- Abhijit Banerjee said Nirmala Sitharaman was his contemporary at JNU
- He said they shared similar views on several issues
- "It is not that we had deep disagreements," he said
Indian-American Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee, whose comments on the Indian economy has drawn criticism from the BJP, has told NDTV that Union finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was his contemporary at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University and they shared similar views on several issues. While Ms Sitharaman has not responded to Mr Banerjee's remarks about the economy being in a "tailspin", Union minister Piyush Goyal has brushed it off, saying it was the claim of a "Left-leaning" economist. JNU has been known as a traditional bastion of the Left.
Asked about JNU's role in his training and his thoughts about the current noise about the university, Mr Banerjee termed the current situation "unfortunate".
"One of the people I knew well and we were on similar sides of certain issues was Nirmala Sitharaman.She was my contemporary in JNU... I wouldn't say we were close friends, but we were friends and it is not that we had deep disagreements".
The university, he said, was a place where a lot of people held different views and divergent opinions. "It was great because it makes you engaged with the nature of India in a deep way". Continuing, he said, "Being critical is one thing and being able to discuss with civility diverse views is another thing and both of these are important".
Mr Banerjee's views about the Indian economy has not endeared him to the ruling BJP.
Over the years, he has tagged demonetisation as not being a well-considered move, spoken of the debate over data and said the slowing consumption indicated that the economy was in a "tailspin".
"You have to take it seriously that the economy is in crisis. If you look at that one number that jumps out at me from the analysis of the NSS (National Sample Survey) data, it is the average consumption in India. We are slightly lower today than it was in 2014-15. That's an unprecedented event," he told NDTV.
On Friday, two days after the economics award was announced by the Swedish Academy, Union minister Piyush Goyal gave his take on the Nobel laureate.
"You all know what his understanding is. His thinking is totally Left-leaning. He had praised the NYAY scheme effusively, but the people of India totally rejected his thinking," said Mr Goyal, who was Ms Sitharaman's junior minister in the commerce ministry at the first tenure of the Narendra Modi government.
In his tweet congratulating Mr Banerjee for his Nobel, Congress's Rahul Gandhi has credited him with helping formulate NYAY -- the minimum income guarantee scheme that was one of the flagship schemes in the party's manifesto. While NYAY drew a lot of media attention, the Congress had crashed in the polls.
Today, Mr Gandhi tweeted his objections to Mr Goyal's remark.
"Dear Mr Banerjee... These bigots are blinded by hatred and have no idea what a professional is. You cannot explain it to them, even if you tried for a decade. Please be certain that millions of Indians are proud of your work," his post read.
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