Nine years after advent in public life, Rahul Gandhi addressed the Confederation of the Indian Industry [CII]. Media conferred on him the title ‘Boss’. The Boss told captains of industry: “They used to look at India and say, Boss, the Hindu rate of Growth. They have been saying like this for 3,000 years. Now the Hindu Rate of growth is like the European rate of growth’. This less serious comment calls for serious response. Otherwise illiteracy about India will continue to persist for lack of literacy among Indians who speak for India. But, it calls for a peep into the world and the Indian economic history which most Indian academics, particularly economists, seem to be least interested in and therefore less aware of.
The label ‘Hindu rate of growth’ was coined by Professor Rajkrishna, a socialist establishment economist, in 1978 to rationalise why India was growing ‘slowly’ despite following the socialist prescriptions. Raj Krishna’s label was original but its philosophy was borrowed. It all originated in the colonial discourse on India. A notable victim of colonial discourse on India was Karl Marx. Even before he brought out his magnum opus Das Kapital, Karl Marx wrote an article on the Indian economy [June 25, 1853] in New York Harold Tribune. In his article, he was generally positive about the distinct ‘Hindoo’ India’s village system of agriculture and manufacturing which, he said, gave to people their independent organisation and social life. But he said that that had made India changeless for two thousand years. So the British, he said, were doing the right thing, though painful, causing a social revolution by demolishing the village system which Marx described as ‘semi-barbarian and semi-civilised’. Why semi-barbarian and semi-civilised?
Not because the village economic model was wrong per se, but, because, Marx said, the Hindoos were worshipping cows and monkeys and were even claiming antiquity greater than Christianity’s! Karl Marx, who never came to India, never met any informed Indian, nor read any worthwhile Indian literature dismissed India as a semi-barbarian. His knowledge about India was limited colonial records on India. Then came Max Weber. He had theorised that only Protestant Christian societies could progress under modern capitalist model since Protestantism alone promoted individualism and enterprise. He was entitled to his comment because he had studied the rise of America and European protestant nations as compared to the Catholic countries which had stagnated. But he impertinently wrote in late 1920s that India and China, which followed Hindu-Buddhist faiths, would not succeed under capitalist model because they believed in karma, rebirth and caste. He too never went to India, perhaps never met a proper Indian, but still adversely commented on Hinduism and Buddhism. Studies have established that the Marx and Weber theories had exerted the greatest influence on Indian academic, sociological and economic thinking. In the same stream of thought, Winston Churchill called Indians anarchic and barbaric. After freedom J K Galbraith described India as a functioning anarchy. Professor Rajkrishna’s remark was the Indian affirmation of this thought stream that held Hinduism guilty for keeping semi-barbaric and under-developed. This is what the Boss also has recalled in his CII speech.
But this colonial theory was proved fake in 1983 -- exactly five years after Rajkrishna trashed Hinduism for India’s low growth. In that year Paul Bairoch, a Belgian economist, came out with his study of the world economy and his findings astounded the West. He said that in 1750 India’s share of world GDP was 24.5 per cent, China’s 33 per cent, but the combined share of Britain and the US was - believe it - just two per cent. Yes only two per cent!
India’s share, Bairoch found, fell to 20 per cent in 1800; to 18 per cent in 1830; and finally crashed to 1.7 per cent in 1900, while China’s crashed to 6.2 per cent from 33 per cent. In these 150 years, the combined share of Britain and the US rose to from 2 per cent to over 41 per cent. Bairoch shook the West by saying that in middle 19th century, the West had a lower standard of living than Asians - read Indians and Chinese. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD], network of rich nations, forthwith constituted a Development Institute Studies under Angus Maddisson, a great economic historian, to conduct a comprehensive research into economic history - the implied agenda was to prove Bairoch wrong.
Angus Maddisson postulated, ‘if Bairoch is right, then much more of the backwardness of the third world presumably has to be explained by colonial exploitation’ and ‘much less of Europe’s advantage can be due to scientific precocity, centuries of slow accumulation, and organisational and financial superiority’. After two decades of hard work, Maddision published his studies titled ‘World Economic History - A Millennial Perspective in 2001’.
His study confirmed Bairoch’s study of 150 years and more, as Maddisson studied the entire 2000 years economic history. Maddisson showed that India was the leading economic power of the world from the 1st year of the first millennium till 1700 - with 32 per cent share of world’s GDP in the first 1000 years and 28 per cent to 24 per cent in the second millennium till 1700.
China was second to India except in 1600 when China temporarily overtook India. India again overtook China in 1700. The global economic play was in the hands of India and China till 1830. And two nations disqualified for development by Weber for following Hindu and Buddhist religions. Maddison confirmed, actually confessed, that [Hindu] India fell only due to colonial exploitation. Now the Maddisson study, endorsed by OECD, is the most authentic economic history of the world. What does it prove? The Hindu rate of growth had kept India going as the most powerful economy of the world for 1850 years out of 2000 years. That is why William Dalrymple described the rise of India ‘as the empire striking back’ -- meaning that India’s rise was not rags to riches story.
The Bairoch-Maddisson studies have sealed the discourse decades back. Their studies have also been corroborated by other studies and records. Some of them are: studies into the Mayuran export-led economic Model Hindu India [American Journal of Economics and Sociology April 1993]; study into consumption during Akbar’s regime as being higher than in Europe by Centre for West Asia Studies Jamia Milia Islamia University; the Economic History of Greco-Roman World which described how two thousand years ago India was bankrupting Roman Egypt of its gold reserves by its export surplus; the history of Indian merchant navy which had a fleet strength of 40,000 ships in Akbar’s time and as many as 34,000 ships before the British arrived and the Bank of International Settlements [BIS] Annual report of 1934-35 which said that between 1493 and 1930 India absorbed 14 per cent of world gold production - which meant that it earned that much export surplus for five centuries continuously.
QED: Hindu rate of growth had made India super power. Colonialism did India down to poverty. Nehruvian socialism made it stagnate even after freedom.
The slow growth of India was due to Nehruvian socialism. But thanks to Rajkrishna the label Hindu rate of growth was globalised by the World Bank President Robert McNamara in 1980s. He said that India would always be in need of aid and it would ever be a burden on the world.
Another person who carried on the tradition of Marx-Weber-Rajkrishna-McNamara to trivialise Hindu India was Montek Alhuwalia who endorsed Rajkrishna’s description of India even after the 21st century opened. The only exception in the present establishment is Shiv Shankar Menon, the National Security Adviser, who profoundly called India’s rise “re-rise”. Will the Boss begin learning the true history of Hindu rate of growth, not repeat the spurious history when he talks to the FICCI or elsewhere later?
S Gurumurthy is a well-known commentator on political and economic issues.