Syrian Orthodox bishop doubts St Thomas visited South India – Times News Network

Geevarghese Mor Coorilos

St. Thomas did not visit Kerala and did not convert upper caste Hindus to Christianity. – Metropolitan Geevarghese Mor Coorilos of the Jacobite Syrian Church

The following remarkable news item appeared in The Times of India, Kochi edition, on 13 April 2018:

Udukki: After the land scam, another controversy has erupted in the Syro-Malabar Church. This time around, the ruckus is over the historical validity of the claim that St. Thomas the apostle had visited Kerala.

Three days ago, bishop Geevarghese Mor Coorilos of the Niranam diocese of the Jacobite Syrian Church said St. Thomas hadn’t visited the state and did not convert upper caste Hindus to Christianity.

Syro-Malabar Church official spokesperson and senior priest belonging to Enakulam-Angamali diocese Fr. Paul Thelekatt too agreed with the Niranam bishop: “There is no valid evidence to prove the visit of St. Thomas to Kerala. It is believed that he visited Kerala in the first century and converted Brahmins to Christianity. But the migration of Brahmins to Kerala began only in the 7th century,[1] indicating that such claims were false. The fact is that a group of people followed Christianity for several centuries in Kerala.”

Syrian Christians in Kerala believe that St. Thomas had visited Kerala and converted the upper caste Namoodiris to Christianity. They believe St. Thomas had also built eight churches (also known as 7.5 churches) in various parts of Kerala. The Syrian Christians are also known as St. Thomas Christians. “Even the Pope has made it clear that St. Thomas had not visited Kerala. But a certain section among Kerala Christians have been nursing a certain caste bias claiming to be descendants of upper caste Hindus who were converted to Christianity,” said Fr. Thelakkat. In fact, Syrian Christians in Changanacherry, Pala and Kanjirappally claim that they belong to upper caste Hindu families converted by St. Thomas. Most of the families in these areas reportedly claim they hail from “Athi Puratana Katholika Kudumbam”.

However, Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC) doesn’t seemed to be amused over the controversy.

“There is no need to discuss the issue now. Those who raised the issue should solve it,” said KCBC official spokesperson Fr. Varghese Vallikkatt. – The Times of India, 3 April 2018

1. There is a record of Namboodiri Brahmins in Kerala in the middle of the fourth century CE, when the practice of the Vedic Shrauta traditions were revived. The sixth or seventh century dates for their appearance is a politically-coloured Marxist conjecture. But it is true that there is no record of Namboodiris in Kerala in the first three and a half centuries CE (as there is none for Christians).

St. Thomas & Hindu Assassin


Marxists and Christians search for St. Thomas at Pattanam – Sandhya Jain

St Thomas by Georges de la Tour (1625-30)

Sandhya JainKerala’s attempt to create spurious evidence of the arrival of Apostle Thomas in India merits wider dissemination. It must be seen as part of a concerted attempt to entrench the Cross in India. – Sandhya Jain

Rescuing the antiquity of Indian civilisation from the biblical mythology of Max Mueller, rubbishing the well-orchestrated history-as-dogma of the Aryan invasion and proving the existence of river Saraswati, excavating and resurrecting the still unknown past, and restoring the once handsome architectural marvels that have fallen victim to time or iconoclasts, Indian archaeologists have their task cut out for them. Their work is critical in correcting the lacunas, misinterpretations and falsifications of history in various parts of the country, especially at the hands of scholars with a pronounced bias against our native traditions.

Unless repudiated, invented history enters the popular mind as “fact”. The Aryan fable still persists because Marxists have been able to prevent all historical and scientific findings, disproving the movement of people into India at the time of the alleged “invasion”, from entering school textbooks where the foundations of knowledge are laid. This is why noted archaeologist B.S. Harishankar’s debunking of the Kerala Council for Historical Research’s (KCHR) attempts to create spurious evidence of the arrival of Apostle Thomas in India, unequivocally denied by Pope Benedict XVI in September 2006, merits wider dissemination.

The excavations to identify Pattanam, in Ernakulum district, with ancient Muziris of the Cheras, began soon after the Syro-Malabar Church scrambled to rescue the legend that claimed India as the first mission of the church, long before it went to Europe. As a result, in November 2006, the Vatican Secretariat accepted the story as history, to project Christianity as an indigenous faith of great longevity. Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) embraced the project with alacrity; the brochure, Muziris Heritage Project: Pattanam Excavations 2008, lists Prof. Romila Thapar as one of the patrons.

