By Shriraksha Mohan
India is a pluralistic society with a long history of coexistence among people of various languages, customs, traditions and religions. “Unity in Diversity” is a time-honored value most Indians embrace. Hindus make up about 80% of India’s population, Muslims about 14% and Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains the remaining 6%. A Pew Research survey shows this composition has roughly remained the same after India’s independence in 1947 and religious switching or conversion appears to be rare. India has been a Hindu-majority nation even during a brief period of Muslim rule in its history. That having been said, India has also been in the news lately for increasing rates of religiously inspired violence, growing intolerance toward minorities and diminishing freedom of press.
In a country with 80% Hindus, the majority community should have no reason to feel insecure about the presence of a small percentage of minorities. The minorities who have called India their home for many generations should have integrated well into the fabric of Indian society to be able to coexist peacefully. What has changed in today’s India? Narendra Modi and BJP, the Hindu Nationalist party he represents, are ardent supporters of “Hindutva”, a political ideology that advocates for formation of a nation based on Hindu supremacy. Are Modi, BJP, and their supporters like RSS using the rhetoric of Hindu Nationalism to stir up divisive sentiments among various religious groups to distract people and the press from paying attention to what really matters?
Let us talk about India’s Economy.
Foreign Policy – Don’t Believe Modi’s Economic Success Story
In the spring of 2020, at the onset of Covid-19 pandemic, the government of India abruptly, with short notice, announced a 21-day lockdown and ordered all shops, restaurants, offices, schools, colleges, and other businesses to shut down. This of course disrupted daily life, but internal migrants in India’s cities paid the heaviest price for the disruption. Millions of India’s daily-wage migrant workers in urban areas lost their jobs and decided to travel back to the villages and small towns from where they had migrated. As the lockdown unfolded, transportation facilities came to a standstill. The migrant workers had to continue their journey on foot with no food, water or other means of sustenance.
A world that was grappling with the virus had to also grapple with images of human suffering as we saw poor laborers walking back to their hometowns, facing the odds of death by exhaustion or by covid or both. This incident shined a light on the state of India’s economy. Rural economy in India is weak. As a result, a big percentage of the rural population is forced to migrate to cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, etc., where low-paying precarious jobs are available for those displaced by weak rural economies. Most of the employment in these big cities is generated by privately-held corporations.
This video explains the urban migration crisis in greater detail.
Explained: Indian Migrants, Across India
Later that same year, Indian farmers took to the streets to protest against farm laws that were passed by the Parliament of India with very little debate and discussion. The farmers deemed the laws “anti-farmer” and “pro-corporation”. They demanded that these laws be repealed. According to the Global Hunger Index in 2022, India ranks 107th out of 121 countries, despite reports showing that India is self-sufficient in food grains, fruits and vegetable production. A 2-part investigative report on the farm laws and the farmer’s strike in India provides evidence for Modi’s inclination to corporatize agriculture under the pretext of improving productivity (see link below).
According to the report, an NRI (Non-Residential Indian) businessman had floated the idea of forming companies to manage farms and their produce. Big corporations like Adani Group, Patanjali, Big Basket, Mahindra Group and ITC were consulted before bringing the farm laws to the Parliament for approval. Farmers, who are closest to the land, could have been entirely stripped of the power to make decisions. Fortunately, the farmers persisted and protested until the laws were repealed by the Parliament.
Centralization of economic power in the hands of a few corporations is compounded by Modi’s and his Finance Minister’s push for privatization of the public sector, which further deprives common people of decision-making power over their economic lives. Some of the initiatives introduced by the government of India over the last decade, Start Up India, Make In India, etc., were hollow attempts to catalyze private sector investments and foreign direct investments to generate jobs, while the public sector suffered. In the economic system of Prout, public sector or key industries play a vital role in revitalizing the economy and serving the needs of the society. Industries like transportation, communication, energy, and mining constitute the public sector. They should be managed and regulated by the local governments as they have wide-ranging impacts on the larger economy. They should not be driven by a profit motive.
