- The real problem with the imploding Indian economy, which is still reeling from demonetisation and a troubled GST roll out, is that the Modi government is happy to take advice from voodoo economists and charlatans.
- Banerjee’s final sin against the Modi intellectuals was the fact that he worked on the Congress’s income support scheme called NYAY (justice) in the 2019 general elections.
Most things in India are contested and divisive these days. Even when Indian American Abhijit Banerjee won the Nobel prize in economics, often described as the gloomy science, the reaction was decidedly mixed.
The award was greeted with incredible joy in West Bengal and people clamoured to remind each other of the time they sat next to Banerjee in kindergarten. Narendra Modi and his government reacted with pro-forma congratulations after a delay of five hours. Considering Modi is the First PM of Social Media, his preferred medium of communication and reacts with hyper speed to news developments, the delay was telling.
Reasons for the delay tell you exactly why New India is such an angry divided place. Banerjee, who graduated from Presidency College, Kolkata, is an alumni of the infamous den of anti-nationals - Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), which the Modi government has been battling against for six years. To add insult to injury, he also took a degree from Harvard, Modi has publicly belittled the Ivy League by saying he prefers “hard work to Harvard”.
No surprise then when commerce minister Piyush Goyal offered tepid congratulations and then went to castigate the newly minted Nobel prize winner as having “totally left leaning thinking”.
A basic familiarity with Banerjee’s work will illustrate how he is anything but a leftist, but Goyal had clearly taken off the gloves against what the Modi government abuses routinely as “urban naxals” and the “Khan market gang”.
The fact that the movement founded by Abhijit Banerjee and his co-Nobelists Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer is often criticised by Left-leaning economists did not seem to matter to Goyal, who has also held the finance portfolio in the Modi cabinet.
The three economists won for their contributions to the experimental evaluation of policies, particularly in developing economies - a subset of development economics that strikes many Left-wingers as ignoring deep inequality and power balances.
The fact that Banerjee alongside Raghuram Rajan, former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor, whose term was not renewed by the Modi government had publicly, criticised the nutty demonetisation of the Modi government reflected in the angry response.
Banerjee’s final sin against the Modi intellectuals was the fact that he worked on the Congress’s income support scheme called NYAY (justice) in the 2019 general elections. Modi’s think tank should have been thrilled that the Congress party could not even sell the voters a poverty alleviation scheme dreamt up by Nobel winners, but this is India’s angriest government ever.
A troubled economy
The real problem with the imploding Indian economy, which is still reeling from demonetisation and a troubled GST roll out, is that the Modi government is happy to take advice from voodoo economists and charlatans.
At various times, the government has blamed millennials and other such obvious targets, for the economic contractions and the collapse of demand. At the time of writing this SWAT analysis, consumption in rural India had hit a seven-year low, yet ministers were happy to attack an assorted star cast of villains such as the aforementioned millennials and Dr Rajan.
Modi has had a very unhappy run with experts and expertise, especially in economics. Over his two terms he has had to replace two central bankers, who baulked at compromising the RBI’s record of seventy years of autonomy. Rajan’s term was not renewed and Urjit Patel, his replacement, put in his papers. Arvind Subramanian, former chief economic adviser, who advised a simple revenue neutral GST was ignored. Instead, the Modi government preferred the economic expertise of an official who held a PHD in yoga.
Read more from Swati Chaturvedi
- India: Congress – The Opposition active on social media, but lost in Parliament
- Tears and laughter have meaning only when shared. Kashmir can’t share anything now
- Amit Shah sounds the whistle – Muslims to be targeted again in India with another NRC
- Bollywood: From angry young men on screen to docile, convenient ambassadors of the Narendra Modi government
The Modi government is particularly unforgiving of criticism or even debate in the setting of economic policy and has presided over an exodus of experts who are disparaged as being “not Indian enough or mentally not Indian” by the government’s leading lights.
Yet the churlish reaction to Banerjee’s stellar achievement- a Nobel in economics normally caps a life-time in career achievement and he is only 58 years old, was instructive proof of how the Modi government views Indian achievers.
Perhaps, that is why America has the largest pool of Nobel winners - 336 - also a testament to how open democratic societies spur excellence.
At the moment India does not really value an ultimate achievement in economics if it is won by what the Modi government perceives as an anti-national. Currently India prefers little known marketing awards.