Economic Kaliyuga or Progress?

The food act encourages the poor to covet their neighbour’s wealth. They are bribed to vote for a government that will tax productive citizens, so that the government can feed itself and the poor.

The National Food Security Act, 2013, is a massive admission that the Indian economy has failed.

  • Seventy-five per cent of the rural and 50 per cent of the urban population need to depend upon a corrupt bureaucracy to buy five kg of basic food grains per month!
  • It is terrible that those who help produce our basic grains cannot afford what they need for their subsistence. But,
  • If the government pays the producer less than the market, why would the peasants produce it? Or,
  • Should the 3 per cent Indians who pay income tax, subsidize the government to purchase grain at a satisfactory price, store it, protect it, transport it, and resell it at a loss to the 67 per cent who are “poor”?
  • Why would bureaucrats, who don’t own the produce, take the required trouble to preserve it from robbers, rats and rain?

The compassion behind this act is laudable. It may return the Congress-led UPA to power for a third consecutive term. Yet, it is likely to lead the country away from the very idea of progress. As far as the Congress is concerned, the intellectual pedigree of this act, as we shall see, goes back to 1904, when Gandhi discovered John Ruskin’s book Unto this Last, which applied one of Christ’s parables about the kingdom of God to economics.

The Economics of Gloom

We Indians ushered in the year 2013 with tremendous optimism. We were en route to become the world’s greatest economy in the foreseeable future (if, somehow, we could control our corruption). But, yesterday’s optimists are no longer enthusiastic about investing in India. The annual growth rate has come down from 9 per cent (between 2003 and 2008) to 4.5 per cent. The stock market is down by 25 per cent (in dollars terms). Trade deficit has increased from US$ 169.81 billion in 2011–12 to US$ 182.09 billion in 2012–13. Foreign-exchange reserves have not yet hit 1991 levels, but seem headed that way.

Doubt a Dark Age?

Because the economic data argues for pessimism, hope has to rest on non-economic factors that undergird economic behaviour. Do we have a credible basis for rejecting one of India’s core religious beliefs: that we are headed down to a socio-economic Dark Age – Kaliyuga?

Even some Indians reject our traditional doctrine of kaliyuga because they accept the Western theory of evolution. Biology is always evolving; therefore, they reason, the economy will also evolve. Evolutionists themselves say that misfits always perish; however, blind chance had no compassion even for mighty dinosaurs. Unintelligent ‘chance’ can turn Syria’s silly war or Iran’s nuclear threat into a wider war that raises petroleum price. That alone will make India’s already weak manufacturing, uncompetitive. Chance gives grounds for anxiety, not hope.

Modern Indian Idea of Progress

Historians have deceived themselves about the real source of our modern faith in progress.  Mahatma Phule called it Baliraj; Gandhi named it Ramrajya. But both studied it in the Bible, as Christ’s teaching about the Kingdom of God. That is also the original, even if unacknowledged, source of Sonia Gandhi’s food act.

Jesus saw the oppressive, exploitative kingdoms, including the Roman Empire, as the kingdom of Satan (e.g., Luke 4:5–7). Therefore, he defined his mission in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “to proclaim good news to the poor … to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4: 18). He had come, he said, to inaugurate God’s kingdom on behalf of the “poor” and “hungry”; whose spirits had been crushed, who “mourn” because of the kingdom of Satan; “weary and heavy-laden”; “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd,” whose rulers had become wolves (see Luke 6:20–26; Matthew 9: 36; 11:28–30). John 10 and Ezekiel 34 tell us that in Christ’s Jewish culture, the idea of a “leader as a shepherd” was associated with abundant life, showers of blessings that bring in abundant grain and crops.

To the hungry and naked, anxious about food and clothing, the Lord Jesus said, “Seek first his (God’s) kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:32–34). Because seeking God’s kingdom is our responsibility, Jesus asked those tired of the kingdom of Satan, to pray to God, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6: 10).

What Is the “Kingdom of God”?

The New Testament records several parables that Jesus used to teach the meaning of God’s kingdom. Understanding the first, the parable of the sower, is a key to understanding the rest of his teachings.

