Beyond ‘Akhand Bharat’: ‘Greater India’ and ‘Global South Asia’

Although India and its neighbours have increasingly reached out to their respective overseas communities, none of them have viewed the massive stock of South Asian diaspora as a composite entity with many shared interests.

Written by C. Raja Mohan | New Delhi | Published:January 17, 2016 12:14 pm
Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at the launch of the International Solar Alliance in Paris on November 30. (Source: Reuters) Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at the launch of the International Solar Alliance in Paris on November 30. (Source: Reuters)

The recent discussion on ‘Akhand Bharat’, or ‘undivided India’ had focused almost entirely on the implications of the idea for the rights of religious minorities in India and Delhi’s relationship with its neighbours. But there is a global dimension to ‘Akhand Bharat’ that hardly figures in the discourse.

If the slogan of ‘Akhand Bharat’ is associated with Hindu nationalism, the idea of the Subcontinent’s cultural unity has a much wider appeal and the hopes for overcoming the bitter consequences of the region’s Partition in 1947 are reinforced by powerful trends of economic globalisation and regional institution building.

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The different variations on the theme of South Asian unity are complemented by two ideas that are even more expansive — one old and the other new. The older one is the imagination of a ‘Greater India’ that transcends the Subcontinent. As India began to ‘discover’ itself two centuries ago, it also stumbled upon the Subcontinent’s cultural influence that spread through the millennia across the Indian Ocean littoral.

The newer one is the rapidly expanding international footprint of the Subcontinent. The globalisation of India under the British Raj saw the massive movement of labour from the Subcontinent to the far corners of the world in the 19th and 20th centuries. In recent decades, those trends have gathered fresh momentum.

A report issued last week by the United Nations noted the scale and scope of the Subcontinent’s global presence. India’s migrant population, according to the report, has grown at the brisk pace of 60 per cent over the last decade to become the world’s largest stock of migrants. India stood third in 2005 with a migrant population of 9.5 million. In 2015 it rose to the top with 15.5 million.

The picture becomes even more interesting if we put on the South Asian lens. Among the major sources of international migration, Bangladesh stands fifth with 7.2 million, Pakistan sixth with 5.9 million and Afghanistan eleventh with 4.8 million. To complete the frame add the migrant populations of nearly 2 million each from Sri Lanka and Nepal.

While we must discount some intra-regional migration within South Asia, we are talking about a total South Asian migrant population of nearly 38 million. The UN report on migration does not include the people of South Asian origin around the world. It counts only those living outside the country of their birth. If we include all of them, we are staring at nearly fifty million people of South Asian descent outside the Subcontinent.

Although India and its neighbours have increasingly reached out to their respective overseas communities, none of them have viewed the massive stock of South Asian diaspora as a composite entity with many shared interests. In fact, competitive mobilisation of overseas communities by India and Pakistan in pursuit of their foreign policy objectives has often diminished them both, for example in North America and the Anglo-sphere.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi might be in a position to change that by combining two important elements of his diplomacy — the extraordinary emphasis on mobilising the diaspora for national development and the priority for improving relations with the neighbours.

One way of doing it is to include the leaders of diasporas from neighbouring countries in Delhi’s current intensive outreach to its own overseas community. Another is to associate the Subcontinent’s diaspora with the joint economic work and cultural activity of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and other sub-regional forums like the BBIN initiative that brings Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal together.

As a collective the South Asian diaspora can boost the larger goals that India and its neighbours have set for themselves on improving physical, economic and cultural connectivity within the Subcontinent. One day, in the not too distant future, the ‘Global South Asia’ might even become a force for peace and political reconciliation within the Subcontinent that is hobbled by multiple conflicts. But the first steps must necessarily come from within the region.

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  1. A
    Arindam Chakrabarty
    Jan 17, 2016 at 8:39 am
    Before thinking on lines Of South Asian lets consolidate us as Indians South Asian is amorphous ideny and subsumes Indian ideny,better to call it as Indian sub continental ideny. Another drawback of South Asian ideny is that it includes references to Jehadi groups from Afghanistan,stan and Bangladeshis,why should the lawabiding ,hardworking,peaceful diaspora Hindu become victim of infamyof being ociated with notirious South Asian ideny. In any case India is the largest country in the South Asia and it is better that the entire grouping be called as SUB CONTINENTAL.
    1. M
      Jan 17, 2016 at 11:29 am
      I am promoting Akhand Bharat, please subscribe to me.
    2. M
      Jan 17, 2016 at 11:29 am
      Please youtube British Bengal tiger, you will see me promoting akhand bharat!
      1. d
        Jan 17, 2016 at 12:15 pm
        Why not begin Akhand Bharat by getting of article 370.
        1. B
          Jan 17, 2016 at 2:00 pm
          The subcontinent can be merged together provided religion is never related to state. Religion should be confined to home/mandir/masjid prayers with no issue taken up by politicians. For state, its religion should be human values with everyone taken care of. Most of the Mughal rulers practiced neutrality since they never promoted religion and hence remained in power for long. Their religion was ensuring rule of their kingdom by appeasing/getting married at highest level. We spread hatred and wants unity, hhhh.
          1. D
            Jan 17, 2016 at 10:31 am
            With or with out Akhand Bharat or the whinging of the CON GIT sukers and toddies, on thing is clear Indians will rule the world if not in 21st then definitely in the 22nd Century, by then the pseudo sickulars and dynsaty azz lickers will have extinct.
            1. S
              Jan 17, 2016 at 9:55 am
              Chrisitianity is slow poison! Aam s are falling in droves to the chritsian brainwash for some beef fry (JeSucks flesh) and liquor (JeSucks blood)!! Pressution is run by the vatican terrorists in this deception of democracy!
              1. S
                Shyamal Ganguly
                Jan 17, 2016 at 2:17 pm
                Akhand Bharat idea is a piece of Garbage. Hindus are the most peaceful people following Sanatana Dharma for 5 to 10 thousand years. Under Akhand Bharat scheme, Hindus will be minority. Snakes of India, stan and Bangladesh will combine in strength (200 170 180) and then they will betray the consutionally formed democratic Govt. That is always the scheme under Islam.
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