My op-ed in Mint : Why India must export its Islam

It’s all about balancing

My op-ed in Mint covers some of the arguments and discussions on this blog on state-sponsored greybeards. Indeed, it is necessary to thank all those who commented on those posts: supporters and critics alike. All that helped to refine and tighten up the op-ed piece.


In a secular state such as India, there is little role for the state in matters of faith and religion. But the rise of a radical, intolerant version of Islam around the world is also not in its interests. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran have no self-imposed restrictions on promoting their own Islamic values. It is unlikely that India can counter these exertions of soft power by promoting the virtues of secularism to the Islamic world. But it could promote its own syncretic Islamic tradition to offer an alternative narrative to the world’s Muslims.

In any case, secularism as state policy is meaningful only in the domestic context. To insist Indian foreign policy must always be “secular” would be to miss a fundamental principle of international relations— states act to maximize their relative power using any means at their disposal. If India’s Islamic values allow it to “balance” Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran, it should do so. [Mint]

Want to continue the discussion? Why not write a letter to the editor of Mint?

10 thoughts on “My op-ed in Mint : Why India must export its Islam”

  1. Pankaj,

    The insistence owes itself to the importance. Continuing to “import” is more alarming.

  2. This is quite different from the articles published in the Acorn. I dont find any connection between the paragraph above the one you quoted and the one you quoted. Something amiss there.

    I was just wondering if you could formulate the problem better?

  3. Sriram,

    It’s been discussed quite a bit on this blog: That underlying the spread of radical Islam lie the power interests of Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan; and that India can balance it by exporting its own (counter) ideology.

  4. Nitin, I was wondering if it’s okay to export say, the apparent Indian version of Christianity just so that we can counter hard-line Christianity in, say, South Korea or US, or, even better Indian version of Hinduism (to counter what ever), using taxes payers money, of course.

    I suppose it’s common that most spoiled person get all the attention instead of a kick in the pants – it comes natural to most humans.

    I can just see the Saudis or Paks telling their Indian “our sunnis is better than yours” Muslim (and, apparently, non-Muslim) flag-bearers, “If your Islam is so good how come we don’t have any non-Muslims in our countries – 0 in Saudi; from 20% to 2% in Pakistan over just few decades. Convert your fellow countrymen first and then tell us how good your Islam is.” (With a little grin on their faces, of course)

    May be GOI should use taxpayers money to do what thousand years of invasions couldn’t do – bestow the infinite and definite wisdom, the better version of course, on us first!

  5. Chandra,

    Yes. If some states were to use Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Pastafarianism as an ideology to mask their quest for power vis-a-vis India, then yes, I’d say we should consider matching it with a counter-ideology of our own.

  6. Nitin, ofcourse, I have been following the comments on the two posts. Why I linked to your previous post on agriculture is to ask you if a it would make sense to have emphasis on Indian Muslims and not Islam!

    Nitin’s response: Oh, I see what you meant. But this is really about geopolitics, and the emphasis is on ‘export’

  7. The following letter was published in today’s edition of Mint:

    Nitin Pai’s “Why we must export our Islam”, Mint, 10 August, is certainly “out of the box”. I would like to carry the thinking forward.

    Morgenthau and Pai’s related thesis seems inappropriate to the exploration of Indian Islam, a valuable cultural asset. Its essence goes back to Akbar, who proactively brought in syncretism and adopted the “many paths” approach of the Indian tradition. This formulation is not about projection of power, but about accommodation.

    Nehru’s “Panchasheela” and “non-alignment” has at its root this tradition of accommodation of diversity, through “peaceful coexistence”. Some of its formulations may have lacked rigour. Its deployment was flawed in many ways. The pull of that core idea in non-western cultures cannot be denied. Was that a valid basis for Politics Among Nations? In Morgenthau’s sense, it was not; neither was it for (former US secretary of state) Dulles, and for 20th century western power. Theirs is a “hunter-gatherer” tradition of mono-cultural “winning” and dominance. In that formulation, politics is about state (or mercenary) power. It discounts diverse peoples’ exploratory and gregarious instincts and their real-life modes of interaction.

    In this sense, the ability of “great powers to solve giant problems” is deeply flawed. Just look at Iraq. Other “powers” can’t “solve” problems such as militant Islam. Change has to come from within. It may take generations. Meanwhile, cultures such as ours should build on what we inherit. As Gandhi said with such honesty, “be the change you want to see in others”. The crucible is our own part of the world. We share with Pakistan and Bangladesh the sulh-I kul (universal tolerance) inheritance of Akbar. The British put wrong exclusivist ideas in the heads of our people to suit their power game. Let us bring them around to the idea of India. Then, tomorrow, the world.

    —Anil Inamdar

  8. Anil Inamdar is a little more mushy than you are Nitin 🙂

    I am not sure what makes him think that the diversity tradition will work in mono-chromatic Islamic (and for that matter all middle eastern) religions. Their tradition of diversity is diversity amongst the same religion – very different concept from diversity as understood in our country. Nice to know this was Akbar’s concept. But Aurangazeb came within a generation of Akbar. And Paks don’t call their missiles Akbar, rather Gauri and Babar – those paragons of diversity.

    I guess everyone has a right to live in a Trisanku swargam.

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