Politicising Economicshttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/politicising-economics/

Politicising Economics

News TV looks at differences between two academics in the Modi-Rahul frame

Sometimes,the juxtaposition of content and the advertising that pays for it has consequences. Like,I’m watching a rather irresponsible speed-demonic Jaguar ad on NDTV 24×7,with the slogan: “How alive are you?” And the story that follows immediately is the framing of charges in the Salman Khan hit-and-run case. How dead are the victims of that incident?

Switching rapidly between national and regional channels can produce equally startling contrasts. We have always known that politics is war by other means but this week,the big boys were working hard to take us to the next level of awareness: economics is politics by other means. Differences between India’s most influential academics,which should have been settled in sequestered seminar rooms,were presented by news outlets as a simulacrum of the presumably imminent conflict between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. Let us hope that just to break Subramanian Swamy’s heart,his ‘Buddhu’ remains a manager and stays out of the ring.

While this high drama was in progress in Delhi — and it was hard to watch any news without getting an eyeful of political economy — I switched to the Bengali channels,because one of the economists is Bengali and is closely followed over there. Not this week,though. After four cases of molestation within 24 hours,the city of liberal bhadralok was coming to terms with the new reality — it is as violent and misogynistic as the rest of India.

ABP Ananda enlarged the canvas with a report of a girl in Naihati,20 minutes from Kolkata by suburban rail,who had hanged herself for shame after being molested. Interviewees,whose faces were thoughtfully blurred out (important in an increasingly violent state),spoke of a growing culture of impunity based on the belief that you can get whatever you want. Last week,the very same culture had encouraged a Trinamool Congress leader to preach the murder of independent candidates. Akash Bangla ran a rapid set of sound bytes from women from all over the state,none of whom felt safe any more. A call-in programme revealed simmering outrage among women. About Mamata Banerjee’s compensating women,one said: “How can she,as a woman,believe that the loss of dignity can be written off against cash?”

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Meanwhile,in Delhi,watching the cut and thrust of a media-created war,a discourse which rapidly became totally bereft of dignity,one wondered if there should be a law against TV interviewers canvassing prominent economists on their opinions on life,the universe and everything. They should reserve that for politicians,who are typically qualified for nothing and can therefore expound on everything. What do you say when a reporter as level-headed as Rajdeep Sardesai tweets,“Amartya Sen created a stir three days ago on CNN-IBN. Today,it is Jagdish Bhagwati’s turn to hit back on the channel.”

Incidentally,the two public intellectuals that TV was treating as prizefighters were colleagues at the Delhi School of Economics. The institution occupies a very special place in the firmament of this inexact science,and it is hard to believe that there are no interesting voices on its campus today,or on other Indian campuses. But we won’t get to hear their opinions until they slide off to Columbia or Harvard. Then,our TV personalities will go to them all goo-goo eyed and gaga-faced,and ask them about life,the universe and everything,and read deep,unintended meanings into what they hear.

Also this week,when interest in schools is waning as the midday meal tragedy in Bihar recedes,P7 reported on a school in Saharanpur which is so short on space that children have to sit both on and under the benches and tables,in layers. Apparently,the teachers had complained to the administration but nothing was done until the story broke on TV. Happy endings haven’t gone out of style.

pratik.kanjilal@expressindia.com