When the Premier meets the Pontiff
The meeting between the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and the Pontiff of Vatican Pope Francis has ‘more to it than meets the eye’. Implied in it, is the meeting of minds, the meeting of cultures. Coming as it is, in the background of the pandemic, the meeting can prove to be a game changer of the shape of things to come, in the post-covid world order.
When Samuel Huntington made the prophetic revelation about the conflict of civilizations, little did the world realize that he was pointing to the advent of a fight to finish apocalypse looming large, somewhere in the womb of time. The Nobel laureate W.B Yates, lamented the second coming, ‘things fall apart, the center cannot hold’. Politics is not poetry. But political truth and poetic truth seem to come to a common point of synthesis when one analyses the trends in history.
Whether the conflict of civilizations is a reality or political fantasy, the world is witnessing a type of disturbance which does not forebode well for the future. The proverbial stitch in time cannot wait for long. The meeting of the Premier and the Pontiff, offers this reassurance.
As Roosevelt said, we should have ‘open covenants of peace, openly arrived at’. The Pope represents 220 crores of people who follow the path of Christ and is the spiritual and temporal head of the Catholics of the world. The Pope is the hope of the largest civilization in contemporary society. Narendra Modi symbolizes the largest democracy in the world, and no doubt, the second largest national population. This bonhomie can make the world a better place to live in.
In the context of the pandemic, a change is certainly in the offing. The unseen virus has made most of the well seen and well intentioned institutions of the world, redundant and irrelevant. The UN has been reduced to a united ‘notions’ organization. A toothless Leviathan unable to move by itself; leave alone moving the world. The World Health Organization has proved itself to be a soulless wonder, seeking a justification for its own existence. A change is certainly inevitable. The human wealth represented by the Pope and the Prime Minister of India means a substantial cross section of the global village, which can emerge as the movers and shakers of the brave new world evolving after the pandemic.
Ideologically and philosophically, an unseen doctrinaire confluence lurks behind this new development. Jesus was born in the manger. Krishna was born in the prison cell. Both represent the ascend of the lowliest to the heights of glory. Both lead to the realization that ‘blessed are the poor, for the kingdom of God is unto them’. A gracious restatement of the concept ‘daridra Narayan’. The ‘poor man’s Pope’ and the ‘chaiwallah Prime Minister’ represent an ethos and an aspiration appealing to the imagination of the common man. Turning spiritual dreams into political reality in post-covid world, the realization should dawn on all that ‘poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity, everywhere’. A hunger-free world alone can lead to a strife less future. This fundamental assertion seems to be the springboard of the united endeavours which would stem from the Pope and the Premier. That poverty was at the central stage of the initial dialogue between the two leaders, holds out a big message. The world has to focus on the basics. In the emerging new world, there is no distinctive space for the haves and the have-nots. The virus has taught us the hard way that for the elemental forces of the nature, all are equal, no one is more equal. Poverty is the primordial human enemy and has to be tackled as such, by the human will.
The two leaders also talked about the climate change. All our commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals will come to naught, unless the need and necessity to contain and curtail the climate change is understood and addressed with commitment and dedication. The voice of sanity, which emerges from the ramparts of the St. Peters, can potentially develop as the voice of humanity through a solemn league and covenant entered into by mankind, for its own survival .
The world is on crossroads. We conquered the outer space, or so we thought. We built up nuclear arsenal. We stock-piled weapons of mass destruction. We reached a stage where the pilot in a panic may press the button and end the whole world. When we were all set to be ‘monarchs of all we surveyed’ comes the unseen virus virtually telling the rulers of the world, the emperor is naked. It does not need a nuclear buildup to destroy the world. Half a nucleus can do the work better, Corona being less than half a nucleus. New ways are necessarily to be found to settle old scores. War has become war-torn and outdated as an instrument of dominance. The world has realized the hard way that ‘peace hath her victories, no less renowned than war’. Waging peace is more intricate than waging war. As the UNESCO constitution says, “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed". The meeting of the Pontiff- Premier duo can lead to new ways of waging peace in the post-Covid world. ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men’.
But statecraft is not air airy spiritual stuff, it is earth, earthy political matter. Both the leaders have a political turf as well. There is no turf war. But there is a turf, nevertheless, to guard. With the changeover of Hagia Sofia in Istanbul and the upfront and, at times, outlandish assertion of fundamentalism in many parts of the globe, Vatican cannot wish away the unpleasant realities, shaping up, around it. How to face the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ is as much Vatican’s concern as it is that of India. The shared concerns should also lead to shared solutions. That is the message, which this momentous meeting conveys, to the anxious world. A comradeship-in- arms between these two cultures is a political reality, which has a relevance in the days to come.
The Prime Minister of India is on record that he would like to bring the minorities of the country in the national mainstream. His first address to the Parliamentary Board of the ruling dispensation, after the 2019 elections, underscored this priority. The RSS supremo made a categorical assertion that any Hindu who wants a Muslim to leave India, is not a Hindu. He stated in unequivocal terms that the DNA of the Hindu and the Muslim in India, is similar. The fail-safe recipe for India’s unity is, knit India not quit India.
In the Bible there is a scene. Pharaoh had a dream. Seven fat cows emerged from the Nile, followed by seven lean cows. The lean cows eat up the fat cows. Perplexed by this dream, Pharaoh consults so many wise men. Joseph was in prison. He interprets the dream, in his own insight. The seven fat cows represent seven years of abundance. Seven lean cows represent seven years of famine. Seven years of prosperity will be followed by seven years of distress. The wise Pharaoh took the advice of Joseph. He appointed Joseph as his minister. Joseph took precautions. Buffer stock of grains was built up. When the famine did hit the neighbouring states, the granaries of Egypt were overflowing. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. This is the message which Vatican and India sent out. Coming together is beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success. The world waits for the proof of the pudding.
(The author is retd IAS and also an author, orator and policy expert)