In Pattanam: Constructs, Contexts and Interventions (2017), Harishankar denounces the presence of European and American scholars in the dig, while excluding the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and Indian universities. Eminent historians Prof. Dilip K. Chakbrabarti and Prof. M.G.S. Narayanan, and archaeologists Prof. R. Nagaswamy, Prof. A. Sundara, and Prof. T.  Sathyamurthy, denounced the attempts to link Pattanam with Muziris, when Kodungallur where the river meets the sea, is far more logical. Neither archaeological evidences nor historical records support Apostle Thomas arrived in India; he possibly visited Fars (Persia) and the Afghanistan region.

Harishankar has referenced the Pattanam excavations with all researched and published material available. The KCHR, headed by Prof. K.N. Panikkar of JNU, is alleged to have manipulated archaeological evidence and manufactured new evidence to “prove” that Pattanam had historical ties with Jerusalem and other regions in West Asia from 1000 BC. He discusses the evidence that debunks the theory that there was ever a port city at Pattanam along the west coast, which the KCHR historians claim was an international trade route dating back to 800 BC.

Interestingly, the claim that Apostle Thomas established the first settlement at Pattanam was independently debunked by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Trombay, and the National Institute of Oceanography, Kochi. The BARC scientists, who successfully traced the course of the Saraswati through radio isotope studies, examined Kerala’s mud banks during the monsoons and concluded that marine and palaeo-hydrological studies rule out the possibilities of a port city, wharf or township at Pattanam. In fact, the area excavated by the KCHR does not qualify for excavations as the cultural stratigraphy has been badly damaged by monsoons, floods, erosion, and construction activities. Moreover, as Harishankar maintains, the ASI is the only body competent to authorise excavations.

Pattanam is not an archaeological mound, as claimed by KCHR. Western India, Harishankar argues, has several archaeological sites with ramparts or mud embankments to prevent floods. No such evidence has been found at Pattanam. On the contrary, the site at Pattanam in lower Periyar has coastal alluvium with sand and clay, and lacks laterite formation or thick soil. Hence, it was not chosen as an Iron Age settlement.

Moreover, urbanism in early historic India involves certain precursors such as immense size, internal planning, public architecture, settlement hierarchies, enclosing walls, script, craft specialisation, long-distance trade, subsistence strategies and population growth. None of these exist at Pattanam, yet KCHR’s chosen scholars claimed as an urban site and port city. When the absence of these parameters were pointed out, the KCHR historians toned down their claims and alleged that the structural remains unearthed were carried away by locals, which is simply ridiculous.

Curiously, KCHR forwarded the plant remains found at Pattanam to the Spices Board, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, though it has no competence to examine them. And despite premier institutions available in India, the carbon dating was done abroad. But what is more pertinent, KCHR’s modern historians with no experience in field archaeology should not have excavated Pattanam with foreign funds and a crew of Biblical scholars.

KCHR appointed Dr. P.J. Cherian, with no academic background in archaeology, as director of the Pattanam excavations. Cherian’s PhD dissertation is on “The Communist Movement in Travancore: From the Origins to the Uprisings in 1946” (University of Calicut, 1993). However, The University of Rome Tor Vergata granted a three-year research fellowship to P.J. Cherian, Director, KCHR, and Pattanam excavations.

To assist Cherian, some distinguished Biblical historians and Latin scholars were attached to the project. They include Istvan Perczel (Hungarian scholar of Byzantine history and early Christianity); Roberta Tomber (specialist in Roman and Indian Ocean pottery); Frederico de Romanis (expert on Roman and Portuguese pepper trade); and Irving R. Finkel (British philologist and Assyriologist, expert in the script, languages and cultures of the Middle East). None is equipped to handle excavations; it’s a Max Mueller style of biblical mumbo jumbo.

In an exhibition at the National Museum in 2014, KCHR claimed Pattanam is the third Indian site to unearth terra sigillata pottery after Arikamedu and Alagankulam in Tamil Nadu, though it has been found at Uraiyur, Kanchipuram, Vasavasamudram, Kodumanal, Karur and Sulur in Tamil Nadu and several sites in Gujarat and western India. It claimed that rouletted pottery from Pattanam was reported for the first time on the west coast, when it was found in 124 sites across the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea.

