The Begging Bowl Phenomena

By Sarita Boodhoo —

 Once, 2500 years ago, there was a Prince by the name of Sidharth Gautama, belonging to the Sakhya dynasty at the foot of the Himalayas. He was heir apparent, but he abandoned a kingdom, family and trekked for over 45 years with a begging bowl over the Gangetic plain around Bihar and surrounding regions. It was in Bihar at Bodh Gaya that he received Nirvana – Enlightenment.

Thousands of young people, princes, sons of landlords, businessmen, followed him in his great trek. He went around with a begging bowl and taught those young princes and patrons how to go around the villages and how to beg for food. They ate only one meal per day. He advised them that if in the course of their begging they incurred the wrath of the people, or were insulted and humiliated they should keep their calm and serenity and come back to the bamboo grove or forest abode. And bear the refusal, hunger and insult with humility and magnanimity.

This great Beggar of India now reigns over the whole world as Gautama the Buddha.

India has attracted over the centuries, since time immemorial, seekers in quest of truth and conquerors from all over the world. Indeed, India has kept the conquerors – the Mughals, the British, the French, the Portuguese perplexed.

Why? Because India is “not a mad race for money, power, position or prestige,” says Osho, the great Guru. He adds: “India is not a piece of land or some political entity or a part of some historical facts. India is not just geography or history. It is a metaphor, something invisible but very tangible. It is vibrating with certain energy fields which no other country can claim.”

Jawaharlal Nehru and his begging bowl

When Jawaharlal Nehru, influential leader of Indian Independence movement, propelled as the first Prime Minister of India by no less than the great Mahatma Gandhi came to hold the reins of power, he wrote “a new tryst with destiny.” While Gandhi was tagged as the “Fakir” by Winston Churchill, Jawaharlal Nehru was humiliated as going around with a begging bowl.

In those early years, India was devastated by the politics of “divide and rule.” The previous plunderers, looters and conquerors had looted India known as “sone ki chidiya” of the East. Its famous Kohinoor diamond is still somewhere else!

The British Raj had faked a famine to destitute millions so as to provide labour inland in its tea plantations in Darjeeling and Assam, but also in its colonial plantations overseas. This led to a large immigration process known as Indentured Immigrant Labour system to replace the abolished slave trade. New researchers are discovering now that rogue faked famine was in fact a cruelty in history as bad as the hideous Nazi crimes of Germany during the Holocaust. Now new light is being thrown on this forced destitution of Indian villages.

Jawaharlal Nehru was tagged as seeking “comprehensive assistance” from the US. Nothing came out then from the US, and India had to turn to the Soviet Union for help.

However, it was the theory of non-alignment, the audacious move of Jawaharlal Nehru which thrust India on to the world stage of the 1950s and 1960s.

At that time India had no economic or military resources. When Nehru sought help to set up large public sector, heavy industries, the US and Western countries advised India to stick to agricultural and rural development.

Nowadays, economic change and growth are transforming India’s role and position in the world. Indian officials no longer crisscross the world with begging bowls “soliciting food aid to stave off famine”. India has since long reached self-sufficiency in food grains with its Green Revolution.

But what is not realized is that as far back as the 1990s, the Indian miracle was already predictable in the West. Today its powerful economic visibility scripts a new story of South-South dialogue. India which was accused of going around with a begging bowl is now wooed by the whole world.

 

Chacha with his begging bowl

On the eve of Independence, Mauritius was doomed as an overcrowded barracoon with “la misère noire” looming ahead and destined to sink in despair with the State Treasury empty. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, Prime Minister of newly Independent Mauritius was compelled to bend his knees and forge coalition with the worst opponent of Independence to be able to get aid from France. In the 1970s, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, was accused of going around with a begging bowl. At that time and still now, it is India which came to the rescue, largely.

Once Mauritius was known as the star and key of the Indian Ocean. Today also it holds the same position. There is no doubt that now Mauritians must learn to come out of the island mentality. We cannot remain isolated and lost in the Indian Ocean. We are in fact a huge Ocean State with 2.3 million square kilometres of ocean. Believing in ourselves and our abilities to come out of the overcrowded barracoon that we were doomed to be in the pre- Independence years, 50 years ago, now requires more strategic and geostrategic plans, innovations and daring economic strides.

When SSR came up with the idea of the University of Mauritius, there was opposition. When he talked of the M1 National Highway he was accused of squandering the country’s financial resources. When he created the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam National Hospital, he was again accused of wasting the country’s financial resources. The Welfare State was decried. Free Education was lambasted. Today everybody is enjoying the services of these infrastructural measures.

 

India’s international financial influence

The growing international financial influence of India and Narendra Modi’s personal outreach speak of India’s effective economic diplomacy. Today Narendra Modi has leveraged the commercial interests of western powers which shows that global geopolitics is changing and Mauritius as an Ocean State is slated to play an important role in the shifting South-South Dialogue.

At the 12th Confederation of Indian Industries (the CII) of the Exim Bank Conclave in March 2017 in New Delhi, Narendra Modi announced $ 10 billion concessionary facilities to Africa for the next five years.

India is financing 120 projects through LOCs – Lines of Credit in 40 countries of Africa. For example, some prestigious visible projects in Ghana have been financed by India’s Line of Credit such as the Ghana’s Presidential Complex – the Flagstaff House, the India – Ghana Kofi Annan’s Centre for Excellency in ICT, the Elmine Fish Harvest and Processing Plant. Bilateral trade between India and Africa has increased from $ 1 billion in 1995 to $ 75 billion in 2015. Can we talk of the begging bowl phenomena?

While Mauritius is still reeling over the generous LOC advanced by India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already strolled over the European continent covering four nations in six days. He has moved on with the business of forging still deeper bonds with France’s Emmanuel Macron over the joint Solar Energy Project and boost up India’s economic engagement with Spain, reviving two-way trade with Russia’s Putin and “chart a roadmap” with Germany, India’s most important trading partner in Europe.

While India strides the world with determination, we in Mauritius are crippled by the India phobia, which is not a new thing. It has percolated down the years right from the NMU period.

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