When Economic Survey quoted ‘Arthashastra’, ‘Thirukural’

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BY ANINDYA BANERJEE
New Delhi, Feb 1 (IANS)
When India’s Economic Survey, which serves as the official report of the state of the economy, talked about Kautilya’s “Arthashastra” and Thiruvalluvar’s “Thirukural”, it turned a nation with a fiscal deficit surpassing 3.3 per cent into a “dominant economic power globally” by “design”.
Ironic and detached from political and fiscal reality it may sound, but that is how the Economic Survey of 2020 introduces itself.
Believe it or not, the survey’s preface reads: “The Survey documents that ideas of wealth creation are rooted in India’s old and rich tradition ranging from Kautilya’s ‘Arthashastra’ to Thiruvalluvar’s ‘Thirukkural’, which emphasizes ethical wealth creation as a noble human pursuit.
“The survey uses the ancient literature and contemporary evidence and to show that India’s dalliance with Socialism — a few decades is afterall ephemeral in a history of millennia — is an exception with belief in the invisible hand of markets being the norm.
“Maddison (2007) provides the historical evidence that India has been the dominant economic power globally for more than three-fourths of known economic history (sic.).”
And what does the survey done by bringing in reference to these ancient literatures? It suggests that “Such dominance manifests by design; not happenstance”. While the survey talks about the importance of market, sensex, it also talks about “Thalinomics”.
While the survey talks about numbers when it delves into “Assemble in India” or specifics when it talks about “wealth creation”, it often deviates to literary references and nonspecific claims.
For instance, it quotes Tamil saint and philosopher Thiruvalluvar to say: “Wealth, the lamp unfailing, speeds to every land; Dispersing darkness at its lord’s command.”
To ensure the concept of wealth creation is not looked down upon suspiciously, it goes on to quote Thirukural’s Verse 754, where he states, “(Wealth) yields righteousness and joy, the wealth acquired capably without causing any harm.”
While many would wonder what purpose does this serve, some would argue that this is to blunt political barbs like “suit boot ki sarkar” by Rahul Gandhi that were aimed at Prime Minister Narednra Modi.
But, at the end, this economic survey appears confused on what purpose it wants to serve — hailing sensex, wealth creation, energising service sector or calling capitalism “crony” or for that matter thrust on social infra spending.
The survey is a mix bag of fiscal prudence and political rhetoric. Why else would an economic survey dedicate an entire chapter on “Pro-Business versus Pro-Crony” to highlight the difference between the two?
“Pro-crony policies as reflected in discretionary allocation of natural resources till 2011 led to rent-seeking by beneficiaries while competitive allocation of the same resources post 2014 have put an end to such rent extraction,” the Survey said.
It was a sharp dig at the Congress-led UPA government. It also used the word “crony lending”.
At one point, the survey quoted, “The just man’s wealth unwasting shall endure, and to his race a lasting joy ensure.” Thirukural’s verse in Tamil font was also used in the survey, leaving one to wonder the very need of it in the first place.
At a time when the Indian economy is battling poor liquidity, market slump, Chinese goods folding Indian market putting MSME sector under stress, an estimated 6.2 million job losses between 2011-12 and 2017-18, the economic survey could have been more forward looking and visionary than taking inspirations from ancient scriptures to call Indian economy a ‘dominant’ one by ‘design’ and seek refuge in fiction.