Cherian is the executive president of the Association for the Preservation of the Saint Thomas Christian Heritage. His claim that his excavation unearthed evidence of a 2,000-year-old port city at a place where Saint Thomas allegedly landed rests more on faith than on history or archaeology. It must be seen as part of a concerted attempt to entrench the Cross in Asia, particularly India. – The Pioneer, 3 April 2018.

» Sandhya Jain is a political analyst and columnist with The Pioneer, New Delhi.

Pattanam by B.S. Harishankar


Ganja Research: Patanjali comes to the aid of stoners and industrialists – Suneera Tandon

Sadhu smoking a chillum

Suneera TandonWhile cannabis’s use is widespread as an intoxicant in India, it’s not widely used industrially. As a result, only a handful of companies and legislators have sought to get it legalised, doing which could also help provide a livelihood to farmers. And an intervention by Ramdev’s firm could surely help the cause. – Suneera Tandon

India’s leading ayurveda-based products maker now wants to ace cannabis research.

Patanjali Ayurved is stepping up studies on the plant’s medicinal and industrial properties, its chief executive Balkrishna told Quartz.

“In ayurveda, since ancient times, parts of cannabis (hemp), for instance, have been used for medicinal purposes. So, we are looking at various formulations. We should ponder over the benefits and positive uses of the cannabis plant,” Balkrishna said over a call.

At its research and development centre in Haridwar, a team of some 200 scientists is looking into the benefits of various indigenous Indian plant species and their extracts for use in medicines and other products. Cannabis is one of them.

The yoga guru Ramdev-led company, which has already made a fortune selling ayurveda-based face cleansers, toothpaste, and detergents, has for a while been looking for new growth avenues. It has now taken a cue from western countries where the legal cannabis economy is booming.

“In western markets, parts of the cannabis plants are being used for fibre for cloth or some kinds of oils. Similarly, we are doing some research to see that the harmful or intoxicating properties (of cannabis) are removed and then it is used,” Balkrishna said.

India, however, is yet to officially recognise the cannabis economy. In other markets such as the US, where the use of the plant is legal in some states, sales of cannabis generated close to $8 billion in 2017.

Cannabis in India

Cannabis cultivation and trade are partially restricted in India.

While its cultivation for industrial purposes (i.e. obtaining fibre such as industrial hemp or for horticultural use) is allowed, consuming it could lead to a jail term of six months or a hefty fine. Overall, its use and legality come under the purview of the finance ministry’s department of revenue and are governed by the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985.

There are two main species of cannabis plants, Cannabis sativa L and Cannabis indica. The sativa species contains strong fibre and is used mostly for industrial purposes (like making hemp fibre), while indica has medicinal and recreational uses. The main difference between the two is their tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, content. THC is what determines cannabis’s mind-altering properties and the indica variety contains more of it. In fact, the Indian government encourages the research and cultivation of cannabis with low THC content. The national policy (pdf) on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances even recognises cannabis as a source of biomass, fibre, and high-value oil.

Patanjali is working on these lines, Balkrishna said. For while cannabis’s use is widespread as an intoxicant in India, it’s not widely used industrially. As a result, only a handful of companies and legislators have sought to get it legalised, doing which could also help provide a livelihood to farmers. And an intervention by Ramdev’s firm could surely help the cause.

“There exists a huge market for cannabis in India. A lot of scientific research needs to be done, especially for those who are framing the laws,” said Yash Kotak, founder and director of Mumbai-based startup, The Bombay Hemp Company. Backed by Ratan Tata, this firm has been using hemp fibre to make clothes and hemp seeds for topical oils.

Balkrishna had pushed for cannabis earlier, too. In a 2014 video (see below), he is seen explaining the medicinal use of the hemp seeds (derived from the cannabis sativa plant).

“The cannabis economy in India is just getting started,” Kotak said. In Ramdev’s Patanjali, it also has a powerful new backer. – Quartz, 6 February 2018


Delhi and Mumbai are among the world’s most stoned cities

Indians just keep on rolling.

