Remembering Rajaji's Words on Hinduism and the Economy

As the brouhaha on the rightful restoration of the Dharma Danda or Sengol handed over in 1947 by the Adheenams of Tamil Nadu continues, one cannot help but wistfully remember a man whose civilisational roots held up and influenced this nation underneath the currents in ways we can only appreciate today. C Rajagopalachari, or Rajaji as he was known, was the brain behind the Sengol, thanks to his vast expanse of knowledge that was able to recall the traditions of the Chola empire of yore. This very Chola empire had deep connections with Ganga, Aryavarta, Jambudvipa and the pancha tattva of the cosmos among other innumerable Dharmic concepts. Even though he was called the Southern General of Mahatma Gandhi, the outlooks on Hinduism, Dharma, and its role in society were vastly different. Be it in the recensions on Mahabharata and Ramayana or his thoughts on the Upanishads, one senses this deeply. A lecture delivered in Patna in 1953 on the relevance of Hinduism as a religion for modern times is a must read, for Rajaji clearly saw the role of Hindu practices herein he was rather clear:

"...No religious philosophy is so consistent with modern scientific knowledge as that which forms the common fundamental of the worship of the Almighty in India, and this is important as there can be no normality or psychological well-being with inconsistencies prevailing between religious practice and accepted knowledge...I wish to emphasise that the catholicity that lies at the root of Hindu philosophy makes it specially suitable for creating conditions in the present-day world for ordered advance in the way of general happiness."

Rajaji in Madras with Gandhi
Having said that, it is also rather important that we remember the words of Rajagopalachari and his views on what good economics would mean. Rajaji was a known opponent of Jawaharlal Nehru's populist measures even in the times when opposing Nehru was the kiss of death to one's politics. Some things seem to be eternal in nature, as even today we see monkey balancing on flippant economic behaviour being encouraged in the name of support to the poor. A 1957 essay in the erstwhile Swarajya magazine of Rajaji (now a right of centre publication) seems to reflect the far sightedness and conservative streak of the man, and is certainly a must read. Thoughts from it reflect even today. For instance, Rajaji was clear that austerity measures adopted by any government are just window dressing, when the real need is to enable more money into the hand. Merely reducing taxes at one end and increasing them at the other does not solve the matter. In the words of Rajaji, people want less taxes and lower expenses to make their lives easier. Progressive taxation, in the words of Rajaji, is an emasculating deceiver, and that any nation must cut its coat according to the cloth. In a 1969 summation for Swarajya, Rajaji was very clear:

"If Birlas, Tatas and Mafatlals have greatly increased Ithe assets of their concerns, why should politicians be disturbed? Industries if managed well are bound to produce profits, and out of profits in the hands of good industrialists issue re-investments along with expansion as a result of popularity of stocks. This in spite of heavy corporation taxes. Instead of being happy over such expansion, a sickening attitude of intolerance is bred as an integral part of leftism. Leftism is not jealousy of wealth issuing out of good management. A good economic policy is the best instrument for social welfare, as a German paper has recently put it. It works automatically for social welfare. But it seems as if our leftists are more happy with "public" sector undertakings incurring heavy losses year after year than with successfully managed concerns in the "private" sector. Expansion proves successful management and not something which we should avoid.:

In this essay from 1957 however were two particular diagnoses of all that was wrong with the government's fiscal management. Many continue to haunt our present governments, especially at state levels. The first was the issue of lack of discipline and shamelessness on profligacy and corruption when it came to public expenditure was true then as it is now. To quote Rajaji verbatim:

"We must instil integrity in public expenditure at all levels. It is deplorably absent at all levels. It has almost reached the stage of callousness than which there can be nothing more fatal. Those who are employed to do government work should be paid satisfactorily, but they should deem it a shame to be careless or dishonest. It should be a shame not only to be known to be dishonest. Dishonesty must itself be felt as a great shame in the act and before it is discovered."

Rajaji secondly cautioned against the idea of government jobs and the creation of a welfare state in any sense. This, in his words, would hurt even more if this employment had no productivity associated with it. Government departments with improper hirings, though his target, seem to reflect on a variety of occupations today, including so called job creation programs and rozgar melas that the governments seem to prefer for visibility. To quote Rajaji verbatim again:

"Unemployment should be tackled by real employment and not by a wasteful bloating of the services. Idleness has now come to be a national incident of administrative life, where it would be true to say that if one man worked as he should, two others would have little to do. Such 'employment' is worse than unemployment. It would be better to pay a higher wage officials who support unemployed and idle relatives and dependents at home than to run offices with idle hands doing less than a fair outturn of work but watching the clock all afternoon."

I would encourage readers to go and read Rajaji's speeches and writings. You may not agree with all of it, but there is certainly much to think of and contemplate, as it holds great relevance to the way people still conceptualise their relationship with the nation and its economy and culture.


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