The letter-writing in The Economist or even the Oped articles/interviews wouldn’t have alerted us to the great Amartya Sen-Jagdish Bhagwati faceoff. As was to be expected in an intensely political country as ours, it was the positioning of Amartya Sen as the UPA’s reigning deity that really set off things. Apart from the fact that Sen endorsed the UPA’s flagship Food Security Bill—he even spoke of children dying due to malnutrition while the Bill was delayed—he went and said he didn’t think highly of the BJP’s prime ministerial hopeful Narendra Modi, even challenging the Gujarat model of growth while championing the Bihar one.
While the BJP hasn’t formally anointed Bhagwati as its presiding economist, by taking on Sen it has given the appearance it is pro-Bhagwati. It helps that the BJP is feting Bhagwati’s co-author Arvind Panagariya—their recent book slams the UPA’s economic policies and debunks several theories the Congress hold dearly. Though the book doesn’t plump for growth alone being the panacea for India’s problems, just as Sen doesn’t trumpet only subsidies—he is actually pro-market—the two have been bracketed as pro-BJP and pro-Congress. Ironically, this is at a time when many senior leaders in the BJP are pro-dole and many in the Congress believe growth is a far superior alternative to dole, indeed the only choice India has at the moment.