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India Must Learn The Right Lesson From Brexit

27/06/2016 10:17 AM IST | Updated 18/07/2016 8:50 PM IST
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MUMBAI, INDIA - JUNE 25: People look at a screen across a road displaying the Sensex on the facade of the Bombay Stock Exchange building after Britain's exit from the European Union (EU), on June 25, 2016 in Mumbai, India. Britain voted to break away from the European Union on Friday, shattering the unity of a 60-year-old continental bloc, prompting the exit of Prime Minister David Cameron and rattling the world of finance and business. In India, shares fell more than 4% on the news but recovered by half after authorities moved to calm investor worries. The benchmark BSE ended 2.2% down, its biggest single-day percentage fall since February. (Photo by Arijit Sen/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

A democratic choice must prevail, even if it is a wrong one. Yet in Britain, there are voters who are feeling unsure of having voted Leave. It's tragi-comic how Google reports the British were Googling for "What is the EU?" after they already voted to leave the EU.

It is important to learn from others' successes, but also useful to learn from their mistakes. As Brexit strengthens Eurosceptics and xenophobes and nationalists across Europe, we must remember that only one of 28 EU members has left it. Twenty-seven remain.

The European Union is an idea the world, including South Asia, has a lot to learn from. Brexit, the economic gloom and doom it is heralding, is a reminder of how greater mobility of labour and goods across borders is mostly beneficial for everyone involved.

Some of the greatest innovations in technology and their turning into global business empires have happened because the talent it needed could move to Silicon Valley in California. Similarly, software engineering talent from across India moves to the software hubs of Bangalore, Hyderabad or Pune. For all the anti-India sentiment in Kashmir, nobody says a word against migrant Bihari labour. Who will work on the fields if they go?

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(A currency trader rubs his eyes at the foreign exchange dealing room of the KEB Hana Bank headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, June 27, 2016. AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

The free movement of people across cities, countries and continents is not a luxury. It is the backbone of economic growth, innovation and progress.

The anti-immigrant sentiment behind Brexit was mistaken. It turns out that Leave got most votes in areas most dependent economically on the EU. It is easy for xenophobic politics to show how others, such as immigrants and the EU, are responsible for people's economic woes, even if it is not true.

The European Union is an idea the world, including South Asia, has a lot to learn from.

Seeing some Modibhakts cheer Brexit as a nationalist Islamophobic event in Britain, I feel sad that we are learning the wrong lesson from it. For one, the anti-immigrant sentiment behind Brexit wasn't as much about Muslims as about other Europeans coming and taking away jobs. This didn't account for the fact that so many British people could also easily work in other EU countries.

India and Nepal have an open border of the kind that does not exist anywhere else in South Asia. Thanks to the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship, Nepalis are able to enter India and work easily, without the hassle of a visa regime. The open border immensely helps Nepal, a land-locked mountainous country.

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(Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron speaks after Britain voted to leave the European Union, outside Number 10 Downing Street in London, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Phil Noble)

There are, from time to time, voices within Nepal that ask for the treaty with India to be revised, claim the treaty is tilted in India's favour, making Nepal a satellite state of India. But these arguments fail to take into account how helpful the treaty is for Nepali citizens to work across the border, and for the numerous Nepalis married to Indians. The free movement of goods also helps Nepal's economy, as do the remittances from Nepalis working in India.

The open-border with Nepal is how we should strive to see all our borders, including Bangladesh and Pakistan. That would of course need and end to conflict. Which is why we should seek an end to conflict.

Seeing some Modibhakts cheer Brexit as a nationalist Islamophobic event in Britain, I feel sad that we are learning the wrong lesson from it.

Before you call it a romantic dream, look at the European Union. The EU united a continent ravaged by war and strife, taking Europe from the debris of the World Wars and the Cold War to economic prosperity, asking it a world power to reckon with. Replacing border control and armed conflict with negotiations over trade and other policies, the EU became a model for the whole world. A model for economic and political integration, towards creating a borderless world.

One of 28 countries, the United Kingdom, stupid and brash, leaving such a great experiment should not discredit the idea. Leaders of the EU may have a lot to work on to keep it alive. If you hear reactions from across Europe, right-wing nationalism is still the fringe. Even in UK, it was the fringe – the UK Independence Party didn't become a force in the 2015 elections – but the referendum fanned a fire that was best avoided.

brexit june 24

(Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, celebrates and poses for photographers as he leaves a "Leave.EU" organization party for the British European Union membership referendum in London, Friday, June 24, 2016. Farage says he thinks the "leave" side will win in Britain's historic referendum on European Union membership. AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

While we look at Pakistan and China only in political terms, they have forged an economic partnership that is awe-inspiring. China is building an economic corridor across Pakistan, connecting China's Xinjiang area to Pakistan's Gwadar port. A vast network of highways and high-speed railway lines will be part of China's own 21st century vision of a Silk Route that will help China sell its goods to the world faster and cheaper.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will change how trade is conducted in the region. It will circumvent Afghanistan and the Straits of Malacca, provide a route to circumvent Afghanistan and open a new corridor to the central Asian republics.

While we look at Pakistan and China only in political terms, they have forged an economic partnership that is awe-inspiring.

While CPEC is expected to give Pakistan an economic stimulus, it would make a lot of sense for Pakistan to connect the corridor to India and Afghanistan as well. But Pakistan's tunnel-vision foreign policy wants Islamabad to remain in a state of hostility with its two neighbours.

Such is the imperative of the EU idea: replace conflict with integration. We can't throw the baby out with the bathwater just because the silly British think it comes in the way of having fish and chips.

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