Deccan Chronicle

Raghuram Rajan: Let's not wait for zero cases. Lift the lockdown soon

Deccan Chronicle| APRAMEYA RAO

Published on: April 30, 2020 | Updated on: May 1, 2020

In video conversation with Rahul Gandhi, the former RBI governor advocates restarting the economy soonest.

File image of ex-Reserve Bank governor Raghuram Rajan.

File image of ex-Reserve Bank governor Raghuram Rajan.

Mumbai: Former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan has said a long-drawn lockdown would not be sustainable for India and advocated restarting the economy at the earliest.

In a pre-recorded video interaction with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi that was streamed across all social media platforms of the Congress party, the economist warned that in fact cyclical shutdowns can be devastating.

"It in fact means that the government has not been successful in curbing the virus. So, it could diminish its credibility. We should not target 100 per cent success and wait for zero new cases before fully opening the economy."

Rajan, who now teaches at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, told the Wayanad MP  that India must not confuse its priorities with those of the West, because, unlike the Western countries, it does not have the financial resources to keep itself under lockdown for a long time.

"The Indian economy does not have the capacity to support people for long. Some 100 million are out of jobs due to the coronavirus lockdown. The government needs to prioritise opening up the economy in a measured way soon," he said.

The only way out, Rajan said, would be to continue social distancing in workspaces as well as in routine daily life.

When Rahul Gandhi asked Rajan about the plight of the poor and the migrant workers, the economist stressed on the need to utilise Direct Benefit Transfers to help them tide over the next few months.

"Food supply becomes very important in such a crisis. Keeping people fed should be a priority. For that to happen, the Public Distribution System (PDS) needs to work well," he said adding that Rs 65,000 crore would be needed to keep the poor and migrant workers fed in the coming months.

Social harmony a public good

Rajan was characteristically diplomatic during this online conversation with Rahul Gandhi, but he did indirectly raise the point of maintaining social harmony during such a crisis period.

"For me, social harmony is a public good. One cannot afford to have our house divided in a crisis situation. Our founding fathers had realised that some issues should be kept on the backburner for the larger good of the country," he said.

Rajan’s statement comes at a time when India has been witnessing a rise in Islamophobia after members of the Tablighi Jamaat were targeted for being vectors of the coronavirus.

One-of-its-kind interaction

Raghuram Rajan’s convo with Rahul Gandhi is unusual for the Indian political scene as rarely are politicians seen holding a conversation with public intellectuals.

Moreover, as per reports, the video interaction is being seen as an attempt by the Congress party to rebrand Rahul Gandhi as someone more involved in people’s issues. More such interactions with intellectuals are likely in the future, Congress sources reportedly told a newspaper.

This development comes amid frequent criticism that Rahul Gandhi usually disappears during key crisis situations within the party as well as the country.

Another point to be noted is that this was not the first time that the Grand Old Party roped in Raghuram Rajan to seek his counsel on economic issues. In the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the party had reportedly consulted Rajan, among other economists, on its flagship NYAY policy.

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