Bharat as the Heartland

Subhash Kak
8 min readJan 23, 2024
India as heartland geographically, in terms of population, and growth in 21st century

Look at any map of Eurasia. Geographically, Bharat is the heartland, with the Inner Rimland of east and south Europe to the northwest, Asian steppes to the north, China to the east, and Indonesia to the southeast. Bharat is close not only to these regions, but also to Africa across the sea. Beyond this is the Outer Rimland, which consists of western and northern Europe, Scandinavia and northern Russia. In the last few centuries, the Americas have become a new rim beyond to the Eurasian continent.

The map above is not an arbitrary one to make Bharat the center of the old world. Bharat is the correct geographical heartland for it connects to Australasia and Africa at the periphery of the Indian Ocean, and to the far-flung landmasses of Eurasia across the Himalayas.

India was the economic heartland for the world economy with an estimated 30 to 40% of the share until the colonial times; it was and is the most populated region; it had the most advanced sciences until the end of the Vijayanagara Empire in mid-16th century; it has the most extensive literature of any ancient culture; and it saw itself as the “Land of Wisdom” (bhā= light, rata=absorbed) [1].

Historical GDP of various regions: India was mostly at the top until 1700s

The world is turning, and Bharat is expected to be the world’s largest economy by the end of the twenty-first century. Even though it will not be first in per capita income, it is expected to be the engine for global economic growth for the next several decades. No wonder that many are saying that the 21st century will be the Indian Century [2].

With its amazing monuments and fabulous temples, India was historically the land of riches that the Turks, the Arabs, and the Europeans wished to conquer. When the overland route from Europe to India was severed, the search for India via the sea led to the discovery of the Americas, spurring naval exploration that in turn spawned European colonialism around the global.

For any powerful empire to project power across the continents, it was essential to dominate India. If the nineteenth century was the British Century, it is because Britain controlled India, and transferred wealth estimated to be around $45 trillion to the UK.

British policies deindustrialized India with its tariffs to favor its newly established factories emerging from the industrial revolution of the early 19th century. An estimated 100 million people died in famines precipitated by the British Raj. India became so poor that it was easy for the UK to recruit soldiers for the imperial army that served around the globe, playing a large part during the two World Wars.

Knowing the centrality of India in geopolitics, Britain, when it left, hobbled India by creating a deeply antagonistic Pakistan to its west.

The twentieth century became the American Century by default as the European nations were exhausted by the two World Wars, and Asian nations were still trying to adapt to modernity and China had been bled by its own civil wars (Taiping, and the later one between KMT and CCP). India remained crushed by British colonial rule and its share of the world economy had plummeted from nearly 20% in 1800 to less than 2% by 1920.

India is resurgent again and its share of the world economy has reached about 9%, and it is expected to be the second largest economy by 2050 (see chart above based on PPP). According to the projections by Goldman Sachs in nominal dollars (which overmeasures the economic strength of the US), China, India, and the US have some separation in 2050, but they are literally dead even by 2075. There are other estimates that see India at the first position at this later date.

Goldman Sachs projections for 2050
Goldman Sachs projections for 2075

India’s diaspora is the wealthiest in the world, and its influence will only increase in the coming years. As is to be expected, India is playing an active role in international affairs.

Control of India

Napoleon, with his masterful understanding of history, knew that the power of his arch-enemy Britain rested on the control of India, “the jewel in the British crown”. He proposed to Tsar Paul I of Russia that the French and the Russians should jointly invade India. But Paul was assassinated in 1801 and the plan shelved, for Paul’s son Tsar Alexander (who was in knowledge of the conspiracy to remove his father) was not very enthused about the idea.

In 1807, Napoleon sent a French military mission to Iran, and Britain countered with its own diplomatic missions to Iran and Afghanistan. Soon afterwards, Russia went to war with Qajar Iran and invaded the Persian Caucasus from 1804–1813, adding to Britain’s fears.

Russia was building a vast empire in the European landmass in the 19th century, and soon it came face to face with the British spheres of influence. Britain aimed to create a protectorate in Afghanistan, and support the Ottoman Empire and other regions of the inner rim as buffer states to protect its Indian empire.

