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The Abhijit Banerjee prescription: Economic discourse or bottled populism?

Ranabir Bhattacharyya

The Indian National Congress is leaving no stone unturned for the re-launch of Rahul Gandhi, their evergreen Captain Spark. Whether he has any expertise in economics or not, is an aspect about which no one has a clue. Ever since Jyotiradutya Scindhia has changed sides, the Congress lobby is running out of time to promote Rahul Gandhi.

The first episode with Raghuram Rajan was overhyped and Mr Rajan has confirmed his intentions of becoming India’s Finance Minister if the Gandhi scion manages to win the election against the Modi magic. Fresh with his Nobel – cause, Abhijit Banerjee didn’t miss his moment of fame with the Gandhi baton, a few weeks back, he was asked to advise Mamata Banerjee’s government in West Bengal on tackling coronavirus. All he ended up saying was, “Test, test, and test.” This time around he has come up with some suggestions amidst this universal healthcare crisis.

‘A stimulus package’ is the most common phrase in almost all countries. The Narendra Modi government has already announced one such and another is definitely in the queue as per recent speculation. Abhijit Banerjee mentioned the need of it and also called for making the cash transfer a more ‘inclusive’ one – reaching out to the poorest of the poor.

His comparison with the Trump government, going as far as spending 10% of the GDP, seems absurd. But he hasn’t mentioned the mode of reaching out to the masses apart from the already used Direct Benefit Transfer to the marginalized. He looked concerned about the ‘time-path’ of the disease.

As far as the food problem is concerned, Abhijit Banerjee prescribed the idea of issuing ration cards, at least for three months, for the time being. His call for a decentralized system to handle the migrant labour crisis wasn’t something new at all. Thankfully he didn’t come up with a mathematical figure like Raghuram Rajan; possibly it wasn’t in the script at all. The most interesting part has been Abhijit Banerjee’s stand on Aadhar cards. He called for the nationalization of the Aadhar cards in the best interests of a robust public distribution system.

No doubt, Rahul Gandhi is taking his work from home schedule very seriously as his party is fixing up back to back interviews for him. It would have been great if the economists themselves had directly advised the central government in time of this crisis!

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