The current finance minister of India in the Narendra Modi-led government, Nirmala Sitharaman, recently christened the economic downturn in the country as an ‘act of god.’ She is not alone in this bandwagon. The theological reasoning gives temporary relief to the ruling classes, but fails to provide long-term hiding ground in history.
The extraordinary economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic gives an opportunity to the ruling classes and neoliberal economists to hide all their failures. Neoliberal authoritarian governments, world over, always find a way to manipulate and outsource their ignorance and responsibilities to god. The pandemic and economic crises are neither ‘an act of god’ nor something that ‘people force on themselves’. ‘
The market of wildlife consumption, destruction of nature, neoliberal capitalism, and failure of states and governments are responsible for global pandemics and the resultant economic crises. These are man-made structural factors, not divine mediation.
Too many choices?
The ‘act of god’ theory of Sitharaman is runs into some basic theological trouble.
There is no freedom of choice for consumers under neoliberal capitalism, unless they have purchasing power and disposable incomes. But, there is real freedom of choice in gods and goddesses in Hinduism.
The Hindu religion has around 33 million registered and unregistered gods and goddesses and religious Hindus pray to most of them. Some are mythological deities and others are living. It is somewhat difficult to fix the blame on one god or goddess.
Even the hierarchical caste and temple barriers have failed to be an obstacle in the choice of gods and goddesses. There is no mystery here. India is a society of cultural diversity, which breeds religious diversity and vice versa. For Hindutva politics represented by those like Sitharaman, this is a bane.
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It would be easier for her to evoke the Karma theory as outlined in the Bhagavad Gita (sacred Hindu text) to justify the government and blame all Indians or all the people in the world for the ordeals of the ongoing global economic and health crises.
In fact, the Karma theory is the best way to escape from the constitutional responsibilities and economic ignorance of the leadership. It not only individualises responsibilities and results of one’s own work, but also externalises individual problems to the results of the Karma (life deeds) in the previous life.
‘Karma’ can help
The Karma theory helps naturalise and normalise the crises, structural inequalities, exploitation and risk-free accumulation of national and global capitalist classes in India. There is no business like the business of religion. It is risk-free. The profit belongs to the priest and crisis is individual responsibility.
The Indian economy was knocked down by misplaced economic policies, social insecurities and directionless politics. Calling the failures of demonetisation, General Sales Tax (GST), unplanned and authoritarian lockdown, and lack of investments in public health and health infrastructure as pre-planned acts of god that are destined to happen beyond the control of state and governments, is not only obnoxious, but also reflect the economic illiteracy of the Hindutva leadership.
The hierarchical and Brahmanical Hindu social order-based ‘caste’ and ‘capitalism’ are the twin pillars of Hindutva politics in India. The Karma theory provides theological and ideological justifications for such an exploitative and unequal society, like other religions in other parts of the world.
The finance minister’s attribution of an earthly crisis to divinity hides her failures as a finance minister. It also hides her government’s failures and provides breathing space to capitalist classes in India. The Karma theory would help her immensely and provide further cover up to her government’s failures. It would also discourage Indian citizens to resist the government as asking for one’s own rightful share is ‘bad Karma.’
The legal usage of ‘an act of god’ might help corporates and insurance companies, but it will not help the government to abandon its roles and responsibilities in the long run. Thus, the Karma theory is a more superior excuse. It is not just about personal Karma in previous and current lives, but also about seeing life as a whole and justifying every action of the socially mighty.
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The Karma theory also domesticates production, consumption and distribution. It organises these processes within caste hierarchy. Therefore, it would be good for Hindutva forces to fall back on Karma theory to justify loot, corruption, dominance and deaths in the Indian republic.
The markets, ruling classes and gods have failed the people in history. And governments are overthrown to the dustbins of history by the reasoning ability of people. Collective experience breeds collective movements to steer society out of crises.
It is a matter of time when neither the acts of god nor the Modi government can stop the emanating upheavals in India. The 33 million plus gods and goddesses in India cannot take the blame and ne witness to the deceptive politics of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.
In fact, Sitharam’s ‘act of god’ refrain has lost its relevance in history. It is illusionary, like the Hindutva promise of salvation of life under Prime Minister Modi’s rule. Only a cohesive mass movement can save India and Indians from the disaster called Hindutva – a cocktail of arrogance and ignorance.
Views expressed are the author’s own.
Bhabani Shankar Nayak is a political economist based in Coventry, UK. He researches and writes on political economy of religion, market, business and development.