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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Hindu Economics

Much ink, thankfully little blood, has been spent on the travails of demonetization. No doubt some of the shock, especially suffered by daily-wage earners and those without bank accounts or the digitally deprived, not to speak of countless ordinary citizens without access to their own money, cannot be denied or diminished. But much of the campaign by the opposition is merely drama.

What is more, the real victims of demonetization aren’t complaining. It is the apparatchiks, outwitted and outmanoeuvred, who are showing themselves up as bad losers by stalling proceeding in both houses of the parliament, bringing the business of running the nation to a standstill. The hypocrisy of our political class is stupendous. Imagine what would happen if we should demand that all political donations above, say, Rs 1,000, become cashless, with the names and Aadhar numbers of donors posted on the websites of political parties? The cleansing process then would really reach the very root of what makes this country corrupt. For everyone knows that it is politics more than anything else, business, commerce, and industry included, that is the origin of Bharat’s corruption.

Which brings us to an aspect of demonetization that no one has talked about—is it dharmic? Dharma has at least two senses. The more common one these days is as a mistranslation of religion. The more accurate, foundational sense is of righteousness. Before we try to answer the question of whether demonetization is dharmic, we might pose it in even broader terms. What is the connection between Dharma and economics?

This question is not by any means either new-fangled or unfounded. Much of economic thinking is underwritten by religious ideologies. For instance, Max Weber’s famous formulation of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, published in German as Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus (1905) and translated into English by Talcott Parsons in 1930. Weber argues that the rise of capitalism in Western and Northern Europe was because of the influence of Protestantism, especially Calvinism. That is what drove people to success and prosperity in the real world as opposed to hoping for rewards in the hereafter.

Capitalism’s Other, communism, was also based on an Abrahamic salvational creed, with the apocalyptic force of revolution redeeming the working classes from centuries of bondage. Primitive communism was akin to pre-lapserian Christianity, Edenic and idyllic, the unfallen state of primitive, classless man. Then comes the fall, the terrible interregnum of toiling and suffering masses, struggling through feudalism and capitalism. And relentless class struggle, the engine of History, before the promised heaven-on-earth of universal socialism. In some pockets, this religion continues to be preached, if not believed, with dogmatic zeal.

Much, similarly, has been made of Islamic economics, with a proposal that even Bharat’s banks open up a window to allow sharia-compliant interest-free banking to mop off petrodollar inflows. Yet, current economic thinking all over the world seems to be motivated by the opposite religion of consumerism. According to this creed, a human being is born to consume. Endless products flood the global market to fulfil not only our every need, but also our every greed. Consumerism flourishes by turning us into insatiable desiring machines.

With so much economic unrest and inequality all over the world, several leaders of advanced capitalist countries are resorting either to populism or jingoist neo-conservatism. The best example of the former is Brexit, which is going to harm both Britain and the European Union, and of the latter, the election of Donald Trump, who may actually end up being good for the US economy. After the economic collapse of 2008, what we are currently facing is perhaps the biggest challenge to the world economic order.

Interestingly, the downturn of 2008 was predicted some time before by RSS ideologue and founder of Swadeshi Jagran Manch, Dattopant Thengadi (1920-2004). Thengadi argued that the failure of both socialism and communism meant that India should work out a “Third Way.” He advocated the development of an economic model based on Sanatana Dharma. More recently, Swami Vigyananand, an IIT-Kharagpur alumnus, started the World Hindu Economic Forum to take such efforts forward.

Now to the crux of the issue: what is Hindu economics? Is it like the pejorative “Hindu rate of growth,” the elephantine 1.3 per cent average per capita income growth and GDP growth of about 3.5 per cent during the pre-liberalisation, Congress-ruled decades of 1950-1990? If we look at Angus Maddison’s data sheets, however, a totally different picture emerges. From about 1 CE to the eve of the British conquest of Bharat in 1757, Bharat accounted for between one third and one-fourth of world GDP. It was only in the 18th century that China overtook us, after which both Asian giants declined rapidly, thanks to the new imperial world order.

Surely, we must have been doing something right for two thousand years to be the world’s greatest economy. Perhaps, it is our dharmic principles that helped us. The oft quoted opening verses of the Chanakya Niti Sutras are illustrative: sukhasya moolam dharmah; dharmasya moolam arthah; arthasya moolam rajyam. The basis of happiness is Dharma (righteousness); the basis of righteousness is wealth; and the basis of wealth is good governance. There are hundreds of such verses that support the idea that good conduct, good governance, and righteousness lead to production and distribution of wealth, which in turn leads to human happiness and well-being.

If this is the foundation of Hindu economics, then adharmik or corrupt means of producing, hoarding, and using wealth can only cause sorrow and distress to the populace. This the ordinary people of Bharat have understood only too well. That is why they have welcomed the demonetization drive, even though they have suffered the most on its account. They know that some sacrifice on their part will result in huge future gains.

This Dharmic turn in Bharatiya economics must however be true and sincerely motivated. It cannot subsist on hypocrisy, duplicity, pretense, and falsehood. The ethical turn of Bharatiya economics must not be compromised either by vested interests or the compromised political or business classes. Only then can it contribute to making us a great and prosperous nation again.

By Makarand R Paranjape – The author is a poet, and Professor of English, JNU.

(This article first appeared on DNA – – and is being reproduced with the consent of the author)

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Makarand R Paranjape
Makarand R Paranjape
The author is a poet, and Professor of English, JNU


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