The Sangh Parivar’s view is different. It sees India as a glorious Hindu civilisation that was once a ‘sone ki chidiya’ (golden bird). Then attacks by Muslim and Christian invaders reduced India to an impoverished chattel. S Gurumurthy, an RSS ideologue, has been at the very fore of this thesis.
He claims western historians misrepresented India and demeaned its character and feats to make Indians view history through a twisted colonial perspective. He has accused the Congress of perpetuating European myths and aligning itself with Marxist and socialist thinkers who hold Hinduism in low regard.
Gurumurthy read the pioneering work of Swiss economic historian Paul Bairoch that showed that in the ancient past, India had the highest share of world GDP, which was reduced to a humiliating fraction by the time India gained independence. The OECD asked eminent historian Angus Maddison to research the matter further.
In his magnum opus, ‘Contours of the World Economy 1–2030 AD: Essays in Macro Economic History’, Maddison estimated that in 1 AD, during the Hindu period, India accounted for 32% of world GDP, the highest share of any region. During the Muslim period, India’s share gradually declined from 28.1% in 1000 AD to 24.4% in 1700. It crashed in the subsequent period of British rule to just 4.2% by 1950. This is the basis for the ‘sone ki chidiya’ thesis.
The Parivar is gleeful about Maddison’s findings. It has accused the Congress and Communists of neglecting the glories of the period of Hindu rule in history textbooks. It has revised history textbooks to highlight Hindu achievements.
However, a closer look at Maddison’s work shows that this is cherry picking data to support a preconceived conclusion. Maddison’s broader work is far less flattering to India.
This selective history of a rich Hindu India later impoverished by Muslim and Christian invaders should not be a reason to condemn and mistreat minorities
India represented 33.2% of the world’s population in the year 1 AD. This was slightly more than its GDP share of 32%. So, Indian GDP was slightly below the world average. Italy was almost twice as rich under the Roman empire. India’s high GDP share reflected not prosperity, but high population.
Maddison estimates that India’s GDP stagnated at $33.75bn from 1AD to 1000 AD, the Hindu-ruled period. Per capita income also stagnated at $450 as the population remained steady at around 75mn. Why did the population not increase for a thousand years?
Because drought, disease, and wars meant that merely staying alive was a challenge. Conditions were as bad in the rest of the world. In sum, the period from 1 to 1000 AD was one of poverty, economic stagnation, and high mortality. No sone ki chidiya here.
Under Muslim rule, roughly between 1000 and 1700, India’s annual GDP almost tripled to $90.7bn. Mortality fell substantially, enabling the population to soar from 75 million to 165 million. Population growth substantially offset GDP growth, so per capita income grew by barely a quarter, from $450 to $550. Still, there was an improvement, and a longer-lived one.
These trends intensified in the British period. Between 1700 and 1950, India’s GDP rose to $222.22 billion and its population to 359mn. However per capita income rose only marginally to $619.
Clearly British colonial claims of having uplifted a backward India were vastly exaggerated. However, India did not get poorer in per capita income terms in the British era. India’s share of world GDP plummeted mainly because incomes in the West soared after the industrial revolution.
Economic growth finally took off in India after it became independent. After almost 2,000 years of negligible growth, per capita income soared to $2,140 by 2003. Mortality fell sharply, so the population rose to 1.05bn by 2003 despite the spread of contraception. India’s golden era is now, if you can call it that, not in the ancient past.
This selective history of a rich Hindu India later impoverished by Muslim and Christian invaders should not be a reason to condemn and mistreat minorities. The social media trolls are obnoxious. Bad history is being used to promote the politics of hate.