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Sitharaman's Act of God idea 'justifies' unequal social order as GDP contracts 24%

Bhabani Shankar Nayak*

A few days before the news came that India's gross domestic product (GDP) has contracted 23.9 per cent in the April-June period, much worse than economists' estimates, as coronavirus brought key industries to a halt and rendered millions jobless, Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman created flutter by attributing the pandemic-led economic downturn as an “Act of God.”
This was the worst negative growth since 1996, when India began publishing quarterly figures, and also the worst among major Asian economies. Official figures show, the negative growth stands in stark contrast with expansion of 3.1 per cent in the previous quarter, and 5.2 per cent in the quarter ended June 30, 2019.
However, Sitharaman is not alone in this Act of God bandwagon. The theological reasoning gives temporary relief to the ruling classes, but fails to provide long term hiding ground in history. The extraordinary economic fall out of the Covid-19 pandemic gives an opportunity to the ruling classes and neoliberal economists to hide all their failures.
Neoliberal authoritarian governments always find a way to manipulate and outsource their ignorance and responsibilities to God. Surely, the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic crises are not an Act of God, but the result of destruction of nature, neoliberal capitalism, and failure of states and governments to respond to the global pandemic and the resultant economic crises.
The Act of God theory of Sitharaman clearly puts her in theological trouble. The Hindu religion has 33 crore Gods and Goddesses and religious Perhaps nobody has the record of how many of these are registered and unregistered God and Goddesses. Some are mythological deities and some are living deities.
It is difficult to fix the blame on one God or Goddess. You may not have real choice in a capitalist supermarket as a consumer. There is no freedom of choice for consumers under neoliberal capitalism unless you have purchasing power and disposable incomes. But there is real freedom in choice of Gods and Goddesses.
Even the hierarchical caste and temple barriers have are no obstacles in the choice of one’s Gods and Goddesses. There is no mystery here. India is a society of cultural diversity, which breeds religious diversity and vice versa. However, this religious and cultural diversity in India is a bane for Hindutva politics, represented by Sitharaman.
One wonders why she didn’t invoke the Karma theory as outlined in the Bhagavad Gita to justify the government and blame all Indians or all the people in the world for the ordeals of global economic and health crises. In fact, the Karma theory would have provided a better way to escape from the constitutional responsibilities and economic ignorance of the leadership.
The Karma theory not only individualises responsibilities and results of one’s own work but also externalises individual problems to the results of the Karma in previous life. It helps to 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. 
Karma theory would have provided a better theological and ideological justification for an exploitative and unequal society like ours
The Indian economy was knocked down by mistaken economic policies, social insecurities and directionless politics. By invoking the Act of God theory, the effort is to evade blaming the Modi government for the demonetisation, GST, unplanned and authoritarian lockdown, and lack of investment in public health and health infrastructure. All are supposed to be pre-planned by God and destined to happen beyond the control of the state. 
The Act of God theory is not only obnoxious but also reflects arrogant economic illiteracy of Hindutva leadership. The hierarchical and Brahmanical social order-based ‘caste’ and ‘capitalism’ are the twin pillars of Hindutva politics. The Karma theory would have provided a better theological and ideological justification for an exploitative and unequal society like ours.
After all, the Act of God theory supplements the Karma theory, helping her cover up her government’s failures. But Karma theory could have been a superior excuse than the Act of God argument. It is not just about personal Karma in previous and current life; it is about seeing a life as a whole and justifying every actions of the power in the society.
The Karma theory domesticates production, consumption and distribution. It organises it with caste hierarchy. Therefore, probably it would be good idea for Hindutva forces to fall back on Karma theory to justify loot, corruption, dominance and deaths in Indian republic.
However, the fact is, the markets, ruling classes and Gods have failed the people in history. Governments are overthrown to the dustbins of history by the reasoning power of people. The collective experience breeds collective movements to steer society out of the crises.
It is a matter of time when neither the acts of god nor Modi government can stop the emanating upheavals in India. The 33 crore Gods and Goddesses in India cannot take the blames and witness to the deceptive politics of the BJP government led by Modi.
Sitharaman’s Act of God explanation has lost its relevance in history. It is illusionary like Hindutva promise of salvation of life under Mod’s rule. However, a powerful mass movement alone can save India and Indians from the disaster called Hindutva, which is a cocktail of arrogance and ignorance.
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*Senior lecturer, Coventry University, UK

Comments

Lijo Matthew said…
I think the author needs to study finance. He/she seems to be terribly ill equipped to comment on matters of finance and economics. The author instead of writing on the issue of GST, goes on a bigoted rant.

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