Akhand Bharat: A belief more than a strategy!

The mural, installed in the newly opened parliament building in New Delhi seems to have caused a stir in the South Asian neighborhood as it represents the subcontinent covering Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and finally Sri Lanka. S

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Akhand Bharat (transl. "Undivided India"), also known as Akhand Hindustan, is a term for the concept of a unified greater India. It asserts that modern-day Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Tibet are one nation. [ Photo credit: Wikimedia]

Historical Background

The civilizational beliefs have echoed in the course of history as more stringent factors above the geopolitical realities. In particular, the geopolitical trajectories are begotten from certain civilizational or cultural elements rooted in the regions. For instance, Russia’s distinctiveness as an Orthodox civilization and its threat perception towards the West reflects Russia’s otherness, which has derived from the Orthodox monk Fillofi’s idea of depicting Moscow as the “Third Rome”. The gravity of this belief has lasted bolstering the Russian psyche. Civilizational values are not antithetical to the South Asian context in which cultures, societies and masses have been nourished under great religious traditions that emanated from the Indic civilization.

The mural, installed in the newly opened parliament building in New Delhi seems to have caused a stir in the South Asian neighborhood as it represents the subcontinent covering Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and finally Sri Lanka. Shortly after the Indian Premier declared open India’s New Parliamentary Complex built at the expense of US$ 2.4 billion, the depiction Indian map in the mural known as “ Akhand Bharat” became a hot topic for many journalists and analysts to speculate various narratives.  The idea of Akhand Bharat goes back to the times of Chanakya, the famous Indian politician, strategist, and writer in 350 BC‐283 BC. Chanakya, also known as Vishnugupta or Kautilya, was the prime minister to the first Maurya Emperor Chandragupta (340-293 BC). In his pursuit of building a strong and thriving India, Chanakya was the first person to float the idea of the first Indian empire or Akhand Bharat. This idea of Akhand Bharat is as old as the ‘civilization’ spread over the area that constitutes present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Burma, Tibet, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. In recent times, the idea has found a place in the ideology of ‘Hindutva’ peddled by V D Savarkar. He believed that to be a Hindu, it was important that one inhabits the land from the ‘Indus to the seas’ and below the Himalayas “so strongly entrenched that no country in the world is more closely marked out by the fingers of nature as a geographical unit.” This ‘Hindutva’ ideology also deemed this land as the Hindu holy land, and, therefore, rejected Muslims and Christians contending that their holy land is somewhere else instead of the geographical unit marked by Savarkar. This idea of Hindu land was adopted by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and, in fact, Nathuram Godse, a member of RSS and mentored by Savarkar, had assassinated Mahatma Gandhi for alleged ‘vivisection’ of India.

A Civilizational Idea

Hence, it is beyond any doubt that the idea of Akhand Bharat has always captivated the minds of the Indian political elite particularly those belonging to far-right groups and organizations like RSS and its political wing – the BJP – which is currently at the helms of affairs in India. It was precisely for this reason that when the mural of Akhand Bharat appeared in India’s newly inaugurated parliament building, there was a wave of anger and opposition in the neighboring countries. But, the truth lies behind this hullabaloo stand for civilizational ethos, which goes beyond the so-called “Indian expansionism”, because in truth the creation of India as a nation-state owes its debt to British colonialism. Nonetheless, the grandeur of Indic space and its related civility is more archaic, which dates back to the Indus Valley civilization and beyond.

It is important to understand that there was no monolithic state of India throughout its history as it always remained fragmented or complex devoid of unitary status. However, the spirit of its civilization, virtues, and value system continued to aspire to and vitalize the people, which resulted in making a common legacy from the Hindukush to Coumarone. Notwithstanding the efforts made by many historians and nationalists to distinguish Sri Lanka completely from India’s orbit, Sri Lanka has kept its tryst with Indic space as an undeniable reality. In all three instances, in which rulers tried to unify India as a single entity, two of the powers namely Asoka in the Mauryan empire and Akbar the greatest ruler from the Mughals approached their people by generating a sense of shared destiny. In Asoka’s diplomacy, the greater projection of Indic space was accomplished by his total transformation from Dig Vijaya to Dharma Vijaya, which brought massive success to the Mauryan empire. Akbar strived to realize this by disrupting the religious and ethnic divisions that existed in the Mughal administration.

Nehruvian Perspective

In the wake of independence national rejuvenation emerged within the strategic thinking of India often referred to the idea of “ Akhand Bharat”, which will finally elevate the status of India into a global power after centuries of serfdom under colonialism. In the 1930’s Parrikar advocated for the confederation of India embodying the idea of Akhand Bharat. Although Parrikar refrained from using the term “ Akhand Bharat”, he did not forget to mention how Sri Lanka would be indispensable for the protection of India as its strategic location in the Indian Ocean closer to the Indian mainland. However, the Indian nationalist movement prospered under Nehru and Gandhi made no such attempts to cause paranoia in Sri Lankan leaders who had a skeptical attitude towards India. However, after the independence, India’s first premier Jawaharlal Nehru did not harbour any hard feelings towards Sri Lankan politicians and Nehru’s perspective was manifest at the Asian Relations Conference in March-April 1947 when he reckoned Sri Lanka as one of the new architects of resurgent Asia.

Even though Nehru was not in favour of the kind of government that came to power in Sri Lanka , he opened up his fullest cooperation for Colombo. There was not the slightest sign of Indian expansionism from Nehru throughout his political career except for his committed vision towards non-alignment and the unity of Asia. He abhorred expansionism stating “India wants to do away with the imperialist notion of capturing and exploiting another country. I do not want Indians to go to a place where they are not wanted”.

On the whole, the depiction of “ Akhand Bharat” unveiled in the mural placed in the Indian parliament is not an aggrandizement of Indian dominance over its neighbours. On the contrary, it is much akin to apotheosizing an idea which has lingered in the people of the Indic space for thousands of years based on shared cultural and spiritual norms. Thus, the projection of “ Akhand Bharat” from New Delhi is nothing more than an effort in perpetuating a civilizational idea.    

Punsara Amarasinghe

Dr. Punsara Amarasinghe is a lecturer at the Faculty of Law, General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University. His co-edited book “Thirty Years Looking Back: The Rule of Law, Human Rights and State Building in the Post-Soviet Space was published in 2022 .

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