Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s energetic conduct of India’s foreign policy has attracted much public and academic attention. Yet his desire to see India become what he calls a vishwa guru— which loosely translates as ‘world guru’ — has received relatively little attention. This is in spite of its prominence in high profile speeches like the one he gave in Sydney in November 2014.
For Modi, India as a vishwa guru is an India that draws deeply from its extraordinary cultural, religious and philosophical inheritance to tackle pressing transnational challenges. These include issues like climate change, sustainable development, terrorism and helping to rewrite the now fraying rules of the international order. It implies an India that introduces people to the wisdom found in aspects of Hindu thought, and brings about lasting social and political change.…India is vishwa guru or world teacher as the seat of sanatana dharma or the eternal teaching, also known as the perennial teaching, and perennial wisdom. But this is manifestly not true as matter of fact in the present context.
Above all, Modi faces a problem that Nehru also struggled to overcome: the gap between rhetorical commitments and practical realities at home, particularly between laudable ideas like religious tolerance and the everyday challenges posed to religious freedom in India by social discrimination and communal violence.This is owing to religious Hinduism being a vessel for the eternal teaching, just like other religions and wisdom traditions, whereas the eternal teaching is different from its manifestation and expression in history, as must be as a matter of logic if the teaching is actually timeless and non-local. This is especially the case when the level of collective consciousness is not advanced enough to support it other than on a limited scale.
When the vessel is confused or conflated with the contents of the vessel, then misconceptions pervade the teaching. This is mistaking the chaff for the kernel, the husk with the fruit.
Without leading by example, a teaching remains merely intellectual and is ineffectual.
When orthodoxy or fundamentalism prevails in interpretation, the letter dominates the spirit.
But Modi has the right idea anyway. Manifesting this is a matter of raising collective consciousness to a more universal level.
East Asia Forum
Modi’s vision for India as a normative power
Ian Hall | Acting Director of the Griffith Asia Institute and Professor at the School of Government and International Relations, Griffith University