Delhi and Mumbai ranked among the world’s top 10 cities with the highest rates of cannabis (marijuana or weed) consumption per year, according to a study by Seedo, an Israel-based firm that sells devices to grow weed at home.

Across the border, Pakistan’s commercial capital, Karachi, where cannabis trade is illegal, is the second-largest consumer of cannabis across the 120 cities surveyed for Seedo’s 2018 Cannabis Price Index.

In fact, these south Asian cities also sell some of the cheapest cannabis in the world, priced at between $4 and $5 for a gram, albeit of lower quality. On the other end, India is also home to one of the most expensive varieties of hashish.

World's most stoned cities

In India, the cannabis plant grows openly in hilly regions, making it fairly accessible to users. However, its cultivation and trade are partially restricted.

The usage and legality of cannabis come under the purview of the ministry of finance, department of revenue, and are controlled by the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. While India allows the cultivation of cannabis for industrial purposes (such as hemp that is used to make fibre), its consumption could lead to a jail term of six months or a fine of Rs 10,000 ($157). Illegal production and cultivation can lead to a jail term of up to 10 years.

Yet, this hasn’t deterred Indians from smoking up. In fact, cannabis dominated India’s illicit drug trade, according to 2016 data on drug seizures.

Seedo studied the consumption and pricing of cannabis by looking at the top and bottom cannabis-consuming countries around the world. It then analysed nations where marijuana is partially or completely legal—or illegal—to prepare the final list of 120 cities. Prices per city are derived from crowd-sourced city-level surveys adjusted to the World Drug Report 2017 of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Conversations around legalising the consumption of cannabis for medicinal purposes have been gaining ground in India. In 2015, a member of parliament pushed to legalise marijuana, citing the benefits of consuming weed. – Quartz, 31 January 2018

India and China are headed for more conflicts – Claude Arpi

Xi Jinping

Claude ArpiWhile Beijing is going full steam to build infrastructure on its side of the McMahon Line, it complains about Delhi building roads on India’s borders. … While China is getting ready for another standoff, Beijing deeply dislikes Delhi developing its side of the border. Amazing double standards! — Claude Arpi

On New Year’s Eve, President Xi Jinping delivered an 11-minute televised speech to extend his greetings to all Chinese and … friends all over the world. Xi said that Beijing is dedicated to safeguarding peace. “China will act as a builder of world peace, a contributor to global development and an upholder of the international order.”

Will this translate in peace on the border in 2018? Probably not! Rumours are circulating that troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have intruded in Gelling sector in the Siang Valley of Arunachal Pradesh.


China has not fully digested the fact that India stood up for Bhutan when the PLA was trying to build a road in June near the trijunction between Sikkim and Chumbi Valley in Tibet.

Quoting “experts”, a PLA website admitted that China will be better prepared “next time”: “the recent Doklam standoff had propelled China to perfect its strategy in its western part” said

Zhao Xiaozhuo, a research fellow at the Academy of Military Sciences is quoted by the same newspaper: “India never takes road construction as an opportunity… and only thinks about its own interest.”

Was the road on Bhutanese territory really an opportunity for India? It makes no sense.

During a recent press conference, the spokesperson of the China’s ministry of national defence said India “should strictly control its troops”.

While China is getting ready for another stand-off, Beijing deeply dislikes Delhi developing its side of the border.

The Global Times resented the recent visit of the Indian Union home minister Rajnath Singh to Nelong Valley in Uttarakhand; Singh spent the New Year with Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP).

“An Indian road construction project connecting all border posts along the China-India frontier could lead to new military standoffs between China and India,” warned another Chinese expert.

China is unhappy because Rajnath Singh asserted that “a number of border posts had already been connected with roads and many would soon be linked … this would enhance the operational efficiency of the officers and reduce mountain-related sickness among them.”

While Beijing is going full steam to build infrastructure on its side of the McMahon Line, it complains about Delhi building roads on India’s borders; amazing double standards.

Nelong Border Outpost, located at the height of 11,700 feet, is manned by the ITBP. Accompanied by ITBP director general, R. K. Pachnanda, the minister later visited Pulam Sumda (14,200 feet) and interacted with jawans and officers..


The area is disputed by the Chinese only because Beijing refuses to adhere to the universally accepted principle of “watershed” used for demarcating borders. In Nelang, the watershed in the area is located at Tsangchok pass, beyond Pulam Sumda.

