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Reluctant Acknowledgement


When the news came out that Indian born economist Abhijit Banerjee had received the Nobel Prize for Economics (officially known as The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel), along with his wife, Esther Duflo, and Michael Kremer, many in the Indian establishment did not know quite how to react. This was particularly so as Rahul Gandhi, in an attempt for some reflected glory, was quick to own Banerjee as one of those who designed the ill-fated ‘NYAY’ scheme that formed the core of the Congress Manifesto in the last Lok Sabha election. It also turned out that Banerjee is a product of the leftist bastion, JNU. One newspaper noted in this context that it took as much as four hours for the Prime Minister to extend his congratulations. There is a reason for this reluctance. Many of these outsourced economists have been critical of the present government’s economic policies, incapable almost of seeing anything good. As Esther Duflo has already stated, such awards provide a megaphone to winners in spreading their ideas. Harvard educated economists, who are often accused of formulating policies that ruined the economies of South America and running several international institutions into the ground, often are arrogant and disdainful in their attitude towards ‘native’ governments. In India, where an ‘economist’ supposedly ran the government for ten years, the discussion has acquired an extra edge. Whatever the achievements on the economic front, this decade almost entirely destroyed the Congress Party’s political capital. Technocrats acquired an overweening sense of importance about their role, believing politicians to be uninformed, and uninitiated in the complexities of economics. The extra-constitutional NAC’s diktats in Manmohan Singh’s times further devalued the role of a representative Parliament. Feelings are further aggravated when the likes of former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan, who despite not making much of an impact in that role, preach to India’s government. Economists need to remember that they serve as formulators of theory and interpreters of data. They are expected to provide inputs to decision making in government. Like the ‘informed’ commentators in Cricket, they don’t actually score the centuries. That is the job of the doers. Someone who can successfully run a chaat stall at the edge of Dehradun’s Parade Ground knows a lot more about making money than many dons in the universities. (A fact acknowledged by Abhijit Banerjee.) A closer examination shows that Abhijit Banerjee certainly has some good ideas, such as about the role of inflation in boosting the economy, and may not be so interested in making a career of anti-Modi posturing. That would be a good thing, for India needs its best minds (here or abroad) to work together for the betterment of all.