begun to regularly host the World Buddhist Forum, which draws scholars and monks from across the world.

Taking the cue from Buddhist values, the Prime Minister said that the conduct of international relations must be based on “humanism”. “We must make harmonious co-existence with nature as the central pillar of our existence.” In his address to Visva-Bharati on the centenary of the famed university founded by Rabindra Nath Tagore in Shantiniketan, PM Modi also sought a reinterpretation of India’s past, urging his audience to seek the roots of modern Indian nationalism prior to the 19th and 20th centuries. 

“When we talk of freedom struggle, the idea of 19-20th century comes directly in our mind. But it is also a fact that the foundation of these movements was laid long ago. India's independence movement got energy from many movements that were going on since centuries.” In identifying the roots of Indian nationalism, the Prime Minister especially focused on the contribution of the Bhakti movement.

The movement originated in South India in the 8 th century. It then spread northwards and eastwards, reaching its peak between the 15th and 17th century. “Bhakti movement was the door that filled the struggling India with collective consciousness and confidence for centuries… (it) strengthened the spiritual and cultural unity of India.” Institutions such as the Visva-Bharati and other universities that had mushroomed throughout India during British rule provided the intellectual and ideological feedstock for modern Indian nationalism, which had evolved from its civilizational past.

PM Modi stressed that the “new India” in-the-making was already scaling global heights in advanced domains such as renewable energy and battling climate change. "India is playing a huge role in the world for environmental protection through the International Solar Alliances. India is the only major country in the world which is moving fast on the right track to meet the Paris Accord's environmental goals."

But Indian national unity based on an inclusive doctrine was essential for India’s advancement at the next level. In an address to the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) on Tuesday, PM Modi invited the Muslim community to join the on-going movement to build a “new India,” based on the inclusive tradition of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the founder of the University. “I would love to hear from you all at Aligarh Muslim University on how to make India self-reliant and how to work on successfully taking 'local to global'. Your ideas and suggestions are always welcome and is greatly valued,” Modi said during his centenary address to AMU. “I want you all to think about how we can build an Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India),” he observed. During his address, PM Modi rubbished the campaign that the government was pursuing religious majoritarianism, at the cost India’s minorities. 

“The plans that the country is making today are reaching every section without distinction of religion,” the Prime Minster asserted. “Bank accounts of over 40 crore poor opened without any discrimination. Without discrimination, more than 2 crore poor were provided pucca houses. More than 8 crore women got gas without discrimination,” Modi stressed. "I assure that nobody will be left out and not discriminated against on religious lines. Everyone will move forward by enjoying the Fundamental Rights given in the Constitution," Modi observed. Modi was only the second Prime Minister to address an AMU function after Lal Bahadur Shastri 56 years ago.