At the same time, Beijing does whatever it wants on its side of the border.

The China Daily recently reported: “Investment in infrastructure in the Tibet Autonomous Region is helping to lift 628 villages along the border out of poverty.”

The Chinese newspaper further asserted: “After getting access to electricity and the construction of new roads, tea farmers and herdsmen in a village some 200 kilometres southwest of Lhasa in Tsona county founded a cooperative that provides skills training and job opportunities for villagers.”

Lepo, a tiny village, north of Khenzimane, the last border post on the McMahon Line is said to have received several thousands of visitors last year and adequate lodging facilities have been provided to them.

China further admitted: “Starting last year, more than 100 million yuan (Rs 99.4 crore) has been invested in infrastructure in villages of less than 100 families as a part of a broader construction project to build model villages in the border area.”


The China Daily estimated that by 2020, the road access rate in the area will reach 100 per cent and the per capita disposable income will double. Last week, Xinhua reported that China’s least populated township had been connected to the national grid. It is Yume (also spelt Yulmed), the first hamlet north of Upper Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh.Remember, at that time of the 19th Congress, Xi Jinping had written a letter to two young Tibetan herders who had introduced their village to the Chinese president. It was the same Yume.

The Global Times commented: “A sparsely populated township has been connected to the state electricity grid, ending life without electricity for its 32 residents.”

The contractor, a Xining-based electric power company who worked on the project is quoted saying: “The 15-kilometer 10-kilovolt power line, which took five months to complete, is connected via 108 electric poles over a 5,000-meter-high mountain.”

There are many such examples along the Tibetan side of the McMahon Line. Year 2018 may not be serene despite the peaceful vows of President Xi. – IDR, 22 January 2018

India and China face each other on the Tibet border


Treat criminals as criminals, not as civilians – Ravi Shankar

Kashmiri Muslim protesters throw stones at Indian policemen during clashes in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir, 11 July 2016. Clashes between civilians and police in India's northern region of Kashmir has spiked to at least 16 in the third day of violent unrest that has engulfed the Valley since the funeral of famed separatist militant Burhan Muzaffar Wani on 09 July. A curfew remains in place in many parts of the city, forbidding people from leaving their houses at any point during the day. EPA/FAROOQ KHAN

Ravi Shankar EttethTo suggest that stone throwers, arsonists, insurgents and criminals should be given the same treatment as ordinary civilians is a Utopian argument of the Left-Liberal intelligentsia. In their eyes, anyone not in uniform is a civilian, whether he be a terrorist or gangster. – Ravi Shankar

Finding a political solution to Kashmir is the holy grail of Indian politics. The pivot of this desire is the belief that Kashmir’s legacy of tolerant Islam is intact, and engaging terrorists and separatists in peace dialogues will wean them away from Pakistan’s grip—not happening; the ISI keeps them flush with funds.

During the Pak invasion of Kashmir in 1947, hundreds of Kashmiri women were raped and abducted, but the generation of Kashmiris who remember have passed on. Moreover, each government in the state suffers from political schizophrenia—be a state of the Indian Union with all the accompanying privileges while championing Kashmiriyat.

This conflict is evident in the FIR filed against Major Aditya for murder. The FIR says that the Major and his soldiers killed civilians. They had fired on a mob of 200 people, which had attacked their convoy at Shopian’s Ganowpora village. Two stone pelters were killed and another was injured. Since when did stone pelters, attacking Indian soldiers, and waging war against the Indian state, become civilians?

The Indian soldier has been guarding the frontiers with his life; so many of them are martyred in gun battles with terrorists. The number of civilians who die in firing is very few in Kashmir. In 2016, 247 people died in the militancy, of which 82 were security men and 150 were terrorists. Only 15 civilians lost their lives.

Human rights activists working in the insurgency-afflicted areas such as Kashmir, the Maoist corridor and parts of the Northeast tend to forget that soldiers fight in extremely perilous conditions.

