Calcutta Notebook


Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appointed Yogi Adityanath as Chief Minister of UP. In doing so he has given a clear message that Hindu philosophy will guide his government. A principal tenet of Hinduism is that one must undertake worldly actions in a manner that they are in tune with one's inner self. Krishna asked Arjuna to wage war because his inner desires were of social acclaim. Krishna did not ask Arjuna to establish a multinational business empire or to learn the Vedas. Such activities would have taken Arjuna away from his inner desires. Hinduism places much stress on yoga and meditation so that a person can correctly recognize his inner desires and orient his worldly life in that direction. Other major religions similarly lead a person away from the worldly attractions. Islam places stress on doing as per the command of Allah. One should try to understand what Allah directs and do His bidding rather than be driven by advertisements. Christianity says that it is as difficult for the rich to enter heaven as it is for a camel to go through the needle hole. It encourages the people to be kind to the poor. Maybe, Programmes like MNREGA were implemented by Sonia Gandhi under this inspiration. Buddhism teaches the middle path of moderation. Moderate consumption is the key word. Ostentatious consumption driven by advertisements is discouraged. All the religions discourage people from indulging in endless and unwanted consumption that is driven by advertisements. The challenge before the Government is to translate this approach into economic and social policies.

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) should be operationalized keeping the above philosophy in view. All goods available in the market should be classified in "good", "moderate" and "luxury" categories. For example, bicycle may be classified as "good", scooter may be classified as "moderate", and luxury car may be classified as a "luxury" good. To give another example, dates and chyayanprash may be classified as "good", bread may be classified as "moderate" and Swiss chocolates may be classified as "luxury" goods. The "good" items may be taxed at the lowest rate of nil or 5 percent GST; the "moderate" items may be taxed at the middle rates of 12 or 18 percent GST and "luxury" items may be taxed at the highest rate of 40 percent GST. Such classification of goods will lower the price of "good" items like chyavanprash and encourage their increased consumption. At the same time this will increase the price of "luxury" items like Swiss chocolates and discourage their consumption. More consumption of items like chyavanprash will turn the mind of the people inward and away from the consumption of unnecessary items that distract the mind from one's true desires.

The second economic policy is to give encouragement to charity. The world is becoming more unequal by the day. Businesspersons holding monopoly products have the freedom to earn profits from across the world. Bill Gates, for example, earns profits from the sale of Windows software from almost every country in the world. On the other hand the workers are faced with global competition among themselves. Polish workers are entering United Kingdom and competing with UK workers leading to a decline in the wages of the latter. Bangladeshi workers are entering Assam Kingdom and competing with Indian workers leading to a decline in the wages of the latter. Thus there is increasing incomes of a handful of persons along with declining incomes of the billions. This situation will certainly lead to social instability as people are seeing in hate killings of persons of Indian origin in the United States. Worse, both the rich and the poor are unhappy. The rich are unhappy because they feel threatened by the large numbers of poor all around. The poor are unhappy because they feel ignored by the system. The solution is to encourage the rich to give away more of their incomes in charity. At present money given in charity to approved organizations qualifies for tax rebate under section 80G of the Income Tax Act. The provision is often used to evade tax. Businesspersons make fake charitable organizations and get them approved under section 80G. Then they give charity from their business concerns to their fake charitable organizations. Reason is that the social consensus today is in favour of avoiding the payment of tax. Need is to change this consensus in favour of genuine charity. The Government can confer Padma awards on those persons who give large amounts in charity. An award on the lines of Arjuna Awards for sportsmen can be established. Persons who give large amounts in charity in the country, every state and every district should be awarded. That will give respect to the giving of charity, it will give a message that less income can also beget more social respect. It will create a sense of detachment among the rich towards their wealth.

The third policy requiring attention is of advertisements. At present advertisements of alcohol and cigarettes are banned. Idea is that these are harmful goods and people must be discouraged to consume these. The approach should be widened. Luxury cars and Swiss chocolates give a message that happiness lies in advertisement-driven ostentatious consumption rather than inner self-driven consumption of bicycle and chyavanprash. Therefore the Government must ban advertisements of all items that are not positively good for the consumer. Warnings must be required to be printed on the wrappers of Swiss chocolates saying "Consumption of chocolates is harmful for health". Advertisements and registration certificates of luxury cars must state "Ostentatious consumption takes one away from his inner self and can lead to unhappiness". The pressure on consumers to conform to their peers must be torn down. In the process they must be encouraged to look inward and recognize their true desires.

The fourth policy relates to education. As said at the beginning of this article all major religions discourage ostentatious consumption. Need is to include this dimension in the school and college curriculum. Let the students be exposed to the idea that consumption of certain goods may be the path to bad health and unhappiness. This course must be made compulsory at the graduate level as well. An "Institute of Spiritual Education" must be established along the lines of IITs and IIMs across the country to undertake research and teaching of the spiritual dimensions. 

Vol. 49, No.41, April 16 - 22, 2017