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The National Identity - II - Look Outwards, Close By

In the first post on the National Identity, I spoke about statecraft and a touched upon a brand of ethnic nationalism. A lot has transpired since. India has its first single part majority in 30 years and it's a right wing party, the BJP, which is in power.

Mr. Narendra Modi's tenure as Prime Minister didn't start with big bang meetings with the leaders of the Western world or the business leaders that he is so keen to woo. It started by inviting our immediate neighbors, the Bhutans, Nepals and Sri Lankas to his swearing in. This simple gesture conveyed a lot. In an increasingly polarized world, India still needs to worry about it's immediate neighbors much before we worry about breaking our Non-Alignment stance on the major global issues. It also helps that we share a 2000 mile border with an increasingly imperialist China -we don't need an excuse to focus on our immediate neighbors.

Despite the pressing need to have a strong military presence on our borders and to have our smaller neighbors on friendly terms with us, the government of the previous ten years looked increasingly Westward. This folly wasn't reversed even when China poured billions into development projects in Nepal and Sri Lanka. India could admittedly do little to counter Chinese investments in Pakistani ports. Sri Lanka and Nepal have been historical Indian allies. Granted, every once in a while they act like a mistress who needs to be reassured of her place in the scheme of things with a solitaire or a foreign holiday, yet she knows that she slept with us long before she knew her place in the world and India will always be the hand holding her. That we have enabled them to tilt towards China, in a seemingly irrevocable move, is gross negligence on our government's part. There is place for only one daddy in these countries and it has to be India.

Nepal is a case in point. Not only does it have large hydroelectric potential (by some estimates the second highest in the world), it also serves as a buffer against China. To come to India, any hostile invader (read terrorist in today's world) must pass through another erstwhile Hindu kingdom. It serves as a buffer against an aggressive neighbor much in the same way as Kashmir does and even though we are prescient enough to see exactly why we can't let control of Kashmir slip away, we have quietly been frittering away our advantage in the Nepalese Himalayas for over a decade now. Nepal provides us with few of the separatist problems which beseech is in Kashmir as it is already another country (though a Hindu kingdom for centuries), while actually providing an economic benefit in that it can ease the power crisis in the Northern Indian Plains.

While India allows Kashmir higher autonomy than it allows other Indian states, India still retains control of law & order, and more importantly, border security. We have the worst of both worlds with Nepal, whereas we can have the best of them both as the previous paragraph pointed out. We allow Nepalese to enter and work and live in India without visas, yet we have no assurances or control over Nepal's own external border (an almost 1000 mile border with China). This leaves India open to gross danger. The enemy hasn't been slow to recognize this. One of India's most wanted men, Yasim Bhatkal, escaped India through the Nepal border. It has also been his entry and exit point on multiple occasions - clearly pointing out both the lax external and internal border controls. Nepalese "infiltrations" now match up to the Kashmiri ones - all without the Army being in charge of the border or covering fire provided by the enemy for infiltrators.

A Trip of a Lifetime

On Imported Blog

On December 24, I embarked on the journey of a lifetime. I traveled on the Jagriti Yatra, an annual 7,500 km chartered train ride that takes highly motivated young Indians, as well as a few international participants under 25 years old, on a 15-day national odyssey to meet with and learn from entrepreneurs who have developed innovative solutions to address India’s challenges.

The Jagriti Yatra was an opportunity to learn without being taught, the experiences of successful social entrepreneurs like Bunker Roy of Barefoot College, Anshu Gupta of Goonj and the founding family of Aravind Eye Care. While on a panel discussion in Ahmadabad, Harish Hande, founder of Selco, offered sobering advice: “Live with the problem that you are trying to solve.” He explained that too often, so many of us—wanting to come from a place of understanding—don’t take the time to live with the issue that we want to help eradicate. This advice, similar to the wisdom we had been receiving from social entrepreneurs along the yatra, helped to shape our personal journeys, contributed to extraordinary learning, personal transformation and realistic applications to future venture ideas.

While some yatris were owners of their own enterprises, most were simply intrigued and enamored by the possibilities of becoming a part of the class of Indians transforming India through sustainable enterprise. Although many of the yatris were in STEM related fields, they expressed interest in crossing over into the social sector, stating that a major reason for selecting their field was because of parental pressure. It became clear along the yatra that while the interests of my fellow cohorts varied along an infinite spectrum, they shared the common interest of wanting to rebuild their nation and carry it forward.

The yatra was at the cornerstone of my experience in India. It opened so many doors, opportunities to travel (I traveled to Bangladesh with a yatri) and sparked the beginning of many lifelong friendships with people living in India and abroad. Through this yatra, I learned that India was much more than it’s cities; it is a vast and sprawling countryside. I learned more about the power of our generation by observing my Indian cohorts working to create change in the midst of crippling frustrations like corruption and poverty. The way that India changes over the next fifty years will change the world. This journey taught me more than I could ever hope to capture in any paper, book or article. The friendships, relationships and partnerships that have been cultivated keep me excited about the future of India.

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