To suggest that arsonists, insurgents and criminals should be given the same treatment as ordinary civilians is an Utopian argument of the Left-Liberal intelligentsia. In their eyes, anyone not in uniform is a civilian, whether he be a terrorist or gangster. A police officer in Chhattisgarh described how Naxals would shoot CRPF men in their ankles, and throw them into a ditch, leaving them to bleed out and die. The earth would be scourged with bloody marks made by the helpless jawans trying to crawl out in futile desperation; the sight had made him cry. The idealistic view of rights activists that every human life is sacred is nonsense in the face of such brutality.

Now, protests are rising over the wave of encounter killings of dreaded criminals in Uttar Pradesh by the Yogi Adityanath government. Political patronage of the mafia has totally criminalised the cowbelt, protecting extortionists, kidnappers, murderers, rapists and hitmen. The highest number of murder cases in 2017 in India was in Uttar Pradesh, followed by Bihar, according to NCRB figures. The state also topped the number of crimes against women in 2016. Goonda Raj in UP was a creation of the Congress, which sensing the rise of regionalism in the mid-1980s, hired criminals to rig polls and intimidate voters. Soon the criminals themselves became politicians, winning elections with money and muscle power.

In 2014, criminals comprised one-third of the total candidates fielded by the four main parties. By then, the Samajwadi Party had the most. Now, it is time for criminals and terrorists to be treated as such and not as civilians facing the brunt of the law. Kashmir or UP, Swachh Bharat also means cleaning up India of elements that threaten the safety and security of its people. – The New Indian Express, 4 February 2018

» Ravi Shankar is an author, cartoonist and columnist in New Delhi.

Desi Guns

Desi Arms Graph

BJP is losing its shine; budget won’t help – Punarvasu Parekh

Arun Jaitley's Budget

Journalist IconOverall, the budget represents an opportunity wasted. It presents a picture of economic mismanagement, of a government unsure of itself, vacillating between past and future. – Punarvasu Parekh

Even as the finance minister Arun Jaitley was presenting the budget for 2018-19, the last full one in NDA’s current term, results of by-elections in Rajasthan and West Bengal were pouring in. These results, especially from Rajasthan, signaled a grave warning to the ruling coalition. The BJP lost both the Lok Sabha seats, Ajmer and Alwar, as also the Mandalgarh assembly seat to the Congress with large margins. More humiliatingly, BJP lost to Congress in all the 17 assembly constituencies that voted in these by-polls.

True, one should not read too much in by-elections, or see results of assembly elections as an indicator of parliamentary elections. However, coming soon after the close contest in Gujarat and BJP’s loss of Gurudaspur Lok Sabha seat in Punjab last year, they do convey a deep sense of disappointment among vast sections of the people. The government claims it is doing an excellent job, but many people seem to think otherwise. The results are a shrill alert that BJP can ignore only at its peril.

Will Arun Jaitley’s budget help reverse the tide? Unlikely. Despite the customary high-sounding rhetoric about growth, jobs, farmers and rural folks, it is unlikely to make a positive difference on the ground in any of these areas. Long on announcements and short on money, it would not enhance NDA government’s credibility to deliver on the promises made so glibly and liberally.

The budget is not entirely devoid of good ideas, though. A heartening feature is the permission given to all sectors to use fixed-term contract hiring, paving way for employers to hire workers on contract for specific projects on short-term assignments and terminate their services when projects are completed. This can spur investment and employment. Similarly, a 12 percent subvention in provident funds for new employees has been extended to all sectors, a positive move for hiring in the formal sector. However, this has nothing to do with budget per se and could (should) have been done much earlier by the labour ministry.

Jaitley also announced the world’s so-called largest health insurance scheme covering 500 million people in the country, providing a cover of Rs 5 lakh per family per annum for hospitalisation. While this has rightly earned him much praise, the devil is in details. The scheme covers hospitalization for major diseases, not all sickness. Even for these, the country does not have even remotely enough doctors and hospitals to implement it. As against an estimated cost of Rs 10,000-12,000 crore, the budget has allocated just Rs 2000 crore. As clarified subsequently, the cost will be shared by the centre and the states in the ratio of 60-40. The states are facing a tight fiscal position and may be reluctant to replace their own health schemes with this newly announced National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS).

As against these positives, the budget has several flaws.

