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Influence of Jainism in Gujarat

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Influence of Jainism in Gujarat Empty Influence of Jainism in Gujarat

Post by Rishi Mon May 26, 2014 5:20 pm

A historically mercantile culture, widespread influence of Jainism, diluted casteism and an intrinsic irreverence makes society and polity in Gujarat different from other Indian states. Centre-right in their economic leaning, people here naturally gravitate towards leaner governments with high standards of governance. This means that while on the one hand the audience at a Gandhinagar rally is more appreciative of an irreverent political speech—irrespective of which side of the political divide it comes from—citizens here have a much lower threshold as regards terrorism compared to other states, especially in the country’s Hindi belt, where a more chalta hai attitude prevails.

To understand the Gujarati, we need to study in depth what is probably their most dominant influence: mercantilism. A parched land ravaged by severe water shortage and climatic fluctuations, agriculture has always been difficult in Gujarat. Blessed with an extensive natural coa­stline and an innate entrepreneurial instinct, Gujaratis make for natural businessmen. Profit­able commerce necessarily requires an environment of economic growth and good governance and a centre-right political paradigm is the basis for profits and dhando (business). This is equally true today as it was in the 13th century when the first shipping lines are documented to have begun plying their trade.

Integrity of leadership, economic growth and developm­ent, and intolerance of terrorism have tremendous appeal in Gujarat. This is because Gujarat expects a moral-absolutist ethos from its leadership and has many certitudes, the first being centre-right economics. There is a saying in Gujarati folklore which, effectively repudiating Comm­u­n­ism, goes: “Jeno raja vyapari eni praja bhikari” translated as if your king is a businessman, his subjects are beggars.

 The Jainism influence has also been a big enabler in this (Gujarat has a substantial Jain population). Jainism ens­ured many centuries back that in the absence of the rule of law and law courts, commercial contracts were respected. Suchitra Sheth and Achyut Yagnik in their book, The Shaping of Modern Gujarat, argue that centuries ago Jain monks spread the idea that citizens should respect commercial contracts and be honest with fellow citizens. This religion-based enforceability of business contracts cascaded into robust mercantilism, akin to that of Protestantism. In fact, Marco Polo said of the merchants of Lat (a town in Gujarat) that they were “the best merchants in the world, and the most truthful.” Jainism also had another influence. It precluded people from violence, taking life and warfare, thus most of the Jains instead opted for trading and commerce.


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