Times of India: 'India-China rivalry is the story of the last 10 years' - All That Matters - Sunday TOI - Home - The Times of IndiaIn a writing career spanning two decades, William Dalrymple has penned the untold and hidden stories from India's past and present. In his latest book, Nine Lives, he made strong political points by looking at the lives of ordinary Indians and the challenges of a society in transition. He talks with Shobhan Saxena about the events and trends that have defined the decade: 9/11, conflict within Islam and the rise of China. Excerpts from the interview:
Some experts believe that with 9/11 the prediction about the clash of civilizations came true this decade. Do you think this was the decade of clash between the West and Islam?
I think it's a simplistic way to look at the decade. There are many causes of tension in the world. Religion and civilization are one of the many such causes. In our neighbourhood, the most interesting geopolitical phenomenon is the clash between India and China and the way China is encircling India. In my travels in the past few months, I have noticed the deals the Chinese have been making with India's neighbours. The Chinese presence in all the neighbouring countries is increasing dramatically. India has to stop thinking about Pakistan as its big rival. It's nothing as compared to the potential danger that China can pose. The 9/11 attacks took place during the time when we had an ignorant administration in the US which did its best to make sure that Samuel Huntington's prediction came true. We are in much safer hands now with Obama who has more intelligent attitude towards the Islamic world. I do believe that a clash of civilizations, like any clash, can be engineered.
Also, since 9/11, there has been a conflict within Islam — between the orthodox sects and liberal schools...
I don't think this churning began with 9/11. This has been a theological battleground for hundreds of years. In the 9th-century Baghdad, there were all kinds of conflict and debates between the orthodox and the heterodox and between the mystic and the madrassa. The real trouble began with the discovery of oil in the Gulf. Wahabi Islam, which was a tiny fringe sect till a few decades ago, now has a much larger influence because the Wahabis have been able to finance Wahabi-styled madrassas across the Islamic world. The accident of oil being discovered underneath the Wahabi soil has given them power.
In the past 10 years, India has undergone a huge change. How do you see the emergence of New India as compared to the old?
New things have taken place but old India continues too. It's not dying. If I look at City of Djinns, which I wrote in the late 80s, all the things I wrote about — the old calligraphy, the sufis, sadhus, etc — they are still there. But something new has happened too. You have got Gurgaon, techies, IT and new suburbs. India is changing but I don't think India is losing its soul or changing so fast that it's unrecognizable. You go a few kilometres outside Gurgaon and you can see a bullock cart.
But this transition has also led to some new social tensions like the Maoist insurgency. Do you think India is managing these conflicts in a sensible way?
I think the current government has been very sensible. After the Mumbai attack, it reacted with astonishing moderation. I think the Maoist insurgency is a big internal problem. And many of the government policies in the past 15 years, liberalization in particular, have aggravated this problem. Now the Naxalites have moved from a fringe phenomenon to a major force. Simply declaring a war on Naxalites is not the right response. There has to be more intelligent response to analyze why so many people have joined the Naxals. The transition in India is going on at amazing pace but the big problem is that the poor have remained poor. The Naxals are growing because the very poor have been left out of the development equation.
Some experts in the West believe that this decade belonged to India and China. Do you think in the next 10 years the centre of power will shift to Asia?
I have friends who believe that the recession and the economic crisis in the West over the last two years has hugely accelerated that process. The rise of India and China now seems to be a certainty. But it's China rather than India that seems to be reaping the benefits of this shift.
It's also leading to a clash between the soft power of the two countries...
In soft power, India is way ahead. At all levels, Indian culture is dominant. And the Chinese can't compete with that at all. But the hard economic power is with China at the moment. China is turning India's neighbours
into its satellites. This is a lesson for India.