In recent statements the Union Finance Minister Mrs. Nirmala Sitharaman has admitted that the economy has shrunk by 25% in a recent quarter, and also that the Covid situation is `an act of God’ and therefore her Government should not be held responsible for this dismal state of affairs. The former is a piece of factual information, whereas the latter is a term arising from Insurance parlance, where an unexpected event such as a death due to a falling tree or a lightning strike or causes that cannot be determined forensically or medically are ascribed to `God’. In the present era of modernity such a reference to the mystic and occult in the matter of affairs of a large country like India is hardly acceptable to the people of India. In particular, the attempt to link the completely disastrous state of the economy to the Covid pandemic as if it’s management was not possible in a rational manner is an abrogation of responsibility. The people of India should be angered by this callous remark and should demand an explanation from the Minister for her arrogance and lack of sensitivity.
The above said, it is also an opportunity for the people of India to ask some hard questions about the economy and the political setup in the country. It is a truism that the economy is what provides the life-blood to the people of the country. It is the sum total of employment, wages, expenditure, and well-being of the people and it is the State which is supposed to ensure that all goes well with the economy. In a Democracy, from time to time ruling parties change and yet it goes without saying that the it is the duty of the State to ensure the well-being of the people. Officials such as the Finance Minister are duty bound to uphold the functions of the State, and are not there to offer one silly excuse or another for their own disastrous performance or that of the Government that they represent.
In the present era, the mantra is the `market’ and `liberalization and privatization’ as well as `profit’ and `bottom-line’, as if these have all fallen from the Heavens. But rather under the guise of these, there has been a vast accumulation of wealth at one pole and vast misery and deprivation at the other. Even under `normal’ circumstances, it is the masses numbering probably over a billion who always bear the brunt of suffering and exploitation, while a tiny minority of perhaps several tens of thousands thrive off the wealth they have accumulated. Neither the 300 million between these two layers, nor the billion at the bottom have any say in how affairs are run, and it is objectively true that their economic condition worsens all the time.
Many of these notions have come from western capitalist countries and have been implanted on Indian soil, and by the mere existence of such notions, they stake a claim for their right to exist and to perpetuate themselves. A cursory look at what existed on Indian soil through the millennia, as evidenced by, say, the Arthashastra of Kautilya or of the sermon of Bheeshma from his bed of arrows in the Yuddha Parva of the Mahabharata gives a different picture. Both these authors on the one hand defend Raj Dharma, but explain that part of that Dharma includes taking care of the welfare of the people, that taxation must be fair and just, and the population must be fed and clothed, and the purpose of such monies collected is to defend the country. There is no notion of markets and profits per se, at least not in terms of elevation to lofty philosophical heights as in the case in capitalist economics.
All the above point to a simple fact: the Indian economy simply does not work to serve the people. The State, rather than protecting the people, protects the interests of private property. The utter callousness of those in power and those who hold the reins of the State is there for everyone to see. The people of India, who constitute a fifth of mankind, can and should demand a more just economic order and a State that will function to safeguard them and their interests. Let there be a broad discussion around this theme.