A parable is not a story. It is an analogy from everyday life. It gives clues to help us get to the layers of deeper meanings. Jesus, the one who was sowing the seed of the kingdom of God (Matthew 13:37), gave the first clue that the kingdom of God is like a seed. The seed is the word of God. The listeners are the soil. The “good soil” that receives the seed by faith and multiplies it into abundant fruit is the one which is prepared through deep repentance for sin.

Jesus gave several other clues to help us go to the deeper layers of the meaning. To receive the seed of the kingdom, the “word of God” (Logos), is to receive the king himself; to make Him, rather than Satan, the Lord of our lives.

Jesus also summarized the “word of God” as the command to love God with all our heart, strength, and mind and to love our neighbour as ourselves. These two commandments, he taught, encapsulate the Ten Commandments – the “very words of God”.

The Ten Commandments are the basis for our “fundamental” human rights. God’s commands “You shall not kill” and “You shall not steal” mean that we have God-given rights to life and property. No individual or government can deprive us of these rights. An inalienable right to the property that we inherit or create is the foundation of economic growth.

It was the Ten Commandments, which first required people to neither covet, nor steal what belongs to others, but to create wealth by working for six days and share it with the needy. Sociologist Max Weber and others popularized this key to the West’s economic success as the “Protestant Work Ethic”. In fact, it came as God’s word to the Jews. It began to be obeyed on a mass scale in Europe after the Protestant Reformation that began in the 16th century.

Kingdom That Cares

Expanding upon that theme, Jesus said that during the final judgment, “The King will reply [to the righteous], ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:40).

Jesus further expounded his theme of “the least of these” in a parable in Matthew 20. Because God is love, his kingdom is not merely about cold economic justice. It is also about the warmth of godly compassion. John Ruskin (1819–1900) saw the horrors of the Industrial Revolution and critiqued it in his 1860 essay that took its title, “Unto this last” from Christ’s parable (Matthew 20: 14). His response to the critics expanded that essay into a book (1862) critiquing capitalism that is without compassion.

Mahatma Gandhi discovered Unto This Last in March 1904, and it changed his life. He translated and published it into Gujarati, under the title of Sarvodaya (Wellbeing of All). Acharya Vinoba Bhave became the best-known champion of Gandhi’s Sarvodaya, a noble caricature of Christ’s teaching on God’s kingdom. Today, that seed of Christ’s parables has produced a number of programmes branded, more appropriately, as Antyodya (Wellbeing of the ‘Last’). The National Food Security Act, even if it is motivated more by politics than morality, is the latest of these.

One difference between Christ’s teaching and the food act becomes obvious when we consider the fourth parable. In this Jesus takes the analogy of the seed and the kingdom to yet another level of meaning. He says that those who receive the word of God as the seed of the kingdom, in turn, become the seed of the kingdom of God. When they choose to die like a grain of wheat they bear much (fruit and) seed.  A major difference between Christ’s teaching on the Kingdom of God and the National Food Security Act is obvious: God requires us to create wealth and take care of the poor. The food act encourages the poor to covet their neighbour’s wealth. They are bribed to vote for a government that will tax productive citizens, so that the government can feed itself and the poor.

Spirituality for Progress

God’s compassionate kingdom transforms politics. But it does not come through politics. We enter it, Jesus said, when we are born again (John 3: 1–18). This new birth happens when we invite the Spirit of God to plant in us the transforming seed of God’s word. This spiritual birth turns us from our sin and starts us on a new spiritual journey – on a path to progress that gives hope to the hopeless.

Charles Grant and William Carey (whom I have quoted elsewhere) were the first to present this optimistic perspective for India in 1792. Their books and example inspired thousands of disciples to bring hope to India. Phule and Gandhi tried to make Christ’s teaching even more attractive by clothing it in indigenous myths. They seemed to think one can eat the fruit while spitting out the seed.

For Christ’s disciples, however, Satan’s kingdom was no myth. They changed history because they were eye witnesses of the resurrected king. Their hope, anchored in the rock of history, enabled them to confront Satan’s kingdom of despair. Their knowledge of truth and the Spirit of God gave them the power to serve God even when it meant dying as grains of wheat. They knew that they will bring much fruit. And they did and continue to do, even in India.

Published in the October 2013 issue of the Forward Press magazine


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