Atanu Dey On India's Development

Enlightened Reformation

The depth of the Indic civilization is awe inspiring when you consider that it has been around for many thousands of years. The Vedas were composed long before the start of the Common Era. The people of India can claim direct lineage to those who composed the Vedas and the Upanishads. The Rig Veda epitomizes in one of its invocations what I am concerned about: adoption of ideas.

Let noble thoughts come to us from all universe.

The puzzle therefore is why has modern day India been so insular and close-minded? (By modern day I mean the last few centuries, and not the period variously called ‘internet era’ or ‘post-industrial era’.) Other countries appear to have become enlightened in that regard.

(Talking of enlightenment, the most well-known enlightenment appears to have happened in India about 2500 years ago. The fall-out of that event radiated from India to other lands but vanished from ground zero almost without a trace. Fortunately, the echoes from far-off lands can now be heard in India. Given enough time, once again that enlightenment will be back home in India.)

Consider, for instance, the Meiji Restoration:

The Tokugawa bakufu came to an official end on November 9th, 1867 with the resignation of the 15th Tokugawa Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu and the “restoration” (Taisei Houkan) of imperial rule. The 15-year-old Mutsuhito succeeded his father, Emperor Komei, and the following year took the reign name Meiji (明治) or “enlightened rule,” and signed the Five Charter Oath.

What was the Five Charter Oath?

The Five charter oath (Gokajyo no Goseimon) was an outline of the main aims and the course of action to be followed by the new Meiji era government of Japan after the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1867 during the Meiji Restoration. The oath set a new path in Japanese history with an emphasis on modernization and the establishment of a new social structure.

I draw your attention to the fifth oath which read:

“Knowledge shall be sought throughout the world so as to strengthen the foundation of Imperial Rule.”

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what transformed Japan and made it strong enough to dream of world domination and to ultimately grow so economically powerful that the US was forced for the first time after the Second World War to do some very urgent soul-searching.

The successes of the Meiji Reformation can be traced ultimately to their thirst for knowledge and understanding from around the world. They used ‘noble thoughts’ from all universe to learn and then out-do what others had done. They adopted and adapted to the modern world — a world that they indeed helped create at least in part.

It is time for India to have a reformation of its own. It has to have enlightened rule if it is to survive. There is no other way.

  • Walker

    In your last post you posed the problem of why Indian society at large does not seem to readily adopt innovations. In the post before that you lament the fact that India does not have sufficient standardization. Now in this post you bring up Japan and contrast their openness after the Meiji Restoration to India’s “close-minded”(ness).

    The example of Japan gives good hints at what may be the real reasons why India does not adopt innovation as quickly and has trouble with standardization — it lacks a strong central authority and, related to this, a strong sense of national will.

    Japan did not allow ideas to come in unfiltered by the west. The elite bureaucrats aggressively sought ideas, but carefully chose those that were most useful and then, critically, organized the adoption of these ideas quickly and in a wholesale fashion. The organizing principle was what was good for the nation-state, and the primary aim was to grow strong enough to avoid the very real threat of colonization. With this end, the governing elite also took an active role in fostering (and favoring) the industries it deemed important to building national strength. It did so by promoting a high savings rate (taxation, promotion of cartels to keep prices up, etc.) and redirecting these funds to favored industries.

    In short, Japan developed through a quasi-fascist command economy. Though ignored because of its distasteful political overtones, fascism is a very powerful economic model, the rapid increase in economic power of Italy and Germany before and during the war are two obvious cases in point. Less obvious is the quasi-fascism of the United States during the Civil War and WWII, periods of rapid industrialization and technological innovation.

  • Atanu Dey

    Excellent comments, Walker. One point of clarification, though. My enquiry is along the lines of why adopting innovations is important. The notion of standards and standardiztions is one of the most important innovations and accounts for much of the wealth of advanced industrialized societies. Having seen the advantages of standardization–whether it be in street addressing or whatever–but still not adopting standards is what should keep people awake at nights.

  • Pingback: Atanu Dey on India’s Development » Who’s India’s Wu?