The two Anglo-Afghan Wars of the nineteenth century were a result of this strategy, for Britain felt that if Russia were to gain control of Afghanistan, it might then be used as a staging post for an invasion to be timed with a series of tribal uprisings and insurrections inside India.

The Central Powers in 1915 also got into the act. They organized an expedition that marched across the whole of Western Asia with the aim of offering the Emir of Afghanistan a political alliance in exchange for armed action against British India. This was to tie up the British Army on the North-West Frontier for the rest of the war.

Twenty-five years later, Hitler instructed his Army Operations Staff in early 1941 to prepare plans for an advance from Afghanistan to British India, but these plans became irrelevant in face of pressing needs in other theaters of war.

Meanwhile, socialist ideas inspired by the early successes of the Soviet Union were embraced by many young Indians and this became a source of worry to the colonial administration. Some reforms were instituted but the British ruling class wanted a politial arranged that served its interests.

The two World Wars may also be seen as a contest for power in the rimlands for continuing domination of the central region. Although the Allies triumphed in both Wars, Britain was so weakened that it was forced to grant independence to India. However, it passed on the power to an elite class that would largely continue British policies for nearly five decades.

A reawakening is taking place now, with an attempt to see the world through the Indic lens rather than the colonial one.

Despite the horrors of the colonial experience, India has shown great resilience, and it has jumped into the top economies of the globe. Now India is rich enough to project its power in a manner that helps its national and civilizational objectives. If the nineteenth century was the Great Game between Russia and Britain for control of an India without a voice, the twenty-first century is turning out to be a new Great Game between China, India, and the United States.


Pakistan is also a part of the Eurasian heartland, but the choices it made early on have taken it to being a near-failed state. Its politics is seeped in obscurantism, and its population — like that of Afghanistan — is too deeply radicalized for it to transform into a successful technology based economy.

There is a saying that to be able to love others, one must first love oneself. The counter to this is also true: if one hates others then one ends up hating oneself. A society with hatred for its neighbor as its raison d’etre becomes diminished.

For some time, Pakistan took advantage of the centrality of the region by forming alliances with the US and now with China, to act as foil to India or to Russia. Now it is caught in a debt trap and its blasphemy laws make it impossible for it to be a modern, forward-looking state. It also suffers from lack of self-awareness, as symbolized by its previous naïve prime minister Imran Khan going about the world complaining of Islamophobia, just as a Sri Lankan manager in a factory in Punjab had been burnt to death by enraged workers for the crime of tearing down a poster with Arabic on it.

India should not resume trade or other bilateral relations with Pakistan until it makes fundamental reforms including constitutionally guaranteed minority rights, abolition of blasphemy laws, and stopping aid to terrorist groups. If India were to open up to Pakistan, that will become the doorway through which Pakistani problems will get transferred to India.

If Pakistan slides further the way of Afghanistan, the resulting crisis will create the energy that the reformist voices in Pakistan need to recast the country in a new way, with a new constitution based on humanism.

India’s advantage in the New Great Game

India has several advantages in the race between nations in the next few decades. These include its demographic advantage (its population will start aging much after that of China and the US), its education system is robust and its population is skilled in maths and sciences, and its universalist culture.

During the recent post-colonial era, the West has pushed for “liberal values” that appear universalist, but beneath this façade it harbors a deeply ingrained racism, as one can confirm from Western narratives on the rise of Asia.

The universalism of Bharat is genuine for it is grounded in the belief that all people have the same atman. It is no surprise that prayers in a Hindu temple end with the invocation Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu, which means “Let [all beings] everywhere be happy”. It is this wish to be good to all that is an advantage in managerial jobs and explains why Indians are highly sought after for corporate leadership positions.

The next few decades will create unprecedented stresses and crises around the globe as populations fall (e.g. China’s population is estimated to shrink to half its current size by the end of the century), and genuinely universalist and humanistic values will be needed to find solutions to these crises.


[1] S. Kak, The Idea of India: Bharat as a Civilization.