Hearing the very name ‘Akhand Bharat’ or a united subcontinent makes people both joyous, ambitious and sometimes even outraged. Questions arise, like how two famed rival countries–India and Pakistan–would bind together after the bloody history they have shared characterised by brutal exchanges ever since the horrific Partition left the land that they occupy in tatters?
If reunification ever happens again with the goodwill of well-wishers from both sides of the border, how would this Akhand Bharat really look like? What would be its mysterious borders? Would the few Indian bureaucrats who have been busy depicting ‘Pakistan’ as this dreary monster inflicting terror and evil ever be comfortable with the dilution of their authority and power? Wouldn’t Pakistan sense that its autonomy will be taken away by religious extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) who might not necessarily be interested in greater peace in South Asia. Maybe they only view this as a mere reclaim of territory in the Indian subcontinent that is said to have once belonged to an ancient ‘India’.
There’s no attempt being made here to level any serious allegations against the RSS. But certain insensitive statements that could incite communal disharmony being periodically uttered by RSS spokespersons is largely sufficient to create adequate apprehensions in Pakistan while considering the possibility of this long-cherished dream of many – the ‘Akhand Bharat’.
To add further fuel to the fire, there has been a lot of reluctance to diplomatically engage with each other on both sides. There are frequent firings across contested areas like Siachen and many Army personnel have sacrificed their lives in these conflicts. It is testament to the decades of bad blood between these two countries. Another important question that needs to be answered is whether Akhand Bharat is confined only to India and Pakistan. How would other countries in this region eventually respond to this mega initiative?
Examining these questions makes one extremely dizzy and leaves one with two desirable routes that an Akhand Bharat can take in the future. That is if it is agreed to and seriously considered with conviction by all players in the region. One, giving up after being pressed with the challenges mentioned above, or two, pursuing this matter after considerably altering the nature of ‘Akhand Bharat’ from what is suggested by extremists from the RSS. The latter would surely be better for addressing the problems faced by the conflict-ridden South Asian region.
However, one needs to examine if territorial integration is possible in the first place. If not, South Asian countries, especially India and Pakistan, should, at least, push for a comprehensive peace agreement recognising cultural similarities and greater cooperation in handling religious extremist groups and armed groups on both sides of the border. Of course, this would be an Akhand Bharat qualitatively very different from the one being propagated by the RSS.
Such an initiative would help these countries tackle the extra-territorial pressures of cold war and intervention of superpowers in regional affairs. Jammu and Kashmir would no longer stand as a stumbling block between these countries’ engagements with each other, economic or otherwise. What is more, the extravagant expenditure on arms and ammunitions could be directed towards tackling widespread poverty in these regions. It would also help countries like India which are facing territorial conflicts with China keep pace with China’s aggressive stand in the region. Most importantly, the dreams of many peace lovers would come true.
Thus, examining the fragile nature of Akhand Bharat, it’s evident that we can’t really ignore this initiative given that a more inclusive version of Akhand Bharat is something mandatory and very relevant. Something on these lines could be considered if South Asian countries have to resolve their conflicts and pursue their economic development without any hindrance given that the future of generations to come depends on the untapped resources and business opportunities in this region.