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Indian Modernity

Letters

Indian Modernity

M
eera Nanda’s observations on cultural contradictions of India’s modernity (February 11, 2006) deserve admiration for her unflinching advocacy of scientific temper and spirit of reasoning in tradition-driven cultures like ours. She has done well to underscore the contemporary value of the fundamental Enlightenment principle expressed in the Kantian motto ‘Sapere aude’ (have courage to use your own reason). She has also ably pointed out the dangerous implications of the widely prevalent proclivity of intellectuals and religious leaders to construct existence of the scientific spirit and reasoning in Vedic and related spiritual knowledge. There can be little doubt that the imaginary scientism of ancient Indian heritage is aggressively used by the Hindutva elite to elevate their faith and heritage to a level of global superiority and potential supremacy that should remain in the realm of reverie and wishful thinking.

Now, as a person looking for useable thoughts in Nanda’s argument to contain the evil effects of pseudo science, do I have leads for a road-map? She seems keen to put an end to generation and dissemination of intellectual interpretations that would support claims of modern rationality in knowledge produced by Vedic seers and their cohorts. Interestingly, Nanda’s illustrative list of people who have contributed to the production of such interpretations presents salesmen such as Baba Ramdeo and Deepak Chopra, philosophers such as Radhakrishnan and spiritualised scientists such as Fritjof Capra in the same gallery. Should I don a spiritual garb and wish them all away from modern Indian heritage? Should I lead a campaign to ensure that such knowledge should forever stop being produced in India? Should I join a crusade to prevent the next generation from exposure to the scientism of Mahesh Yogi and Vivekanand?

I am afraid there is no negotiable road to those kind of goals. So, I need to ponder over what the Radhakrishnans and the Capras have to tell me. Or maybe I should enter a Kantian mould and have the courage to use my own reason. At the base of my education in science and scientific outlook, I need help to be able to distinguish between scientific rationality and what Nanda calls pseudo science or scientism. If my reasoning is armed with this facility, I do not need to fear any encounter with a Baba Ramdeo or a Capra. Indeed, I may discover that the apparent rubbish of Vedic scientism or mythological pseudo science contain within it sparks of post-Enlightenment reasoning that may be worth the attention of the children of Kantian modernity. I may also learn that scientific rationality, which should set limits for examination of religious or spiritual scientism, is itself limited by what modern science does not know and is therefore obliged to assume or imagine. I am told a lot of modern science has descended from scientific imagination to post-Enlightenment reasoning. If so, grant me the freedom to examine where and how spiritual reasoning (sans religious faith of the classic believer) can and should intersect with the spirit and discipline of the science of today and tomorrow. If the pure rationalist in Nanda is willing to open a window for such a view, it may be easier to combat the decidedly poisonous efforts by preachers and politicians to wear and sell vested interests in saffronised packages of modern science. Sapere aude.

N R SHETH

Ahmedabad

Budget 2006-07:Pro-Rich

I
n budget 2006-07, the finance minister has tried to pacify all and sundry. It is, of course, a continuation of his previous budgets. In the globalised

(Continued on p 1216)

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Economic and Political Weekly March 25, 2006

Letters

(Continued from p 1146)

scenario, a democratic government may be redefined as “for the corporates, of the corporates and by the corporates”. This is the impression one gets when the budget is studied. The finance minister, at the outset, has stated that his budget was bound to ensure growth, equity and social justice. Has he tried to keep to his promise? Has he properly used fiscal instruments to obtain this goal?

Economic Survey 2005-06 states that savings by the corporate sector – reflecting the high retained earnings from their profits – grew steadily from

3.6 per cent in 2001-02 to 4.8 per cent of GDP in 2004-05 (Section 1.45). It recorded 24.9 per cent growth in 2004-05 itself (quick estimate). Section 1.43 of the Economic Survey reports that in 2004-05, household savings grew at 5.9 per cent – slower than the GDP growth rate – and made a negative contribution by coming down as a proportion of GDP. Section 1.46 also reports that private final consumption expenditure (PFCE) at current prices, as a proportion of GDP, fell successively from 64.6 per cent in 1999-2000 to 60.6 per cent in 2004-05. Among the various components of PFCE, the share of food, beverages and tobacco in total expenditure came down from 46.8 per cent in 2000-01 to 40.6 per cent in 2004-05.

From this it is clear that household saving as well as household consumption expenditure have come down. This shows a worsening of the income and welfare of the average Indian. At the same time, corporate India has gained successively. When the average Indian is put under the yoke of the tax burden, corporates and high income brackets with higher potential go scot-free.

There are, of course, a series of budget announcements and allocations, which are pro-poor, pro-unemployed and pro-rural. Bharat Nirman is a case in point. But many such programmes are already blunted and have not made a dent in alleviating endemic poverty.

The new budget augurs well for growth, but not for equity and social justice.

MARY GEORGE

Thiruvananthapuram

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