Welcome Remarks by Dr Arvind Gupta, Director VIF during the 2-day seminar on “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam Revisited: Exploring India’s Soft Power Assets” on 03-04 Mar 2020
Sh Gurumurthyji,
Distinguished scholars & participants,
Distinguished guests,

It gives me pleasure to welcome you to the 2nd edition of our annual seminar on the general theme of Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam. We have titled it as “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam Revisited: Exploring India’s Soft Power Assets”.

I am grateful to Shri S Gurumurthy for inaugurating the seminar. Sh Gurumurthyji is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the VIF. A noted Chartered Accountant, an economist, a journalist, a writer, he is the founder member of the VIF and the guiding spirit of the institution. He also serves as Independent Director at the Board of the Reserve Bank of India. He edits the Tamil weekly Thuglak.

Later in the day, we are also looking forward to welcoming Sh. Vinay Sahsrabuddhe, the President of the ICCR.

As you can see from the program, we have a long list of distinguished scholars and experts who will be participating in today’s seminar. I welcome them all.

Friends,

The world is experienced a high degree of tension. In the last few decades, the level of violence has increased several folds. According to credible data, there has been a six-fold increase in civilians’ death between 2011 and 2018. Civil wars are raging in several parts of the Middle East. The number of people displaced runs into several millions. They are living in miserable conditions.

The threat of climate change is acute. A large number of extreme weather events like the wild forest fires, powerful hurricanes, floods, and droughts have taken a heavy toll on the mankind, and biodiversity. There is a fear that we may have crossed the point where climate change has become irreversible and from here on it is going to become worse.

New diseases and viruses are emerging. This was something that was not entirely unexpected. The world has seen the outbreak of SARS, MERS, Bird Flu, Ebola and Nipah virus outbreaks in the last two decades. Mankind has also seen plagues and many other deadly epidemics in which millions have died. That the epidemics could breakout in the 21st century when medical science has made so much progress points to the inadequacy of humans, irrespective of the advances in science and technology, to fight nature. The equilibrium between man and nature has been disturbed.

The spread of COVID-19 coronavirus to over 75 countries is a case in point. The virus has moved out of China and spread to several parts of Europe, Asia, and America. Apart from causing thousands of deaths, there is now a fear that coronavirus could tip the global economy into recession. It may be recalled that a hundred years ago, the Spanish flu had claimed over 50 million lives.

Geopolitical equations in the world are changing. A multipolar world is beginning to take shape. But will such a world be rule-based? Or will it bring even more chaos? That is a big question mark.

The backlash against globalization has begun as it has created widespread disparities. The inequality in the world is becoming sharper. Less than one percent of the world population owns over 50 percent of the income.

Last but not least, the threat of terrorism and radicalization is increasing. Young minds are getting poisoned by extremist ideologies. Unresolved issues have the potential of radicalizing the minds. The establishment of the caliphate by ISIS was an example. Thousands of young mind were radicalized by the ISIS propaganda. Every crisis based on political and religious ideologies has the potential to radicalize the people.

What is becoming clear is that these problems are complex. They do not have easy solutions but it is obvious that cooperation at a global scale is needed to solve these problems.

The need for ethics, morality & spirituality in international relations was never greater. What is needed is the change in the way we perceive these problems. Then only will be arrive at new answers.

In the last year's edition of the Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam seminar, we had discussed at length how honest and genuine dialogue is a requisite for a solution to mitigating conflict and violence. Quoting Hans Kung, Sh. Gurumurthy has often pointed out that peace among religions, which is essential for peace in the world, cannot happen without a genuine dialogue amongst religions. In such a dialogue, the fundamental tenets of religion should be open to scrutiny. Unfortunately, religions are today dividing rather than uniting people. This must change.

The prevalent theories of international relations are rooted in concepts like anarchy, use of force, domination, exploitation of resources, etc.; such thinking is unlikely to produce durable solutions to today's problems. An alternative narrative is required. “Harmony in Diversity” is a powerful alternative idea, which should be discussed at the international level.

The Hindu-Buddhist Samvad, an initiative of Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Abe, has yielded a number of positive ideas. There is a widespread feeling that Eastern Religions, which emphasize brotherhood, accommodation, middle path and tolerance can yield better ideas for solving the present-day problems. But international relations are based on the exercise of power. Multilateralism is also becoming dysfunctional. The challenge before us is how to prioritize peace over more and conflict.

The concept of tolerance, inherent in Hindu-Buddhist, Jain philosophy is important and integral to our thinking but we have to be mindful of the paradox of tolerance as well. As Karl Popper pointed out, too much tolerance of intolerance can destroy the tolerant society. We have to find a balance between tolerance and intolerance.

Last year we had detailed discussions on the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam and the relevance and application of ancient Indian thought to present-day to contemporary issues. We are releasing the collection of papers presented last year. A number of useful suggestions came out as to how India’s soft power should be presented, projected to the outside world. One suggestion was that moving beyond International Day of Yoga, get the UN to declare Vivekananda’s birthday as a World Harmony Day. We have written to the External Affairs Ministry and hope that they would accept the idea and take it forward.

We hope to carry forward the Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam discussions into the future also. We plan to hold an annual conference on the theme. Every year we will take up different subthemes. The objective of the seminar is to identify the elements of Indian intellectual thinking which are suitable for the contemporary world, increase awareness about the relevance of our own culture and establish a link between culture and India’s foreign policy. At some stage, we will also involve foreign scholars and experts who are interested in the subject. We have also set up a committee of experts for this purpose. Indian Council of cultural relations is also involved in this exercise.

I do hope that the serious discussions this year on Indian philosophy, arts, sciences, language, spirituality, and diversity, prospects of Hindu studies abroad, soft power projection, etc will yield specific and concrete suggestions. We will take this forward through our focused around tables, writings, and interactions.

We will release two books today: Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam: Relevance of India’s Ancient thinking to Contemporary Strategic Reality which is edited by Dr. Arpita Mitra and the 8th volume of the history of ancient India: Sculpture, Painting, Terracottas, Performing Arts and Architecture edited by Prof Dilip K Chakrabarti. I would like to thank Prof Dilip Chakrabarti for his untiring efforts in editing the volumes. The 9th, 10th, and 11th volumes are with the publisher and view to bring them into publication shortly.

Thank you very much for being with us today.

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