Economist Jagdish Bhagwati isn’t exactly elated with Modi’s performance so far

Not overjoyed.
Not overjoyed.
Image: AP Photo/Manish Swarup
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One of Narendra Modi’s biggest pre-election backers isn’t particularly impressed with the prime minister’s performance so far.

The fact that the Modi government hasn’t done anything about corruption yet—not unlike its predecessor, the Congress party—is a matter of huge concern for professor Jagdish Bhagwati of Columbia University.

In an interview to the Hindustan Times, the economist cautioned the Bharatiya Janata Party against repeating the Congress’ mistakes, including “trying to spend money which they didn’t have.”

Instead, prime minister Modi should put in place his ideas on infrastructure, but wait till finance minister Arun Jaitley raises big funds. The fault of the Congress, as he pointed out, was “converting a lot of expenditure into social rights and obligations that were enforceable even by the courts.”

Bhagwati had been a long-time supporter of Modi, based on his performance as chief minister of Gujarat. In fact, in another interview last year, the economist had said that he would not be optimistic about India unless Modi came to power.

His cautious review of Modi’s performance so far comes a week after the prime minister put together his complete team for the NITI Aayog, the new economic policy think-tank that replaced the 64-year-old Planning Commission. Arvind Panagariya, who would lead NITI Aayog, was mentored by Bhagwati at Columbia University.

Here are the other key takeaways from the interview.

  • Foreign direct investment in retail: Bhagwati said that Modi has a pro-markets approach, and he may open up to FDI in retail in the second year of his term.
  • Reconversion: “Even if some of our brothers and sisters have turned into Christianity or Islam, they are a still part of us,” Bhagwati said. Modi should ”come forth and say that a good Hindu is one who embraces all others rather than saying mine is an exclusive religion.”
  • Outsourcing: The prime minister should tell US president Barack Obama to ”to lay off outsourcing from the political discourse in the US, because he doesn’t need it.”
  • Scientific claims: No, ancient India did not invent airplanes. Not only did he say that those claims were “nonsensical” and “ridiculous,” but also that they were a “wrong kind of way to arrive at cultural chauvinism.” He thought Modi’s silence on this controversial issue could hurt his domestic and global image in the long term.
  • Sanskrit: He discredited human resources minister Smriti Irani’s proposal to replace German with Sanskrit in Indian schools. “Sanskrit is one of the most beautiful languages in the world. The way to do it, like most subjects in India, we need to provide funds for support of teachers.