Sectarianism should not lead to conflicts regarding mutual superiority/inferiority and the beliefs and practices of a sect should not affect the public lives or right to life, food and livelihoods of others
When we were very young, John Lennon taught us to "Imagine" in his immortal song a post-military utopia where there would be no countries, nothing to kill or die for and the world would live as one. When I retired from service, it was from a country whose national anthem, written by poet Franz Preseren, sings:
God's blessing on all nations,
Who long and work for that bright day,
When o'er earth's habitations
No war, no strife shall hold its sway;
'Who long to see
That all men are free,
No more shall foes, but neighbours be.
Serving a nation whose basic principles included non-violence and respect for all beliefs, I now dream in retirement whether we can really begin to create that Utopia for our children and their heirs to inherit.
From the end of the Second World War, the world has begun to move away from the isolation of nation-states and towards integration. The conquests of European territory by the USSR and the Allied forces divided Europe into two broad zones of political and military rivalry. While causing the Cold War on one hand, it also promoted economic integration within the two blocs. While Western Europe began with its Coal and Steel Community, the USSR promoted COMECON. The bankruptcy of the hitherto imperial powers and ongoing freedom struggles simultaneously led to decolonization, based on boundaries drawn by the colonial masters often without knowledge or regard for the situations on the ground.
This created the Third World, which developed its own loose Non-Aligned Movement spanning the globe. These have prompted a number of international boundary disputes, many of which persist today and are sometimes the cause of armed conflicts. The dissolution of the USSR in the 1990s led to the independence of many of the erstwhile Soviet Social Republics. The People’s Republic of China, however, since its independence in 1949, has been expanding and consolidating its claims to territory, and now still has the largest number of border disputes in the world.
India awoke, however, in 1947 to life and freedom with Rabindranath Tagore's hope that it would be a haven of freedom where the mind would be without fear and the nation would not become fragmented by narrow domestic walls. He termed India a holy land of pilgrimage which welcomed all and absorbed them into her generous fold. Our Founding Fathers reflected that expectation in our Constitution, which adopted the best practices of the world to be the most open, tolerant and inclusive document of its times. It gave us aspirations and set standards to strive for that four generations since then have been trying to achieve.
The world, however, has changed dramatically in these last 77 years. Movements for regional unity have been strengthening while economic and service systems have been integrating ever faster. Globalization of transport, telecommunication and supply/delivery chains have achieved unprecedented prosperity, which can continue to increase only by cooperation as we face the growing challenges of climate change, hunger and disease.
Unfortunately, the greatest growth, invention and industry continues to be for military purposes. The resources that this race for continuously improving our capacities to kill and destroy one another, if diverted instead to sustain ourselves, would have resulted in a better quality of the human species and a far more sustainable planet.
We are now moving ever faster into a post-industrial world where quality of life will depend increasingly on available energy to run knowledge-based systems of output and productivity. We have to consolidate our habitations to return more land to nature for its regeneration, use maximum possible natural and biodegradable products, spread basic resources of food, healthcare, shelter, clothing and education equitably and let people get on with making their lives and livelihoods within legal parameters without being judgmental or prescriptive based upon a particular set or beliefs or social practices.
What we need is a global agreement not to seek more territory that is already delineated in world maps, thereby ending boundary disputes and obviating the need for military forces. The reported call by the President of Mexico to form a Global Committee including the Pope and Prime Minister Narendra Modi beckons India with a unique opportunity to help re-establish peace in the world.
All boundary disputes around the world may be brought before such a committee assisted by necessary experts to find impartial and equitable solutions to stabilize frontiers and reduce conflicts to the level of respectful dialogue rather than calls to arms.
India has earlier played the role of adjudicator and peacemaker in many conflicts ranging from World War II to the Korean conflict, Indo-China and Africa. India has the philosophy and capability for peacemaking and peacekeeping at all levels around the world. We need to step forward and be counted upon.
Such agreed borders should demarcate areas of administrative control while encouraging the movement of goods, services and people as freely as possible. The primary task of diplomacy would be to achieve such universally acceptable agreements and for national administrations to ensure their implementation. This will promote cooperation within economic or continental blocs such as the EU, AU, GRULAC, WEOG, ASEAN and NAM to achieve globally desirable and sustainable norms of objectives and behaviour.
The core of all human belief systems is essentially similar, so we must emphasize civilizational unity while encouraging the strength, creativity and cooperation of each with the others. Sectarianism should not lead to conflicts regarding mutual superiority/inferiority and the beliefs and practices of a sect should not affect the public lives or right to life, food and livelihoods of others.
We must allow our inheritors to debate, discuss and evolve their own civilizational values as global citizens and create from it their own paradigms of living and nurturing their heirs. The global social media systems can be a great basis for such philosophical and unifying quests.
Since there are many churches within any state, no one church should dominate the state principles or administration, but adherents of all faiths should be allowed to freely practise and live by their own personal beliefs. Whether or not a person chooses to follow a belief system should be left entirely to personal choice and not limited by the State, nor should a particular belief system be considered in estimating the merit of a person.
A pledge to make
A system of reservations for access to public employment should be based upon the percentage of population within each belief system and those who profess none at all. Even that should cease and be overtaken by purely economic criteria when it becomes possible to truly and correctly estimate the net worth of every citizen and devise an equitable taxation system based upon it.
If we can teach our heirs that we have only one planet to call our own and that humans are all of a single species that must not discriminate within itself but strive for the sustainability of nature, maintain biodiversity and work for common prosperity and well-being, then we may be able to let them inherit a world worth living in and to reach for the stars from it.
That is a pledge and promise we Indians can all make in this 75th year of independence from British and colonial rule and make ourselves into the truly inclusive, democratic haven of freedom that our great poet Tagore hoped we would awaken to.
(The author is a retired Indian ambassador. Views are personal)