Friday, August 09, 2013

Bhagwati on Bhagwati versus Sen

Jagdish Bhagwati is at his polemical best in his piece in today's Business Standard. He points out the differences between himself and Sen, of course, but the the juicy bits are about the dirt that Sen's detractors (including the BJP) have dug up on Sen following his declaration that he didn't think Narendra Modi was PM material:

Having dragged himself into the political maelstrom, Mr. Sen now faces predictably gutter politics, as (I am told) lascivious photos of his actress daughter are now circulating on the internet. His appointment of himself as the Chancellor of the new Nalanda University and of an unknown academic as the Vice Chancellor at an astonishingly high salary has led to accusations of corruption. In fact, the former President of India Abdul Kalam  had written a letter saying, among other distressed complaints, that these functionaries would have to reside in Nalanda, which letter was suppressed and has now been released under the Freedom of Information Act. It now seems also as if Mr. Sen asked for and accepted a million dollars from BJP Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha for his new NGO, whereas I have not asked for a Rupee or received any financing from the BJP I am supposed by Mr. Sen’s media friends to be supporting. As Alexander Pope wrote, everything seems yellow to the jaundiced eye.

Bhagwati is scathing about those who contend that there are no basic differences between him and Sen:
Many argue that there are none (no differences). Montek Ahluwalia and Kaushik Basu from GOI have said so: but they are both bureaucrats and no one expects them to offer sincere opinions. Some also fall victim to the cultural tradition of obfuscation implied by Asti Nasti. Others feel uncomfortable challenging celebrities and are into the 'Sashtanga Pranam' mode which requires pretending that both sides are saying the same thing and are therefore both are right.
Surprisingly, the Finance Minister Mr. Chidambaram, who is a brilliant man with a gift for writing (I once released his book of essays written while he was out of power and said that he wrote so well that one wished that he was more often out of power!), has fallen victim to this fallacy. He is seduced by his cleaver phrasing, saying that Bhagwati has a passion for growth whereas Sen has compassion for the poor. But that is precisely where he goes wrong and where we must focus to put Mr. Sen in his place, which is certainly not on a pedestal.
I doubt that Basu, who is now Chief Economist at World Bank and was Chair professor at Cornell,  will like being labelled a 'bureaucrat'!

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