First, the fiscal slippage. Notwithstanding brave declarations of intent, the government has failed to control fiscal deficit, which has surpassed the budget estimate of 3.2 percent of the GDP to touch 3.5 per cent in the current year and is pledged to be brought down to 3.3 per cent in the coming year. Worse, the revenue deficit (excess of government’s consumption expenditure over revenues) has shot up from the budget estimate of 1.9 per cent of GDP to 2.6 per cent and is expected to be 2.2 per cent next year.

In three out of his five budgets, Jaitley has slipped up on deficit target, which has dented his credibility. We need fiscal restraint at a time when inflation is up and oil prices are rising, but what we see is the opposite. The world economy is recovering and India also expects to grow at 7.5 per cent. If we cannot manage the fisc in such good times, what will when the tide turns? The government has borrowed far more than the budgeted amount this year and plans to borrow much more next year. No wonder interest rates on gilts have risen sharply in recent months and rose further after the budget. Do not be surprised if the RBI decides to increase interest rates in its next policy statement due February 7th.

Second, the return to stale old-fashioned protectionism. At Davos, Modi lambasted President Trump for protectionism and promised to back globalization. But the budget has increased customs duties from about 10 per cent to 15-50 per cent on a large number of items from electronics, toys, processed foods etc. Shortly before the budget import duties were raised on several electronic goods and agricultural items.

This is a retrograde move. India is backtracking to the bad old days of import substitution. In theory, the argument for high tariff walls is that protected from external competition the domestic industries can grow and achieve economies of scale to become competitive. In practice, economy is saddled with high-cost uncompetitive industries which fiercely resist any reduction of duties. If high import duties could bolster industrial development, India would have become an economic super power in the socialist years under Nehru and Indira.

Third, the neglect of defence. It is amazing that the Modi government has consistently ignored the deterioration in external security situation and squeezed the defence budget year after year. As T. N. Ninan has pointed out, in the five budgets of the Modi government the defence expenditure has cumulatively increased by 38 per cent, or 7 per cent annually which barely keeps pace with inflation. After the pay commission report, much more money is spent on salaries and pensions and less is available to buy fighter planes, submarines, howitzer, minesweepers, missiles and helicopters. As a share of GDP, defence expenditure has shrunk from 1.8 per cent in 2013-14 (the last year of UPA government) to 1.5 per cent.

Ironically, this is happening under a government led by BJP which is widely believed to be more conscious about security issues than other parties. And it is happening at a time we face a much more aggressive and belligerent China and the military advantage against the incorrigible Pakistan has been eroding. The only probable explanation is that the government does not expect a war soon and hence gives priority to development and civilian needs. But wars can happen when we least expect them, leaving us no time for and re-armament.

Finally, the betrayal of the middle class, corporate sector and investors. There is no relief in income tax rates or slabs and the paltry amount allowed as standard deduction for salaried employees has been almost neutralized by withdrawing some currently available deductions. The corporate tax rate has been reduced from 30 per cent to 25 per cent for companies with turnover of Rs 250 crore. This leaves out large companies which matter most in terms of growth and jobs. BJP has long forgotten its promise of withdrawing the retrospective tax amendments which greatly annoyed foreign investors. Now Jaitley has reintroduced long capital gains tax (without removing securities transaction tax which had replaced it) and also brought equity-linked mutual funds under dividend distribution tax. The last resort for middle class investors has been assaulted. This is a severe blow to the investor sentiment and will haunt the market for a long time. Ironically, these are the classes that have consistently supported BJP wholeheartedly in the hope of better treatment.

Overall, the budget represents an opportunity wasted. It presents a picture of economic mismanagement, of a government unsure of itself and vacillating between past and future. The carnage on the stock market since the budget is not due entirely to the long term capital gains tax or lack of relief in direct taxes. It represents much deeper and widespread concerns over the direction of the economy, political and ideological moorings of the Modi government and its ability to match words with actions.

With several crucial assembly elections scheduled later this year and the general elections next year, the BJP leaders find themselves in a situation that they will not like. Gujarat was too close for their comfort. If Karnataka goes the Congress way and Rajasthan proves touch-and go, the 2019 election would become far more interesting than it looked a year ago. Sadly, Jaitley’s budget would be of no use to BJP in mitigating the mounting challenge from a resurgent opposition.

» Punarvasu Parekh is an independent senior journalist in Mumbai.

