It's high time we stopped using the term 'Hindu rate of growth', phrase shows colonisation of country’s intellectual faculties

Terror has no religion — even if terrorists go out of their way to claim they bomb and kill in the name of Islam. But slow economic growth does have a religion — Hinduism — even though its beneficiaries come from all faiths.

Putrefaction of scholarship, a decadence of politics, colonialism of a country’s intellect and an expression of disgust with what a nation comprises — this, in short, is what the disparaging, communal expression “Hindu rate of growth” stands for. It has been polished in the highest pedestals of universities, Indian and global. It has been ruthlessly abused by a politics that wanted to delink India’s sublime ethos of Sanatana Dharma from its future as an independent and prosperous nation. It has found its way into the intellectual discourse in multilateral institutions. It has been legitimised by people occupying the highest echelons of Indian’s bureaucracy. It has been an aspiration for any scholar of political economy who sought, and still seeks, tenure in universities. And it has been popularised by scavengers in the media.

Former Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian’s recent working paper published by Harvard, and his op-ed in The Indian Express, seems to have brought this defunct, discarded and discredited idea of a Hindu rate of growth back in the national consciousness. What is yet another paper that should be seen as “a research agenda focusing on India’s National Income Accounts estimates” and treated with as much academic and policy curiosity as any other scholarly analysis has become a subject of Page 1 reports in newspapers and prime time discussions on TV. [Disclosure: this author participated in one such discussion.] Subramanian’s paper titled, India’s GDP Mis-estimation: Likelihood, Magnitudes, Mechanisms, and Implications, uses data and assumptions to place India’s GDP average growth between 2011-12 and 2016-17 at 4.5 percent– 2.5 percentage points lower than the 7.0 percent.

 Its high time we stopped using the term Hindu rate of growth, phrase shows colonisation of country’s intellectual faculties

Representational image. Reuters

To the extent of the research Subramanian has done, the paper must be read by the government, its concerns addressed. Equally, there are several other economists who have been questioning the data and their apprehensions must be taken on board too. The change in the methodology of the way GDP numbers have been calculated has disrupted the way consumers of data have been seeing it. The only major reader of data that has remained unperturbed is the Sensex. On its part, the government has come out with a clarification on the alleged overestimation. In a nutshell, it states that to capture the structural changes in the economy it is necessary to revise the base year of economic indicators.

These revisions are done by the Advisory Committee on National Accounts Statistics comprising experts from academia, National Statistical Commission, Indian Statistical Institute, Reserve Bank of India, Ministries of Finance, Corporate Affairs, Agriculture, NITI Aayog and selected State Governments. For such a large sample of experts to come to unanimity is big enough. They are acceptable to multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Further, the clarification states that “a comparison of the old and new series are not amenable to simplistic macro-econometric modelling.” This can be debated further, possibly through the creation of a White Paper that talks directly with a citizenry that is today far more financially literate than it ever was.

But instead of delving deeper into the numbers, what is happening is the politicisation of the debate that is fast turning into a religiosity of growth, with Hinduphobia dominating the discourse. Celebrity intellectuals, journalists, and activists are using the 4.5 percent number to play up the Hindu rate of growth — journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, social scientist Sameer Kochhar, satirist Akash Banerjee. Of course, there is no such denigration of a Christian rate of growth as most of the Western world reels under or an Islamic rate of growth in the Middle East and North Africa (more below).

The fact that in terms of religion, only Hinduism is burdened by a rate of growth shows the contempt the world has for the most peaceful, profound and puissant religion — a separate discussion. This contempt is strewn about by those who seem to know nothing about the depths of Hinduism; or if they do, know that vilifying Hindus is par for the course — they are a peaceful bunch of people and will not kill, bomb or inflict violence. In a perverse sort of way, provoking Hindus is a zero-risk, high-return pastime. An important note here: not a single Muslim or Christian has said so — and that’s gratifying.

