Pakistan and India will celebrate their independence on 14 and 15 August respectively. While Kashmir pins the two against each, for Delhi, Beijing is the main rival. India has made great strides in recent decades, but Hindu ultranationalism is turning the original idea of the Indian nation on its head.
Milan (AsiaNews) – On Monday, 15 August, Delhi will celebrate the 75th anniversary of independence from British colonial rule, while Islamabad will do the same the day before.
Despite the celebratory nature of the event, 1947, the year of partition, remains a festering wound. In July of that year, British judge Cyril Radcliffe was tasked with dividing the British Raj into a Hindu-majority India and a Muslim-majority Pakistan.
The work took only a few weeks to complete, but the resulting division ended centuries of relatively peaceful coexistence among the Indian subcontinent’s different communities; some 15 million people were displaced and up to two million people, half bound for India, died.
Some princely states were initially allowed to maintain their autonomy, including Kashmir. Even today, 75 years later, the latter’s fate has not been fully resolved.
Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leader of the Hindu ultranationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), for the first time marked 14 August as Partition Horrors Remembrance Day.
Pakistan’s foreign minister responded by urging the Indian government to avoid politicising events related to their respective independence days.
In the last 75 years, India has made huge strides. The infant mortality rate has fallen from 161.8 per 1,000 births in 1960 to 27 in 2020, and the Human Development Index has gone from 0.11 in 1950 to 0.65 in 2019 (with an ascending rate from 0 to 1).
There have been leaps forward in infrastructure, access to drinking water and the Internet; in 2020, India’s GDP reached US$ 2.623 trillion and its economy this year could be one of Asia's most dynamic.
Yet, India is less and less the secular and multicultural state that emerged in 1947. Nowadays right-wing calls to turn India into a Hindu-supremacist state have more traction than the Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas about religious tolerance. A year after independence, Bapu (father), as Gandhi was known, was killed by a Hindu fanatic.
The BJP continues to build Hindu temples in lieu of Muslim mosques while sectarian violence grows year after year. According to some estimates, 180 people died in sectarian clashes between 2014 and 2020, 62 in 2020 alone.
Deemed a “free” country until 2020, India was ranked as “partially free” in 2021, sliding into the past with less and less cultural diversity.
Despite the long-standing enmity, Pakistan is not India's main rival. The disputed region of Kashmir borders another nuclear power, China.
Eager to build the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Beijing has decidedly backed Islamabad over Kashmir.
Despite 17 rounds of diplomatic talks, India and China remain deadlocked over their border disputes. In mid-2020, violence broke out in the Galwan Valley between Indian and Chinese soldiers.
Such tensions have pushed India closer to the United States, Japan and Australia, and now the four form the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), a forum of countries interested in containing China’s presence in the Indo-Pacific.
Yet, although all Quad the members are democratic, they don’t all see eye to eye on everything, most notably India vis-à-vis Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
India's cooperation is necessary in the region and at the last Quad summit in May, several of India’s concerns, even those that do not directly involve the Chinese threat, were added for the agenda in 2023.
Thus, despite its increasingly anti-democratic tendencies, India plays an increasingly central role in Asia.