I arrived in Delhi in the last days of the monsoon season and as a friend told me, this could be the last possible trip to India as the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal is currently being debated in Parliament. to change the name of the country to Baharat. This name, recorded in the country’s federal constitution since 1950, is the name for this place in Sanskrit, one of the oldest languages in the region. Let us remember that the Greeks called those who lived beyond the river of the same name “Indus” and that in ancient Persia it was known as the province of the Hindus.
I came with my mother to celebrate her 75th birthday, almost as many as the country we were visiting, which became independent from the United Kingdom on August 15, 1947. This auspicious day was also associated with a very sad event, as it led to the division of the territories of a former British colony into two countries: Pakistan was left to the Muslims, divided into East and West, while India remained reserved for the Hindu majority. The partition was terrible as millions of people crossed the new border to avoid living where their religion was not practiced. It is estimated that around 10 million Hindus left Pakistan, while millions of Muslims fled to the east and west, leaving more than a million people dead. The wounds remain open and the hostility between the two new nations does not seem to improve over the years. The Islamic minority in India still does not feel particularly welcome and in 1972 Pakistan lost its most populous province with the independence of Bangladesh. While in the north, in Kashmir, the independence conflict continues in an area that was a principality until 1947 and is now divided between Pakistan, China and India.
In part, the current conflict is due to the British’s perceived control of the subcontinent collage of territories. They maintained the autonomy of some principalities with maharajas, associated with administrative areas such as Bombay, Delhi and Calcutta, from where they organized the remaining areas. This arrangement worked more or less well when everyone was part of one large empire, but as they became new nations, the borders took on a different meaning and the diversity of identities was consolidated. Even India, the largest and most complex country of all, is not immune to violence.
Mahatma Gandhi, the great fighter for independence who developed the idea of peaceful disobedience and used it to confront the empire, recognizable by his thin silhouette covered by a handmade tunic, his spinning wheel and his cane, was born a few months later assassinated independence by a Hindu nationalist. Gandhi had spoken out against the division of India along religious lines, which cost him his life. His political heir with whom he organized the new country, Jawaharlal Nehru, was the founder of a political dynasty. His daughter Indira married a man named Gandhi, but he had no relationship with the national hero and this coincidence led many to believe that she was the daughter of the Mahatma and not Nehru. When her father was prime minister between 1947 and 1964, she was his partner as he was a widower, and in 1966 she was elected the country’s third female prime minister.
During his first term as prime minister, which lasted until 1977, a war was fought with Pakistan and Bangladesh became independent thanks to his support. She returned to power in 1980 and began a campaign against poverty, but in 1984 she was assassinated by one of her bodyguards, a Sikh nationalist. She was replaced by her son Rajiv, who was also murdered in 1991 by a Tamil nationalist who detonated 700 grams of explosives she had hidden in her dress. The problems of different nationalisms characterize this region despite the great changes it has experienced.
In 1951, India had 361 million inhabitants, today it is the most populous country in the world with an estimated one and a half billion inhabitants. During the same period, per capita income increased from $64 per person per year to $2,600, and the literacy rate rose from 16.6% to 74%. Over the past two decades, the country has experienced economic growth of more than 7%, is a nuclear power and the world’s fifth largest economy. A few days before my arrival in Delhi, the meeting of the G20 group, where the world’s most important countries meet, had taken place, and every two blocks of the city, Prime Minister Modi’s face can be seen on huge banners that make it very clear what role he plays it plays in the modernization of the country. Modi has reportedly revamped Delhi for the arrival of foreign dignitaries.
Before I came, some friends asked me why I was interested in visiting a place with so many contrasts. Maybe the inequality we live with every day in Peru wasn’t enough. I came because I was fascinated by this great country from an early age and because only by seeing what the rest of the world looks like can we understand a little better who we are. India – or perhaps soon Baharat – is a very important nation, a country born with very deep wounds from decolonization after the Second World War. A country that was led by a woman from an early age, that has experienced violence and poverty, but has nevertheless become a global reference.