SAMVAD Series of Conferences - India and Japan Find a Common Language on Shared Values
Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF

Prime Minister Modi’s official visit to Japan in October 2018 has greatly cemented the India-Japan Special Strategic and Global Partnership. The two countries are building a relationship on common values rooted in their ancient cultures. The Vision Statement of 29 Oct 2018 referred to history and common values as the factors propelling the bilateral relationship. The first paragraph of the Vision Statement says, “…the two Prime Ministers resonantly elucidated in the series of SAMVAD Dialogues, the universal values of freedom, humanism, democracy, tolerance and non-violence, which have been shared between India and Japan throughout a long history of academic, spiritual and scholarly exchanges, not only constitute the basis for the India-Japan bilateral relationship but also underscore the principles for the two countries to work together for the benefit of the Indo-Pacific region and the world at large”1.

This is not the first time that Samvad has been mentioned in India-Japan joint statements. In 2015, the Joint Statement in Paragraph 33 mentioned the Samvad conferences in the context of the need to build the future of Asia “on the positive influence of traditions of non-violence and democracy in Asia”.

The Samvad Conferences were again mentioned in the India-Japan Joint Statement of 2017 in Paragraph 46 in the following words: “Aiming to enhance the positive influence of traditions of non-violence, tolerance and democracy in Asia, the two Prime Ministers welcomed the SAMVAD II conference held in Yangon, Myanmar, in August 2017 and looked forward to the next conference in 2018.” Taken together both statements identified the values of non-violence, democracy, and tolerance as Asian values which have contemporary relevance.

The reference to the Samvad series of dialogues may intrigue the watchers of India Japan relations. What is the significance of Samvad conference? Why Samvad has been mentioned in the joint statement? Why a prominent placement was given to Samvad in the 2018 statement?

Both Prime Ministers have a deep interest in culture and civilisation. When PM Modi visited Japan in 2014, the two PMs launched the Samvad Dialogue with a view to highlighting the significance of Asian civilisations and the values they champion. PM Abe has described the Samvad Conference as unparalleled anywhere in the world and unmatched at any other time in the history.2

The first conference, Samvad-I, was held in New Delhi in 2015 at the Vivekananda International Foundation, and at Bodh Gaya, the holiest place for Buddhism. The theme of the Conference was “Conflict Avoidance and Environmental Consciousness”. Indian PM Modi inaugurated the Conference and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj gave the keynote address. A declaration known as the ‘Bodh Gaya Declaration’ was adopted which said, “The Hindu-Buddhist civilisations have a special responsibility to work for conflict avoidance and environment consciousness by expounding the philosophical principles common to Hinduism and Buddhism to save the world from fratricidal conflicts”. 3 It also emphasised the need for “a new paradigm for understanding, appreciating diversity based on the ancient idea of Dhamma in Pali and Dharma in Sanskrit”.4

Samvad I marked the beginning of high-profile dialogues held between 2015-18. Leading scholars, religious leaders, academics, activists, media persons, and political personalities had an exchange of you on conflict avoidance and environmental consciousness. In the first conference, Prime Minister Modi addressed the participants and Prime Minister Abe sent a message. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the world-famous spiritual guru, gave a benediction at the Conference. The former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Bandaranaike attended the Conference. Lauding Buddha, Prime Minister Modi the in his speech said, “Without embracing the path of ideas shown by Gautama, the 21st century cannot be the Asian century”. He also underlined the importance of dialogue of the type which produces “no anger or retribution.”

