religion

By Shaomin Li, Ilan Alon and Jun Wu

Among democratic people, it is seen as self-evident that religious freedom is inviolable and must be protected even if we have to pay a high cost—including our lives—to do so. Naturally, witnessing the religion-related conflicts around the world, we tend to attribute them to a lack of religious freedom. Like political freedom and economic freedom, religious freedom is commonly viewed as a positive force that supports economic development.

However, our recent study on religious freedom and economic performance across countries shows that unrestrained religious freedom may not be a good thing, at least for economic growth. 

Mumbai is in the midst of one of the nation’s noisiest and most fun-filled festivals: Ganesh Chaturthi.

During the 10-day festival, statues of the elephant-headed God are set up at mandals (temporary shrines) around the city and worshipped before being immersed in water – usually on the seafront.

But who foots the bill for this vast celebration with its enormous sculptures, temporary altars and elephantine decorations? 

By Deepak Lal

In the midst of an interminable election, all the opinion polls are predicting an absolute majority for the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance. If the polls are right – which they were not in 2004 and 2009 – Narendra Modi, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, will be at the helm of the world’s largest democracy in about two weeks.

So, it is important to assess Modi’s character and what he stands for. Given the starkness of the divergent images being projected by those for and against Modi, the question arises: will he be a Margaret Thatcher who restores economic growth and India’s standing in the world, or an autocrat who kicks away the democratic ladder which has led him to power, like Hitler, promoting an ideological pogrom against a religious minority? 

India ElectionsRarely have Indian Muslims, who make up about 13 per cent of the country’s more than 1.2bn population, been as anxious about the outcome of a general election as the one that’s currently under way.

As the FT reported two weeks ago, Muslims are uneasy about the ascent of the prime ministerial candidate of the Hindu nationalist, Bharatiya Janata Party, Narendra Modi to the top job. 

Tech worship

For the last week, the streets of Mumbai have been lit up – by brightly coloured posters loudly announcing Diwali sales and by spectacular fireworks that left the dogs howling. It seemed like typical festival fever.

But if celebrations this Diwali are anything to go by, India is developing fast: two reports from the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) show that online shopping grew, and sales of firecrackers fell this Diwali. 

What next? Prayers and confessions sent by SMS? Or sacrifices made as email attachments? The Almighty, it seems, is accepting donations by mobile banking.

The National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), an institution set up by the country’s central bank to standardise retail payments, has included ten religious institutions in its system for mobile money transfers. 

Monday marked the Hindu festival of Akshaya Tritiya, considered as an auspicious day to buy precious metals. And with last month’s sharp drop in the price of gold, demand in India is higher than ever.

But what does this mean for an economy where the current account deficit is weighed down by mammoth gold imports? And what does it mean for Indian households, quick to act on a price drop, buying the commodity on religious rather than financial grounds? 

On Wednesday, the streets of India will be filled with men and women, boys and girls, flinging multi-coloured powder and water over one another as they celebrate the beginning of spring. The festival of Holi will end with stained carpets and hot baths, as people return home to spend time with loved ones – and probably drink bhang, a traditional brew brimming with cannabis.

It is a distinctively Indian sort of mayhem. Doesn’t sound like something the straight-laced Chinese could get involved with, does it? It is, though. 

The election of the new pope is supposed to be a largely spiritual event, but it does have its material benefits, especially for the sellers of souvenirs and for the people who live in the new pope’s home town.

In the foothills of the Tatra Mountains of southern Poland, Wadowice, the birthplace of Karol Wojtyla, who served as Pope John Paul II, is still earning a decent return from its native son. 

In India, there are just nine hospital beds for every 10,000 people; 626m people are forced to defecate in the open for want of sanitary facilities; and local investors are looking abroad to escape unpredictable regulation and unreliable infrastructure at home.

And yet, when religion and revelry are at stake, this same country can pull it together and host the 55-day Maha Kumbh Mela festival, where 9m pilgrims are provided with all the shelter and services they need.