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Top "neo-liberal" economists Bhagwati, Panagariya say, Gujarat riots weren't a pogrom; defend Modi

By Our Representative
Raising a controversy, two well-known economists, Prof Jadgish Bhagwati and Prof Arvind Panagariya, known for what have been called “neo-liberal” views, have sought to justify Gujarat riots, saying that they were not a “pogrom” and were not targeted against any particular religious group. Professors at the Columbia University, so far both of them have refrained any comment on Gujarat riots, even as praising Gujarat’s economic growth model, and how, in their view, Gujarat development has led to improvement in the social sector, especially health and education.
In a rejoinder titled “Controversial Modi” to the powerful British weekly “The Economist”, which published a cover story “Would Modi save India or wreck it?” (December 14, 2013), the two professors, emphasized, “Your leader on Narendra Modi, the front-runner to be India’s next prime minister, repeated accusations that have been thoroughly investigated and found to be without basis by no less than a Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Indian Supreme Court.”
Taking particular objection to the use of the term “pogrom” for the Gujarat riots, a term which is being widely used across India and the world by human rights activists to identify the alleged role of Modi and the state in the 2002 riots, the two professors said, “You said that Modi refuses to atone for a ‘pogrom’ against Muslims in Gujarat, where he is chief minister. But what you call a pogrom was in fact a ‘communal riot’ in 2002 in which a quarter of the people killed were Hindus—170 of them from bullets fired by the police.”
Prof Bhagwati
“By contrast”, the professors point out in their rejoinder, the 1984 anti-Sikh riots alone should be called a “pogrom”. According to them, “The more numerous 1984 killing of Sikhs after Indira Gandhi’s assassination was indeed a pogrom, directed exclusively at the Sikhs.” They conclude, “With not a single charge against Modi standing up to the SIT’s scrutiny, it is absurd to ask him to atone.” Prof Bhagwati is known to have lost his claim to for Nobel Laureate, when Prof Amartya Sen was honoured with it for his contribution to economics.
Prof Bhagwati has met Modi several times. One of his interactions with the Gujarat chief minister was when he addressed, on December 25, 2011 (click HERE), Gujarat’s babus, declaring Gujarat’s growth as on the right tract. Even as endorsing the Gujarat model, he rejected the argument that Kerala suggested the way the social sector should develop. Kerala began with a high pedestal of social growth, one reason why its social sector remains strong. On the other hand, Gujarat began on a low pedestal, he told the audience.
"But a comparison of different Indian states suggests that Gujarat's rate of growth in the social sector is much higher than that of anywhere in India, including Kerala", he said, indirectly criticising Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, who advocates Kerala as one of the best models around the world where free trade, strong social sector and strong democracy converge. Bhagwati's lecture was titled, "Debunking Populist Myths That Undermine Prosperity -Lessons from and For Gujarat".
“The Economist” article which Prof Bhagwati and Prof Panagariya criticised, calls “the long-serving chief minister of Gujarat” as “a core of passionate supporters for his mix of economic efficiency and hardline Hindu nationalism.” It adds, “A terrible blot hangs over his reputation since an orgy of violence in his state in 2002 left over 1,000 dead, most of them Muslims.” “The Economist” wonders, “Do his qualities outweigh that huge stain?”
“The Economist” says, “If Modi looks like the country’s leader-in-waiting, that is a measure of the state of the ruling party. Congress has been in power since 2004 and long ago lost its vim. India’s once-scintillating growth rate has fallen by half to 5 per cent. With a need to find new jobs for 10 million Indians joining the workforce each year, such sluggish growth brings a terrible human cost.”
Prof Panagariya
“It is this backdrop that makes Congress’ drift and venality look so dangerous”, the journal points out, adding, “The 81-year-old prime minister, Manmohan Singh, once a reformer, is serving out his days as a Gandhi family retainer. Rahul Gandhi might end up as Congress’s next candidate for prime minister; yet the princeling seems neither to want the job nor to be up to doing it.”
Pointing towards how this led to disenchantment towards the Congress, it says, “The main beneficiary of this passion for change, however, is Modi. Not only is he the prime-ministerial candidate for the Hindu, centre-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but, to an unusual degree for an Indian party, he is the public face of its campaign. His visibility helps account for its success this week in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi.”
Even as calling him “a man of action and an outspoken outsider in a political system stuffed with cronies”, “The Economist” says, “His business supporters should face the fact that there is also a Modi who risks breaking India. Two serious questions hang over his character.” The first one “concerns his leadership”. Calling him “an autocratic loner who is a poor delegator”, it underlines, “That may work at state level, but not at national level—particularly when the BJP is likely to come to power only as part of a coalition.”
It says, “A man who does not listen to the counsel of others is likely to make bad decisions, and if he were prime minister of India, and thus had his finger on the button of a potential nuclear conflict with Pakistan, Modi would be faced with some very serious ones.”
“The second issue”, it says, “concerns the dreadful pogrom that happened on Modi’s watch. No Indian court has found him guilty of any crime. Yet it is hard to find an Indian who believes he does not share some responsibility for what happened—if only through neglect. He is banned from travel to America because of it. In this context, Modi’s failure to show remorse, which goes down well with his Hindu chauvinist base, speaks volumes.”
Defending Congress for not pursuing “a policy against Sikhs or any other ethnic or religious group”, it says, Modi, on the other hand, has devoted “much of his life to the pursuit of an extreme form of Hindu nationalism. His state party included no Muslim candidates in last year’s election and he has refused to wear a Muslim skull-cap. Other BJP leaders have worn them. He failed to condemn riots in Uttar Pradesh in September in which most of the victims were Muslim."
In a separate article, “A man of some of the people”, on the same day, “The Economist” says, “Unforthcoming on 2002, Modi is happy to talk about how he has successfully tackled economic problems in Gujarat that beleaguer other states… If economics alone mattered, Modi’s achievements in Gujarat suggest he is the man best placed to get India moving again. The problem is that political leaders are responsible for more. For all his crowds of supporters, his failures in 2002, and his refusal since to atone for them, or even address them, leave him a badly compromised candidate with much left to do.”

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