Religion: Hindu-Buddhist alliance to counter violent extremism
At a recent international conference, Buddhist and Hindu leaders came together to discuss ‘lawless forces backed by extremely violent ideologies’ and its impact on democracy in Asia
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi
Top Buddhist and Hindu leaders, politicians and government officials gathered recently at New Delhi’s Vivekananda International Foundation, a think-tank said to be close to the ruling BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), to discuss the possibility of a Hindu-Buddhist alliance to address “the unprecedented threats and challenges related to peace and environment the world is facing today”.
The Global Hindu Buddhist Initiative on Conflict Avoidance and Environment Consciousness was officially organised by the International Buddhist Council with the tacit support of the Indian government. The conference’s concept note referred to the need to take on “challenges that have emerged in the form of lawless forces backed up by extremely violent ideologies that challenge de jure states formed by the rule of law”. This was a none-too-veiled reference to the Islamic State.
The note also spoke of the dangers to the environment “due to contemporary lifestyle based on ideas contrary to the environment-friendly philosophies that regard nature as sacred and also refer to it as mother”.
While these concepts may not square with the ruling party’s domestic policies – seemingly oblivious to majoritarian violent ideologies within India and unhinged access to the country’s resources for big business at the cost of the environment – the conference had a more international objective.
It showcased how India’s current government sees no need to shy away from using religion to build its diplomatic outreach.
Moreover, it also showed India’s willingness to use its soft power to contain growing Chinese influence in the region. High-profile visitors to the conference included Dr Ashin Nyanissara, Founder Chancellor, Sitagu International Buddhist Academy, Myanmar, Chandrika Kumaratunga, the former president of Sri Lanka, Professor Preah Tepsattha Khy Sovanratna, Vice Rector, Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University, Cambodia, Dr M Bataa, Advisor on Religious Affairs to the President of Mongolia, Lyonpo Namgay Dorji, Minister for Finance, Bhutan, Thich Thien Tam, Vice President of the National Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, Professor Hsiang-Chou Yo, an eminent scholar from Taiwan and Khamba Lama Gabju Choijamts Demberel, the supreme head of all Mongolian Buddhists.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who inaugurated the conference on September 3, said, “We would develop (a) civilisational bond between India and the Buddhist world.” The conference was jointly sponsored by the Tokyo Foundation and top officials of the Japanese government attended it. The impressive line-up suggests how India under Modi sees a Hindu-Buddhist alliance as a countervailing force to Chinese ambitions. Nobody from the Communist country took part in the conference despite being invited. In October last year, there were reports that the RSS, the ideological parent of the ruling BJP, was trying to build a Hindu-Buddhist peace zone with militant Buddhist outfits in Sri Lanka and Myanmar.
While the RSS denied any such initiative, Ven Gnanasara Thero, general secretary of the Bodu Bala Sena, confirmed that the outfit was in talks with the top leadership of the RSS.
The Sena is also said to be close to Ashin Wirathu, the Burmese militant who made it to the cover of Time magazine for calling for extermination of Rohingya Muslims in the turbulent Rakhine state. Rohingya refugees in India are under suspicion and are lately being seen as a threat by the national security establishment.
The Indian government has talked often about the need to deal with the threat of the Islamic State. The home ministry recently called a meeting of all state police chiefs to chalk out a deradicalisation drive aimed at the Muslim community.
This, despite the fact that there are just a handful of youth allegedly influenced by the Islamic State. Modi too has carefully chosen whom he meets from the community. For example, he recently met with a delegation from a fringe outfit, the Ulama and Mashaikh Board, which claims to represent the Sufis Earlier, he met another delegation that many called ‘Tel-Avivi Muslims’ for their proximity to the Israelis.
Since Modi took over as Prime Minister in May 2014, India’s foreign policy has seen some serious recalibration. The ‘frequent flyer’ Prime Minister, whose foreign trips have become a butt of jokes on social media, has made 28 foreign trips in a little more than a year in office.
He has tried to reach out even to countries like Mongolia and the Seychelles, which seem to be of low geo-political value.
He has been active in the neighbourhood, too, ever since he was sworn in, a ceremony that saw the presence of all the leaders from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries. Still, Pakistan and its major ally in the region, China, continue to be India’s Achilles’ heel.
The gargantuan $46 billion proposed investment by the Chinese in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor could alter the geopolitical landscape of the region. It even threatens to negate years of good work by the Indians in Afghanistan, where the West is keen to have the Chinese take over once they leave.