'I am a little worried. Now there is 10-20 per cent chance that we might see 1991 again'

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SummaryEconomist Arvind Panagariya in talks with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta.

In this Walk the Talk on NDTV 24x7, economist Arvind Panagariya tells The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta why he is “optimistic” about Modi and why this has been “one of the worst eras of performance by an RBI governor”

I am at the campus of the National Council of Applied Economic Research in Delhi. And my guest this week is a brilliant economist who I shall not describe as an establishment economist—although that is a species found widely in institutions in India—and somebody the BJP takes very seriously and I hope it continues to listen to...

Well, the UPA takes me seriously too.

...Arvind Panagariya—Bhagwati professor at Columbia, former chief economist at ADB and writer of many books, including your recent one with Jagdish Bhagwati, India’s Tryst with Destiny, and somebody willing to question establishment views even within the intellectual establishment. How tough is that?

If you believe in integrity and if you believe that you should speak your mind, then it is not so tough. And if you are not looking for a job with the government, it is even easier.

With this government? Or maybe that works better with the next one?

Look, if the next government does good things, then I’ll be with them, but if they really don’t do the right things, they will get my criticism too.

Describe this Indian economic establishment to me.

In our tradition, there isn’t enough questioning, particularly when it comes to social programmes run by the government, which has no real capability to deliver. Even then, we don’t somehow question. We criticise, we say the government can’t do this or that, complain about corruption, but when somebody says this needs to be done, we say the government must do it. There is a disconnect.

So, there is a touching faith in the government.

There is. Look at what happened in Bihar to those 23 children in the mid-day meal (tragedy). It reflects gross incompetence in running those kinds of programmes. Yet, we won’t sit back and say that maybe there is an alternative solution that we could work on, with the same objective of doing good to the people at large and reducing poverty.

Do most modern economists know this in India?

Well, I think we are trying to change the narrative as it existed and that was a very important part of the book Jagdish Bhagwati and I wrote. We took various myths—that growth doesn’t really

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