Budget 2018-19

Can one have faith in the Almighty and yet be scientifically minded? – Maria Wirh

Religion vs. Science

Maria WirthDogmatic religions never fostered science. What sadder example can there be than the burning of the great Nalanda university library by Islamic invaders in 1193 AD. The collected treasure of the best minds was turned into ash and thousands of students were brutally killed. Voltaire rightly said, “Those who can make you believe in absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” – Maria Wirth

Yes, and it is even natural. One only needs to deeply reflect on what is meant by the Almighty.

If somebody grew up as a Christian or Muslim, he needs, however, to get rid of some notions about the Almighty which can never be proven and are in all likelihood not true—for example that He favours those who believe in a specific book (Bible, Quran) and sends all others to eternal hell and that he is a superhuman (male) creator, separate from humans, and that he made his will known only recently, not even 2000 years ago, and that the jury is still out (because two religions stake claim to it), to whom he has spoken the last world of the “only truth”.

But Vedic wisdom can help to correct one’s view, as it had already long before Christianity and Islam appeared, a highly mature understanding of the “Almighty”:

The Rishis claim that everything in this creation including ourselves is permeated by the same great intelligence, like waves are permeated by the same ocean. The waves may be convinced that they are separate from the ocean as they have a distinct form and name. But ultimately all waves are nothing but the one great ocean and nothing is lost when their form is lost. Similarly, though we may consider our person as separate from others, in truth we are the one consciousness and nothing of substance is lost when form and name are lost.

Further, Indian rishis claim that the apparent reality is not really real. It is a sense deception (maya), in a similar way, as at dusk a rope is mistaken to be a snake, even though in reality there is only a rope. Truly true is our inner being—atman—that permeates everything. It means that in our essence, we are infinite, spread out all over as it were, eternal.

Now this ocean analogy sounds almost like modern physics. How come? Did the scientists discover that all is one energy independently or were their theories inspired by the Vedas? Had the scientists reflected on the profound insights of the Indian rishis?

Indeed this had been the case. The scientists who were responsible for replacing Newton’s paradigm of a universe full of separate things with an interconnected, homogeneous Whole were inspired by Vedanta: Heisenberg, Schroedinger, Pauli, Einstein, Oppenheimer, Tesla and others, all knew about and reflected on India’s ancient wisdom.

In contrast, dogmatic religions never fostered science. What sadder example can there be than the burning of the great Nalanda university library in present day Bihar by Islamic invaders in 1193 AD. The collected treasure of the best minds was turned into ash and thousands of students were brutally killed. Voltaire rightly said, “Those who can make you believe in absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

Yet times are changing. The awareness that we would be better off without blind belief in irrational dogmas is growing. Christianity is losing its hold over its followers in the West. I just read that in Berlin, the capital of Germany, only 25 per cent of the inhabitants are still Christians. And Islam, though seemingly still on an upswing, is being scrutinised, too. The recent wide-spread protests in Iran point to the fact that not all believe what they are told to believe and even risk their lives for freedom.

So to come back to the question: belief in an Almighty Presence is not an obstacle to being a scientifically minded person, but rather a help. It can help to even expand science. Here is why:

Science is defined as knowledge gained from observation and experimentation. The rishis, however, added one more method—knowledge gained from inner exploration. This inner exploration or meditation lifts Vedic wisdom above science and inspires it.

Scientists have discovered the oneness of all, but for them the oneness is dead, without life. The Rishis have discovered the oneness of all many thousand years earlier, and they “saw” or realised that this oneness is alive and knows itself.

The truth is not something abstract, cold, and theoretical. It is the conscious, loving, intelligent essence in all from where thoughts emerge. True inspiration and intuition come from this level. Srinivasan Ramanujan, the great mathematician, would have touched this level from where he received amazing mathematical insights . He related to it as Devi Namagiri.

Many great scientists acknowledge an almighty intelligence as the cause for—or essence of—this universe. Einstein, too, acknowledged it. In a letter to a school girl, who asked him if scientists pray, he wrote: “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, one that is vastly superior to that of man.”

This spirit level (Indians called it atman) is within all of us. It is the Almighty and we are definitely better off if we acknowledge its presence and trust it. The rishis advocate complete trust—after all, it is Almighty…. – Maria Wirth, 2 February 2018

» Maria Wirth is a German author and psychologist who lives in Uttarakhand. 

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