Privatization of means of production is a classic neo-liberal economic recipe that enables creation of a small segment of population that owns profits and surpluses, and a large segment of population that cannot exist without selling its labor to big private corporations, sometimes under inhospitable working conditions. Modi-linked billionaires Gautam Adani and Mukesh Ambani are two such private entities that have benefited immensely from this aggressive push for privatization. Modi’s crony capitalism has made Adani’s and Ambani’s business enterprises monopolies in nearly every sector of the economy in which they have a presence. Furthermore, recent news of Adani family’s malpractices in the stock markets has raised serious questions about the nature of corporate governance in India.
The Indian Economy is in the doldrums. A rapidly growing younger population needs stable jobs and unemployment is a major social issue. Even those with jobs barely make enough wages to make ends meet. Quality of life and infrastructure in richer, but overly crowded, urban areas are crumbling. All the big corporations and business conglomerates exercising disproportionate amount of control in various sectors of the economy are most likely to be interested in their own profits and generating jobs is only a secondary concern. Therefore, it is unwise for the Indian government to depend on privatisation and generosity of corporations to solve all of its economic problems.
Economic uncertainties create unrest in a society and it needs an outlet. The Indian government, the ruling political party BJP, and its ideological ‘guru’ RSS cleverly divert this unrest toward religious minorities by fomenting hate and suspicion towards them. Naive youth have come under the influence of far-right Hindu nationalistic sentiments, which they may not even fully comprehend. Growing religious intolerance and attacks on Muslims and Christians in India over the last decade are symptoms of a much bigger disease caused by dissatisfaction with living conditions, economic insecurity and concerns over an unstable future for many.
In the 1600s, when merchant-capitalists of British East India company landed on the shores of India, they had come to trade with one of the world’s richest economies at the time. These merchants believed and convinced the British monarchy that the way to promote the interest of a nation-state is by promoting policies that would increase profits of the merchants. History bears witness to the ensuing oppression, colonization and draining of India’s resources by the British in the subsequent centuries. Modern-day capitalists in India are taking a leaf out of the colonial history book to convince the leaders that the welfare of the nation lies in the welfare of the corporations, thus creating a system of subjugation within their own country.
Many Indians are basking in pride over India’s GDP of 3.7 trillion USD surpassing the GDP of UK, India’s former colonizer. India’s population, at 1.4 billion, has surpassed the population of China making India the most populous country in the world. What ‘piece of the pie’ does each Indian stand to gain from a GDP of 3.7 trillion USD? India spends a mere 2-3% of its GDP on education and healthcare according to multiple reports. India, the fifth largest economy in the world, has a Human Development Index ranking of 132 among 191 nations. India’s growth in critical human development parameters is pathetic making its energetic young population unproductive to its own economy. It is evident that GDP is an inadequate economic indicator to measure an economy’s potential to meaningfully address the needs of all. Growth happens when there is equitable distribution of resources and equal opportunities for everyone to grow.
Narendra Modi has been the Prime Minister of India for about a decade now. Isn’t it time for all Indian citizens and a more comfortably settled Indian diaspora abroad to contemplate the effect of Narendra Modi’s politics and his policies on the lives of common people? Isn’t it time to think if narrow religious and nationalist sentiments are enough for nation-building, or does building an extraordinary nation hinge upon developing the potential of all its citizens to the fullest extent? Pride in one’s culture and history is natural, but it should not become a barrier to rational thinking and peaceful coexistence with others. Sentiments supported by facts, logic and rationality become a strong force in expanding social, political and economic consciousness in a society, and promote the greater good of humanity.
Video for Hindi-speaking readers: ??? ?? ?????? ???? ??? ???? | Economy’s health at risk – YouTube
Supplement this reading with an analysis on population growth in India: Population Myths