Significantly, Prime Minister Modi made a very important distinction between philosophy and ideology:

“The essence of philosophy is that it is not a closed thought, while ideology is a closed one. So philosophy not only allows dialogue, but it is a perpetual search for the truth through dialogue….Ideologies which close the gates for dialogue have the propensity for violence while philosophy seeks to avoid it through dialogue. The Hindu and Buddhist religions are in this sense more philosophies and not just belief systems. It is my firm belief that the solution to the problem lies the dialogue…..Power must come through the strength of ideas and effective dialogue”.5

Prime Minister Abe chose to dwell upon the “lessons of history to acquire wisdom for future”. He noted that Buddhism in Japan had been perceived as the “rule of law”. He emphasised that “freedom, democracy, respect for basic human rights and peaceful resolution of disputes are also common concepts in Hinduism and Buddhism. These are universal values that are inherent in Asian religions and philosophies and run through our ideological foundation. There is one more characteristics of Asia that we should not forget, that the spirit of tolerance that appreciates diversity.”6 Abe also underlined that “Buddhism and Hinduism teach compassion, Confucianism teaches benevolence, and Islam teaches fraternity.” He quoted Vivekananda saying that, “diversity is not weakness, it is a source of creativity”, and that “there is more than one path to spiritual heights.”7

A spirit of dialogue which is non-confrontational and is aimed at enhancing mutual understanding has underlined the Samvad series of conferences. Both leaders emphasised the values of Hinduism and Buddhism to solve contemporary problems. Abe held the view that the Western values of ‘democracy’ and ‘rule of law’ are inherent in Hindu-Buddhist philosophies. Modi went to the extent of saying that Hinduism and Buddhism were inseparable. He said, “Hinduism, after Buddha’s advent became Buddhist-Hinduism or Hindu-Buddhism. They are today an inseparable amalgam.”8

Thus began the series of Samvad conferences. So far four conferences have been held in Delhi (2015), Tokyo (2016), Yangon (2017), and Tokyo (2018). Apart from India and Japan, scholars, religious leaders, and others from several other countries including China, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Vietnam, Mongolia, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Bhutan, and several other countries have taken part in these conferences.

At the fourth Samvad Conference held in Tokyo on the theme of “Shared Values and Democracy in Asia”, PM Abe gave the valedictory address in which he returned to the theme that democracy in Asia is not a foreign idea introduced from the West. Prime Minister Modi in his message emphasised the shared heritage of democratic spirit pointing out that the philosophical and cultural heritage of Hinduism and Buddhism helps us promote better understanding amongst people. Mr. S. Gurumurthy, the noted writer from India, distinguished between the Asian experience of a democracy which focused on individual and society and the Western model of democracy which was rooted in individualism alone.9 Many scholars shared their own understanding of Asian civilisations, Asian values, modernisation and the concept of freedom, democracy, human rights. Everyone agreed that Asian civilisations can provide solutions to today’s problems.

The Samvad series of conferences have been a source of ideas which PM Modi and PM Abe appreciate. India and Japan have found a common language of shared values rooted in Hinduism and Buddhism, which teach tolerance and dialogue. Samvad is a worthwhile initiative which should be continued and expanded further. It would be ideal if the United Nations take note of the Samvad series of dialogue and encourages it for further deepening of mutual understanding and promoting tolerance, friendship, and cordiality amongst people. It is indeed a unique initiative of the two Prime Ministers.

End Notes:
  1. India-Japan Vision Statement of 29 Oct 2018, at http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=184458.
  2. PM Modi's message for 4th edition of ‘Samvad' being held in Tokyo at https://www.narendramodi.in/pm-modis-message-for-4th-edition-of-samvad-being-held-in-tokyo-540695
  3. Bodh Gaya Declaration of Buddhist Leaders, in Hindu-Buddhist Philosophy on Conflict Avoidance & Environment Consciousness, VIF-Wisdom Tree, 2017, New Delhi, pp. 359.
  4. Ibid, pp. 360.
  5. Ibid, pp.27-28.
  6. Ibid, pp.13-14.
  7. Ibid, pp.14.
  8. Ibid, pp.357.
  9. Samvad: the fourth Symposium held in Tokyo - A report, at https://www.vifindia.org/article/2018/july/samvad-the-fourth-symposium-held-in-tokyo-a-report.

Image Source: https://cdn.narendramodi.in/cmsuploads/0.59686300_1540780187_1155-pm-travels-with-japan-pm-in-train-5.jpg

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