SCO Presidency: Highlight India's civilisational distinctiveness - Hindustan Times
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SCO Presidency: Highlight India's civilisational distinctiveness

ByHindustan Times
Feb 16, 2023 04:49 PM IST

The article has been authored by Pravesh Kumar Gupta, associate fellow (Central Asia) Vivekananda International Foundation, New Delhi.

India joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a regional multilateral organisation, as a permanent member in 2017. India’s primary goal in joining the SCO was to develop ties with the Central Asian nations. Four of the five Central Asian countries are founder- members of the SCO. Even though it is obvious that China dominates the SCO, India’s participation in this organisation serves as a counterbalance. A challenge to New Delhi comes from the China-Pakistan axis since Pakistan joined the SCO alongside India as a permanent member. As a result, India must use the SCO platform as a critical component of its Eurasian strategy.

In a rotational presidency, New Delhi will preside over the SCO from 2022 to 2023. (PTI) PREMIUM
In a rotational presidency, New Delhi will preside over the SCO from 2022 to 2023. (PTI)

In a rotational presidency, New Delhi will preside over the SCO from 2022 to 2023. Since India has flagged many important ideas pertaining to food security, connectivity and economic development in the SCO, its civilisational glory and historical ties to Central Asia must be the main focus of its SCO presidency. India must seize this opportunity to demonstrate its cultural and historical linkages to the SCO members, particularly the Central Asian republics. Buddhism is a great testimony to India and Central Asia’s historical and cultural connection. Apart from that, both regions were linked and traded commodities and ideas even before the Silk Road, which is merely a Chinese narrative. The Mahabharata period’s links with this region are widely chronicled in the Indian epics.

Varanasi, one of the world’s most ancient and continuously inhabited cities, is known as Banaras or Kashi. With India’s presidency of SCO, Varanasi has also obtained the rotating title of ‘Cultural and Tourism Capital’ for the SCO region. In addition to being a centre of learning, Varanasi is known as the cultural capital of India and is associated with spiritualism, mysticism, Sanskrit, and yoga. The English novelist and writer Mark Twain were fascinated by the charisma and sanctity of Benaras, and he reportedly said, “Varanasi is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and seems twice as ancient as all of them together.”

It is also known as the land of the Buddha since Gautam Buddha delivered his first sermon in Sarnath, about 10 kilometres from Varanasi. Varanasi, also a Jains’ pilgrimage site, is considered the birthplace of Parsvanath, the 23rd Tirthankar. Hindus and Buddhists have a significant role in the city, although other religions coexist harmoniously. There are also several prominent Islamic sites of worship in Varanasi. Varanasi, the SCO’s cultural and tourism capital, will have a great influence on the member-nations and offer an excellent opportunity to explore the shared cultural and historical heritage.

In the direction of cultural-humanitarian cooperation, India organised the first-ever SCO virtual 3D Digital Exhibition on Shared Buddhist Heritage in 2020. It showcased magnificent and rare treasures. The exhibition also revealed various Buddhist art forms that transcend national boundaries, rendering similar subjects that encourage comparisons among regional aesthetics while distinguishing aspects unique to each area. The Bronze Age linkage between India and Central Asia has been demonstrated clearly by archaeological discoveries in both places; so, an exhibition of the shared Bronze Age heritage (Indus Valley and Oxus Civilisation) as represented at various SCO museums might be organised along these lines.

Enhanced cooperation between the museums of the SCO member-States can open multiple avenues of cooperation in art, culture, and history. The First SCO Museum Forum was held in Tula, Russia in October 7, 2021. On April 26-27, 2022, members of an expert group held their second meeting via videoconference to discuss a draft memorandum between authorised agencies of SCO member-States on cooperation between museums. The SCO members should approach this as a priority for enhancing cultural cooperation. India can offer to establish a museum of SCO having the antiquities of the common cultural heritage of SCO member-countries.

Joint efforts should also be made to preserve and study the art and artefacts of mutual historical importance. Scholar exchanges between think tanks and other institutions should be encouraged, focusing on studying common history and culture. The provision of providing SCO scholarships can be advertised in the same way.

India, the land of ayurveda has been promoting its AYUSH systems of medicine globally. Since the past few years, the Indian government has signed MoU on cooperation in traditional medicine with many countries in South and South East Asia. Through this scheme, AYUSH Fellowships (The 104 scholarships offered yearly)/the setting up of AYUSH academic chairs in foreign universities / institutes, and the opening of an AYUSH information cell in the premises of the India Missions / ICCR Cultural Centre to disseminate authentic information about AYUSH is being undertaken.

The World Health Organization (WHO) opened its Global Centre for Traditional Medicines in Gujarat in April 2022. This was the first and only WHO global centre for conventional medicine. Following that, a SCO traditional medicine centre might be established. In Samarkand Summit of SCO, Prime Minister Modi presented the idea for establishing a new SCO Joint Working Group (JWG) on traditional medicine. This JWG can promote joint research on Traditional medicine (ayurveda, unani, homeopathy and naturopathy). Similarly, conferences and seminars can also be organized and AYUSH fellowships can also be extended to the SCO countries.

India’s SCO presidency must reflect on its civilisation’s splendour and seek to communicate with SCO members through common historical experiences. Even though China dominates the SCO, India must play an active role in this regional organisation.

The article has been authored by Pravesh Kumar Gupta, associate fellow (Central Asia) Vivekananda International Foundation, New Delhi.

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