Metaphorically the heart (hruday) represents human goodwill and helping nature toward the helpless and needy, whereas atma (soul) represents the non physical self which is disconnected from physical suffering. One can only take care of one’s own atma and never the atma of others.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared in midst of the coronavirus crisis an economic agenda called Atmanirbhar Bharat: Self Reliant India. He linked his Atmanirbhar agenda to a 20 lakh crore stimulus package so called. Subsequently Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced in five consecutive press conferences how the Centre will implement this package.

The whole exercise of the RSS/BJP government’s Atmanirbhar programme turns out to be privatising the economy more and more. The private sector — the rich industrialists and big business owners of India and other countries, who either have a share in ownership or run companies of their own — do so with the motive of profit, not of the nation’s welfare or people’s well being.

The major question is: how does Indian monopoly capital save the lives of massive numbers of the labour force who walked thousands of miles fearing that life management was impossible in the urban centres?

When at 8 pm on March 24 Modi declared a lockdown of the country without thinking about the 200 million labourers — who are mostly from SC/ST/OBC families — left without a house, water or food once the worksites were closed down from midnight.

Just four-five days’ warning from the Centre before the lockdown would have saved more people than the lockdown has saved from coronavirus.

The labour misery has shown the rulers’ heartlessness rather than a genuine concern and love for all people, including those most at risk of dying from the infection. The starved and walking children and women died on the roads, in the forests, on railway tracks on street corners and in shelters. Children’s faces wrenched the hearts, of those who have human hearts, not just atma.

The world’s biggest organisation, the RSS and the biggest political party the BJP, were completely busy saving their own lives in securely locked up homes. Other political parties, including Congress and the Communists, did not deploy their leaders and cadres to save people from walking, starving and dying.

The whole world was locked down during the same period but no other country’s roads were bleeding as India’s roads when the most self-righteous nationalist party is ruling India.

The workers thought that villages would have some human environment unlike the jobless and heartless urban centres. The urban centres would kill them morally and physically in lockdown. If there was Any hope of living safe in the cities they would have not pushed themselves on to the national high ways in such a hot sun, walking with children and old and pregnant women.

The political system has shown its heartlessness to food producers, mansion builders across the country. Its nationalism left them to be victims of corona on the way. Now many of them are also dying of the cruel virus. Neither Gods nor ‘nationalists’ were kind to them.

In 95 years of existence the RSS/BJP (earlier Jan Sangh) networks in India, ideologically and practically, never were trained to think about improving the lives of India’s labour forces. Their main discourse — in organising people, writing programmatic resolutions, and speaking in the process of propaganda — was about religious nationalism.

The centrality of that nationalism was opposition to Muslims and Christians. Even their much debated cultural nationalism was to weaken the Muslim and Christian presence in India. But never to strengthen the poor producers of food and builders of the nation.

Why? They all belong to Dalit/Shudra/OBC/Adivasi families. They do not figure in the nationalism as equals with industrialists or pompous religious gurus.

They never developed a concrete economic nationalist agenda. In the early 20th century when the RSS was started, economic nationalism would have meant mainly agriculture, the land question, the artisanal economy and also the tackling of caste divisions. The Indian National Congress and the Communist Party of India were discussing many of these questions, though with their weaknesses. Ambedkar and Periyar Ramasamy Nayakar and their associates raised the abolition of the caste question along with reducing human inequalities. But the RSS nationalists treated them as enemies.

The RSS ideologues never wrote anything against landlordism or against the usury capital that was in the hands of Indian Bania capitalists. Muslims and Christians never controlled business or big landed estates. For example, the Desai and Sirdesai landlords in Maharashtra were Brahmins and they controlled a lot of land before the Shudra Marathas became landlords.

But the whole labour of India was constituted by Shudra and Dalit masses. Brahmins and Banias were never in the labour market of India. Only Shudra/Dalits were. Their problems were never seen as national problems. The government’s indifference to millions of migrant labourers walking, starving and dying on the way to their home villages is part of this anti-labour nationalism, their historical baggage.

Does Modi, who is an OBC prime minister, have the goodwill to help the labour force that has suffered more from the lockdown than corona, more in India than in any other country?

We have not seen a tortuously walking labour force because of lockdown in China or Indonesia or other countries so impacted by the virus.

This nation is what it is because of their labour power. They never said they were not Hindu. They are not religion conscious; they are conscious of their children and old parents and how to feed food to them every day. They are as much voters as the Ambani, Adani families are. They are Indian citizens as much as Sri Sri Ravisankar or Jaggi Vasudev or any other sadhu or sanyasi the leaders revere so much every day.

How can political parties or organisations that do not love labour, love a nation?

A nation as land is important, but without people to work on it what does that land give?

Any spiritual culture should first love labour and see God in the labour of masses. God would not represent wars, or lynching somebody, but would represent labour. This God’s essence lies killed on the roads during the lockdown but we have not killed the virus.

A number of media reports have suggested that this Atmanirbhar programme is a Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh swadeshi agenda put forth by its so-called economic theoretician Dattopant Thengadi (of the Swadeshi Jagaran Munch) and the Hindu economist Dr M.G.Bokare who wrote the book Hindu Economics: Eternal Economic Order, published in 1993.

A very fundamental question is: Do the RSS and BJP have their theory of production and distribution in different sectors in the Indian economy over a period of time? The organisation that worked for 95 years in India and the political party that has been in existence in two avatars as Jan Sangh and BJP have no record of having a positive theory of production and distribution. Any serious survey of their literature shows they have hardly evolved a theory of their own grounded in an Indian economic thought.

The post-Covid privatisation will push more labour force into a deathtrap.

Their public discourse always has been around religion and culture but not the economy. They vaguely talk of Swadeshi, a concept Mahatma Gandhi used in his Hind Swaraj (with a sense of the freedom of India). Gandhi was opposed to industrialising India and was for cottage industries in a decentralised village economic model. His Charka was a symbol of that economic model. The Nehruvians and Communists were for industrialisation and urbanisation.

But Dattopant’s ‘Third Way’ does not seem to be a way at all.

Thus in the absence of the RSS/BJP’s long drawn out ‘Economic Way’, what does it seem the RSS/BJP’s self-reliant India would be? So far their rule of eleven years has followed the Congress model of development. The Congress has a history of anti-feudal land reform agenda; the RSS/BJP were opposed to any discourse on land reform. Now feudalism is dead.

The RSS/BJP has favoured urban capitalism in control of the Indian economy. Now Indian monopoly capital is in league with North American-European capital and the present BJP government is completely pro-American.. What self reliance is possible in that Big Brother–small brother relationship?

The nation is saved by agrarian production and agrarian labour in the lockdown crisis. The public sector health system is weak and the private sector health system is more or less shut down. India’s labour force can access only government hospitals. But no meaningful share of the 20 lakh stimulus money has been allocated to the government health sector.

All this only shows Hindutva’s heartless atma craving for more money at the expense of dying labour.

Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is a political theorist, social activist and author

Cover Photograph Reuters