Letter to BS: Deliberate attempts to insult Abhijit Banerjee are ridiculous

It is the team which has got the Nobel Prize, not only Banerjee.

Abhijit Banerjee
Abhijit Banerjee

This refers to a statement of Rahul Sinha, the National Secretary of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on Nobel Laureate Abhijit Banerjee that was reported in Business Standard on October 20. Sinha said, “Those people whose second wives are foreigners are mostly getting the Nobel prize. I don’t know whether it is a degree for getting the Nobel.” 

This is not only a deliberate insult to Banerjee but also Amartya Sen. It is a ridiculous statement that one does not even have to disprove. One can only mention that Banerjee’s wife Esther Dufflo is not just a foreigner but a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the co-recipient of the 2019 Nobel Prize for economics. I have great respect for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and so I would request him to purge the BJP of its national secretary.   

And it’s not just one member of the party. Piyush Goyal is the Minister of Commerce and Industry. His statement that Banerjee was totally left leaning and the people of India had rejected his thinking also makes no sense to say the least. What is the “left thinking” in Banerjee’s theory of Randomised Controlled Trials? I have read his book Poor Economics. The theory is that rather than taking the problem of alleviation of poverty in totality (like Amartya Sen or Martin, the American Professor does), he and his team have taken an alternative approach. They segmented the problem in smaller aspects of improving education or health in some areas working with the local governments, not only in India but also in other countries such as Kenya. In Gujarat, they are working with the BJP government and elsewhere with other governments like in Rajasthan, with the Congress government. It is the team which has got the Nobel Prize, not only Banerjee. 

This is experimental economics. In one experiment in Rajasthan, it was found that many parents did not bring their children to clinics for free immunisation but did so if offered a free kilo of dal. The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab is doing research under the guidance of these famous economists in Harvard and MIT. Just dismissing it as a left-leaning exercise, as Goyal has done, only shows that he talks without understanding anything. With friends like him, Modi does not need any more enemies.

Sukumar Mukhopadhyay, via email

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