Dr Raghuram Rajan and Dr Arvind Subramaniam stand by the protesting students

 By Vijaya Pushkarna

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and many of his party mates were happy to see former RBI Governor Dr Raghuram Rajan, and  the  former Chief Economic Adviser Dr Arvind Subramaniam ,  go back to where they came from—the USA.  

Both  the economists had served under the  BJP-led government , but the government never took  kindly to their plainspeak: particularly when they opened  up young minds. Rajan spoke on everything from liberalism to the idea of India, politics and elections to social issues-- there was no subject he was hesitant to touch without mincing a word. And Subramaniam made his point using an economic  connect to the ills he found needed addressing .The Swadeshi lobby despised them. And there is every reason to believe that those who matter in the BJP and the RSS, were indeed insecure on account of the growing popularity of these two public servants, particularly among the young.

Both  have a huge following among  students in colleges , institutes and university campuses across the country. Though  teachers at Ivy League universities of the USA, they have visited –and continue to visit--many Indian universities, interacted with the students and  delivered lectures, including convocation addresses. Many such speeches went  viral when fresh, some  have a recall value today too.

 Over the last two days,Dr Rajan and Dr Subramaniam  have  spoken up for India, now in the throes of protests on the streets and violence in the campuses.

The former RBI Governor in a blog post admits to finding the news coming out of India “worrisome”.  “ When even elite universities become literal battlegrounds, accusations that the government is attempting to suppress dissent—even if by apathy rather than design—gain substantial credibility,” he points out.

 Dr Rajan notes “while the identities of the attackers remain unclear, what is clear is that many of the attacked were activists, and neither the government-appointed administration nor the police intervened. And this was in a capital city where everyone is usually on high alert”.

Looking at the positive side of the recent events, the former RBI Governor writes that “ the spirit of our Constitution still burns brightly”.

 “When young people of diverse faiths march together, Hindus and Muslims arm-in-arm behind our national flag, rejecting artificial divides stoked by political leaders for their own gain, they show that the spirit of our constitution still burns brightly. When officers of the administrative service resign their dream jobs because they do not believe they can serve in good faith, they are living testimony that the sacrifices made by the generations that got us freedom still inspire emulation. When an Election Commissioner carries out his duties impartially despite the harassment it brings upon his family, he asserts that integrity has not been completely cowed. When some members of the media work tirelessly to get the truth out even as their colleagues succumb to government pressure, they demonstrate what it means to be a dutiful citizen of the Republic. And when a Bollywood actress registers her silent protest by meeting with the victims of the attack on JNU, even though she puts attendance at her latest movie at risk, she inspires us all to take stock of what is truly at stake."

His piece is titled “A Resolution for the New Decade”, and  Dr Rajan says while it is easy to blame our leadership, we the  public, also bear a responsibility, and elaborates it thus:

“After all, it was the citizenry that put our leaders into office and acquiesced in their divisive manifesto, which they have taken as their marching orders. Some of us were hopeful that they would focus on the economic agenda. Some of us agreed with their speeches, which scratched and inflamed our own prejudices. Some of us were indifferent, thinking politics was someone else’s problem. And some of us feared the consequences of being critical, as critics were ruthlessly made examples of. At the end of the day, democracy is not merely a right, but it is also a responsibility—a burden to be the keepers of our Republic, not merely on election day but on every day.”

His message to the youth? “In these troublesome times, let us work together to make India that shining example of tolerance and respect that our founders envisioned, a beacon once more for a weary world. Let that be our task for the new decade”

Dr Subramaniam, the  former CEA, has visited many educational institutions across the country to discuss India’s economy and explain the annual Economic Survey. He recalls visits to the Jamia Millia, the JNU, the Aligarh Muslim University and observes that “something has changed over the past few months”. 

He identifies the change too ! "Thugs armed not just with weapons but with ideological hate have perpetrated unprovoked violence, not only in these universities but in campuses across India."

Subramaniam believes the students  are being attacked for” exercising their right of expression, their right to articulate their concerns and opinions about a set of measures they fear might consign many Indians to second-class citizenship, if not deprive them of their identity altogether?”. As a pedagogue, his prescription is clear. Regardless of whether their fears are misplaced or exaggerated, the youth must be heard in order to understand and address their concerns.

The  Prime Minister’s goal of making India a $5 trillion economy would have to be driven by the demographic dividend , and if universities become war zones, we don’t build human capital, the former CEA writes in a piece  titled, “From Demographic Dividend to Demographic Wasteland.”

“Indeed, since building human capital, maintaining social peace and creating strong institutions are key determinants of long-run development, recent actions triply undermine achieving sabka saath, sabka vikas.”says the former CEA, quoting Prime Minister Modi’s favourite slogan.

At a time when the government is struggling to find ideas to give the economy a push, they will do well to listen to their former adviser.


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