But let us examine the ‘intellectual’ seeds of the idea of a Hindu rate of growth. The first time Hinduism was equated with economic growth was in February 1973, by BPR Vithal, who wrote under a pseudonym, Najin Yanupi: “This is the range within which alone the Hindu view of life will hold.” Vithal was talking about the rate of growth of India’s per capita income and the range he was referring to was 1 percent to 3 percent. This idea of a Hindu rate of growth was then popularised by Raj Krishna, which former Chief Economic Advisor Kaushik Basu defended in a 2007 paper, as a tongue-in-cheek: “‘Hindu rate of growth’ is the tongue-in-cheek expression, coined by the Indian economist, the late Raj Krishna, to capture the frustrations India’s planners faced with growth. No matter what they did, growth seemed, invariably, to revert back to 3.5 percent per annum, almost as if this magic figure was written in the land’s scriptures.”

Since then, economists from former Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia (1995) to former Chief Economic Advisors Shankar Acharya (2002) and Arvind Virmani (2006), an entire brigade of economists has explored the theme of the Hindu rate of growth. That such a twist of phrase and contempt for Hinduism has been legitimised so smoothly in a country with a Hindu majority and has gone unquestioned shows the tolerance and acceptance by those who practice this faith. This idea today is being re-weaponised against Hindus. In the garb of light-hearted humour, the idea of equating slow GDP growth with Hinduism, and further attributing Hinduism to economic somnolence is being brandished as virtue-signalling. This, by the same people, who shudder to criticise Muslim terrorists killing in the name of Islam, and Christian priests indulging in mass child abuse across the world.

Finally, if 3.5 percent is the Hindu rate of growth, the world’s most powerful countries are Hindu. Here’s what the growth rates of the 19 countries and the EU that comprise the G20 look like:

Countries Growth rate
Turkey 7.4 percent
India 7.2 percent
China 6.9 percent
Indonesia 5.1 percent
Republic of Korea 3.1 percent
Canada 3.0 percent
Argentina 2.9 percent
European Union 2.5 percent
France 2.2 percent
Germany 2.2 percent
United States 2.2 percent
Australia 2.0 percent
Mexico 2.0 percent
United Kingdom 1.8 percent
Japan 1.7 percent
Italy 1.6 percent
Russia 1.6 percent
South Africa 1.3 percent
Brazil 1.1 percent
Saudi Arabia -0.9 percent
Note: Data, from World Bank, is GDP growth for 2017

Some conclusions from the table above:

  • 80 percent of the G20 nations are growing at less than the Hindu rate.
  • The Islamic nation of Saudi Arabia contracted by 0.9 percent— less than the Hindu rate. (is this the Muslim rate of growth?)
  • Only four countries grew by more than 3.5 percent in 2017 — Turkey, India, China and Indonesia.
  • The seven Christian-dominated nations grew at less than the Hindu rate.
  • The world’s largest economy, the US, a predominantly Christian nation, grew at less than the Hindu rate.
  • As a group, the world’s second-largest area, the EU, again a predominantly Christian area, grew at less than the Hindu rate.
  • Even if we take 4.5 percent as given, India is growing faster than the Hindu rate.
  • If we take World Bank figures, India is expected to grow by 7.5 percent in 2019, unless the numbers are revised in the next Outlook — into which religion would you classify this rate?

Looking beyond the G20:

  • At 3.2 percent, the world GDP grew at less than the Hindu rate.
  • At 1.0 percent, the Islamic Arab World grew at less than the Hindu rate.
  • At 2.4 percent, the Christian Euro Area grew at less than the Hindu rate.
  • At 1.7 percent, Christian Latin America grew at less than the Hindu rate.
  • At 3.0 percent, the Islamic Middle East and North Africa grew at less than the Hindu rate.
  • At 2.4 percent, the Christian OECD members grew at less than the Hindu rate.

So, either most of the economically significant world (G20 comprises 85 percent of global GDP) is growing at less than the Hindu rate. Or, this expression called the ‘Hindu rate of growth’ is nothing but Hinduphobia. It’s time to end this abomination. If we must classify the slow growth years of India, the clearest encapsulation is the ‘Nehru-Gandhi rate of growth.’

This article was first published on ORF Online and is being reproduced here with the author's permission

Updated Date: Jun 14, 2019 13:14:07 IST