Indians face ‘extreme pain’, economy below 2019 levels, says Abhijit Banerjee

Nobel Laureate Abhijit Banerjee has said that people in India are “in extreme pain” and the country’s economy is still below the 2019 levels. He added that the “small aspirations” of people are becoming even smaller now.

Addressing a virtual address to students of the Ahmedabad University in Gujarat on Saturday night from the US during the varsity’s 11th annual convocation held online, the economist shared his observations from a recent visit to West Bengal.

He also appealed to the students not to submit to pressure from family or society in deciding what career paths to take, and have the courage to do what they really want to do in life.

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“You (students) are in a place where you can give back. Society really needs it. We are in a time of extreme pain in India,” he said.

“I just spent some time in rural West Bengal and stories you hear about, you know, all the aspirations that have been a little bit dashed are very real…small aspirations which became smaller now,” Banerjee said.

“I think we are in a moment of great pain. The economy is still well below as against what it was in 2019. We don’t know how much below, but it is substantially below. And I am not blaming anybody, I am just saying,” said the economist, who won the Nobel Prize along with Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer in 2019.

Banerjee also informed the audience that he had spent 10 days in Tihar jail during his student days at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi.

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“When I was about to leave the JNU and go to Harvard, I was in a student demonstration and then I was taken to Tihar jail, and kept there for ten days. When I came out, a lot of elders told me that I have ruined my career, and Harvard or the US will never let you in. They thought I should be regretful,” he said.

To make his point about choosing careers, Banerjee pointed out that two of India’s great filmmakers–Satyajit Ray and Shyam Benegal–were economics graduates but chose to walk a different path.

“Yet, they did fine in life. So, instead of specific training, what is really important is that you are a lively, thoughtful and open human being. That’s the most important part,” he said.

During the convocation, 833 students, including four doctoral students, of the private varsity were conferred degrees.

(With inputs from PTI.)

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