It was 512 years ago, on this day, that Vasco da Gama began his infamous journey to discover a direct sea route to Indian subcontinent. Sailing through the bodyline of the African continent, from the Gulf of Guinea, the Cape of Good Hope, to the littorals in Indian Ocean, da Gama’s feat came as a life saver for the Europeans, who were battling with the occupation of Constantinople by the Muslims, effectively isolating the East from the West.
What raises heads in Europe, with feelings of solidarity, pride and accomplishment, marks an era of successive waves of economic invasion, political subjugation, followed by social and cultural repression. The Indian subcontinent suffered the most, however, with mass man-induced starvation(Great Bengal Famine, 1943), systemic political murders(Jallianwala Bagh, 1919), blood- leaching economic revenue policies(Zamindari and Mahalwari systems) and centuries of subordinating national identity.
With concerted, disaggregated and sometimes, violent, means, the erstwhile colonies threw off the foreign yoke, effectively carving out the Third World in development parlance. The world just gave birth to a new child, but unfortunately, the mother; effectively the West, did not have an express intention of nurturing the child. What began as a movement of independence, only translated into a grandeur of proclamation of self-rule, but all of the erstwhile colonies either had to depend on their colonial masters due to lack of raw material, or political strife(Rwanda, Zambia, Anatolia), for economic aid(Pakistan), or had colonial hangovers that continue to this day(India). However, many believed this was merely a passing cloud, and the teething troubles would be countered by national institutions.
Then came a political development, lighting an economic matchstick that set the Third World in fumes- the collapse of Soviet Union. Half of the Third World, taking refuge in socialism, communitarianism and collectivisation, saw its home collapse ala a deck of cards. The Third World had no option then-its only the highway- the path of structural reform, liberalisation and integration of the global markets. China and India, the strongest bastions of socialism, albeit in different ways, saw the imminent implosion of their economies provided they followed the Soviet footsteps.
What, however, was noteworthy was the manner in which the Third World adopted liberalism. Not every country went for blanket opening of markets. China opted for market socialism, India adopted a gear-changing model of allowing and disallowing foreign investment and Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Maldives went for depending on the Asian Majors for their infrastructure. Third World breathed a sigh of relief, as liberalisation did not demolish the state.
But, change is the order of life. With rapid innovations, technology curve disrupted the linear rate of economic growth. Access to data, consumption of internet and digital integration placed the Third World on the same plank as the First World- privacy, data processing, and storage- were actually the concerns of the West. In our progress economically, we are being disturbed by these concerns of privacy and security- a colonial hangover at that.
Economies follow a cycle of highs and lows, miraculously politics is treading that path too. Fortunately, we have history to our help. Colonialism and Imperialism are spreading through the cyberspace, and the Vasco da Gama of the 21st century may already have landed.