It is strategic civilisational diplomacy at its symbolic best. Narendra Modi found that his second informal summit with Xi Jinping at Mahabalipuram in 2019 had been fixed 1,500 years ago by a prince of the Pallava dynasty, which ruled Mahabalipuram from Kanchipuram.
Historical Background –
- The Pallava prince from Kanchipuram renounced the throne, became a Buddhist monk, known as Bodhi Dharma in India and DaMo in China, almost like how prince Siddhartha became Buddha. His guru asked him to go to Zhen Dan– today’s China.
- Bodhi Dharma, who became India’s first spiritual ambassador to China, also emerged as its chief mentor. Regarded as Buddhaabdara (Buddha’s Avatar), he expounded Zen Buddhism and founded the famous Shaolin Temple in China’s Henan province.
- Revered as the first Patriarch of China, the rest of the Buddhist world listed him as the 28th in line from Buddha.
- Bodhi Dharma’s foray was not limited to China. Popular as DaMo in China, as Dalma in Korea, Daruma in Japan, Dharmottara in Tibet, with his name echoing in Vietnam too, he ended up as India’s cultural ambassador to most of Asia.
- Modi is now reviving memories of Bodhi Dharma to position him as the icon of India’s civilisational outreach to China, which is integral to his overarching strategic civilisational diplomacy.
The cultural connect –
- Modi’s tryst with Buddha started soon after he became the Prime Minister. He saw Buddha as the civilisational face of India and Buddhism as the most effective bridge to link the culturally Hindu India with the civilisationally Buddhist Asia.
- Modi has endeavoured to integrate Buddha with India’s Look East doctrine. He saw that Dharma in Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain traditions in India and Dhamma in diverse Buddhist traditions in Asia linked people of both traditions more intimately than any single or multiple state policy or pact.
- Modi saw the Hindu-Buddhist civilisational nexus as the most potent people-to-people link, which even the modern and ex-communist states like China could not ignore.
- The Prime Minister’s strategic Hindu-Buddhist civilisational diplomacy started with his first visit to Japan in early 2015. Modi quickly roped in Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe into a joint Indo-Japan initiative of “Samvad” — Sanskrit word meaning “dialogue” — through strategic think tanks in Japan, Tokyo Foundation and Japanese Foundation, and the Vivekananda International Foundation in Delhi.
- And the first Samvad of Hindu-Buddhist nations on the theme of Conflict Avoidance and Environmental Consciousness took place in September 2015. In his video address to the Samvad, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that the idea of Dharma, which was the foundation of Japan’s rule of law, was India’s gift to Japan — a declaration emotionally more powerful than any economic or political pact.
Need to invoke civilisational ties –
- Modi’s choice of distant Mahabalipuram for his informal meeting with Xi has an obvious, deep significance and even a deeper message. Will the spirit of DaMo help Namo and Xi accomplish something in terms of a confidence building measure? It is an experiment like any other form of strategic overtures in international diplomacy.
- Modi’s strategy is to find positive answers to such and other questions is manifest in his choice of the venue — DaMo’s Mahabalipuram.
The civilisational link between the peoples of India and China has always been stronger than any government-to-government policy declarations. Modi’s attempt seems to be to awaken the unleveraged civilisational impulses to relate to China whose aggression in 1962 damaged India’s trust in its neighbour.
Source – VIF India
QUESTION – India is trying to shift its national and international strategic narrative from merely political and economic connectivity to civilisational connect. Examine how it will impact its relations with a Communist China?