Despite hard work, Harvard economists have been under attack under Modi government
The likes of Amartya Sen, Raghuram Rajan and Arvind Subramanian have faced criticism from those in power if they have questioned the government, their global reputation as economists notwithstanding
“He had always given wrong direction to the society… People like him have little relevance in the present times.”
These were the words of West Bengal Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Dilip Ghosh. And he was talking about none other than Nobel laureate Amartya Sen.
‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidences’ isn't something applicable to the BJP. The ruling party can discredit globally respected work and claim credit for something accepted by none across the world. Like Lord Ganesh as an example of ancient plastic surgery.
Sen has always been a vocal critic of the Narendra Modi led BJP government. This alone was enough to paint an internationally renowned economist like Sen as someone who has been misleading the society all the while. To put it in perspective, Sen had received the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, when the BJP government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee was in power.
Nobel laureate Amartya Sen
Before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Sen had attacked the Modi government by asserting that “democracy is in danger” and “all non-communal forces should come together against the BJP". He had also said that India has taken a quantum jump in the wrong direction since 2014.
Responding to this, NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar said in an interview, “... Professor Amartya Sen should spend some time within India and actually look at conditions on the ground. And at least review all work that has been done in the last four years by the Modi government before making such statements.”
Another personality who “lost credibility” by criticising the government was the former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan. The former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and former Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India (GoI), Rajan had won various awards, including the Fisher Black Prize in 2003, for his contributions to the theory and practice of finance. There are also reports that Rajan might become the governor of Bank of England.
But all his achievements meant nothing when he began criticising the BJP government. He has been severely skeptical of many government actions, including demonetisation. Senior BJP leader and Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy had once called Rajan a “failed RBI governor” who “wilfully” wrecked the economy.
Former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan
Rajan was not in agreement with the government on various policies, including interest rate cuts. Despite being under pressure to reduce the interest rates, he actually increased them to bring inflation under control. Normally, rates are kept low when the growth is slow. So it’s ironic that the government actually wanted interest rate cuts at a time when the official figures were claiming a high GDP growth rate.
Of late, Rajan has raised doubts over India’s growth rate. “How can we be growing at 7 per cent and not have jobs? Well, one possibility is that we are not growing at 7 per cent,” he had told CNBC TV 18.
According to a recent National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) report, India’s unemployment rate stood at 6.1 per cent, the highest in the last 45 years. The report was actually withheld by the government till the elections were over, saying that the numbers were not verified. Former National Statistical Commission chairman PC Mohanan had resigned from his post over this issue stating that he had verified and given approval to publish the report. Government’s actions were clearly an act of discrediting India’s premier statistical organisation and the credibility of its working members.
Former NSC chairman PC Mohanan
India showed a higher growth rate in Narendra Modi's first term after the base year for the GDP calculation was changed from 2004-05 to 2011-12. The recent growth rates have been questioned by various economists, and the latest one to raise concerns over it is former Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian. In 2015, Subramanian had criticised Rajan for keeping interest rates high, in line with the government views.
This time, in a research paper, he stated that India’s “real” or inflation-adjusted GDP might have grown at 4.5 per cent between 2011-12 and 2016-17, counter to the official figures that show an average growth of 7 per cent. However, the government came out in defence of the official estimates, claiming that the GDP calculations were based on accepted methodologies and procedures.
Former CEA Arvind Subramanian
It has to be noted that Subramanian Swamy had once sought the sacking of the former CEA for allegedly adopting an anti-India stand. The BJP government had distanced itself from Swamy’s statements that time. However, his recent statements regarding the GDP growth might be enough for someone from the government to attack his credentials, if past experiences are anything to go by.
Clearly, what matters is not what an economist has earned by dint of merit, competence and hard work. What matters is whether he/she accepts the government's claims or not. To question the government is to attract censure and invective, the economist's global reputation notwithstanding.
Neither "hard work nor Harvard" will be of any help, in other words. The Prime Minister had even delinked the two to take a dig at Sen after he criticised demonetisation.