Minister of State for External Affairs Meenakshi Lekhi visited Greece on January 30-31. Her visit was a part of the process of maintaining contacts with an important European country whose interests have aligned with India’s over the decades, because of the politics of South Asia and Cyprus.
This has led to reciprocal diplomatic support in multilateral and international forums and a substantial level of bilateral goodwill in official circles.
This has not, however, resulted in substantial economic and commercial interaction or investments; hence, the relationship has remained somewhat thin on the ground.
At the same time there is understanding, though not expressed substantially enough, in academic circles in both countries that historically they have been civilizational centres which have made impact on human development.
Greece is a cradle of western civilization. Many ideas which form the core of contemporary western values were first conceived by Greek thinkers. Among them perhaps none were more important than the place of reason in human life and of checks being placed on the exercise of power.
From Greece these ideas travelled to Rome but their flow was interrupted for more than a millennium when Europe went into the dark ages. The place of reason was taken over by the notion of divine will and political leaders began to claim that their authority derived from God.
This inevitably led to the concept of the divine rights of kings, and citizens were expected to be unquestioning subjects. It was only during the European Enlightenment that these two ancient Greek ideas began to assert themselves.
They found acceptance gradually and after long; and sometimes after bloody struggles. Today they form the basis of the charter of universal human rights. Ironically, the European Enlightenment did not take place in Greece but in other parts of Europe.
The philosophical underpinnings of ancient Indian civilization were based on free thinking, on the nature of man and his relationship with the physical world and the divine. Consequently, a variety of orthodox and heterodox philosophical schools of thought emerged and none claimed to be the repository of all knowledge or wisdom.
The absence of dogma was the hallmark of these philosophical quests. It is also significant that idea of arbitrary political authority was never considered as legitimate.
The exercise of political power was always expected to be constrained by rules of Dharma, the core of which was the idea of righteousness.
Even in times of severe crises the abandonment of Dharma by a ruler was not considered acceptable; a price was to be paid by a leader for wrong or misleading conduct. The Mahabharata makes that abundantly clear.
This writer is recalling these historical intellectual traditions of India and Greece for both countries now need to examine the roots of their ideas directly and not through the interventions of others.
It would be appropriate for the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) to undertake such endeavours with a Greek organisation. Such dialogues would promote at least the beginnings of a direct academic interaction which would lead to breaking down of barriers of refracting knowledge about each other through the prism of the anglophone world.
I have digressed from the present state of India-Greece ties but it is necessary to stress that the very nature of colonialism imposed the mediation of Europe, and in particular, of the ruling colonial power to gain an understanding of the world and its history.
That did not mean, at least in India’s case, that the leaders of the Indian Renaissance gave up their critical faculties to agree with what the British sought to imprint on their minds. Indeed the resilience of Indian civilization ensured that Indians never became clones of the British.
However, in the absence of direct contact between India and important European countries as also of the colonised world Indians only gained an understanding of them through the medium of British academia and the English language.
There is now a growing need of greater and greater direct contact between Indian academia with other historical and contemporary centres which have contributed to the evolution of human civilization.
There are many constraints which prevent contacts between Indian intellectuals and those of the non-English speaking world. None of these greater than the lack of knowledge within India of major world languages.
The fact that the English language is now more and more widely learnt in more and more parts of the world and that the quality of English language studies in India is good is a disincentive for the development of scholarship about other major languages.
The only way to overcome this shortcoming is by concerted efforts being made by government and private institutions to encourage such language studies.
Indeed, as India’s footprint increases in the world there will be a greater need of more persons with a good knowledge of major global languages apart from English.
This of course does not imply that all this learning has to be at the cost of Indian languages or those of India’s neighbourhood. Indeed there are security imperatives for developing a large cadre of persons with excellent knowledge of South Asian languages including those spoken by small communities.
In this quest to make the country more proficient in the languages of the world modern and classical European languages cannot be overlooked. This certainly includes those of Greece. Both the Indian and Greek governments need to pay attention to this aspect as they seek to foster closer ties in all sectors including in defence and security.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK