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May 26, 1998


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The Rediff Business Interview/Dr K N Raj

'This government has only given reason for India to be ashamed of itself'

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Economist Dr K N Raj, who served as professor at the Delhi School of economics for 18 years, was hand-picked by Jawaharlal Nehru to help chart the development path of the nation. A product of the Madras Christian College and the London School of Economics, Dr Raj authored the foreword to the First Five-Year Plan document.

Outspoken in his views, the 74-year-old economist has faced the wrath of communist cadres in the past. This time around, he has targeted the Bharatiya Janata Party government for leading the country down the nuclear path. He thinks the tests have earned India a bad name and exposed the BJP's doublespeak on ahimsa. Excerpts from an exclusive interview with Venu Menon in Thiruvananthapuram:

The prime minister has hailed the nuclear tests as a national achievement. You disagree.

The first blast at Pokhran years ago had already established that India had nuclear capability. There was no need to prove the point again. The recent blasts are essentially a repetition of what was achieved in 1974 with perhaps some small improvements. The BJP is playing on public sentiment by raising the bogey of the traditional enemies, Pakistan and China.

You said the tests were cleverly timed. What did you mean?

The BJP government has so far a record of non-performance. It is either fighting within its ranks or surrendering to the blackmailing of its allies. The blasts were meant to take public attention away from all this and in the process make tall claims which the ordinary citizen is in no position to judge.

The BJP wants to convey the impression that it has now turned India into a nuclear power. What is meant thereby I do not understand. Repeated tests, so far as I can judge, have merely earned a bad name for India in the world community.

There is a double standard there. The US and other western powers have adopted a stand on the nuclear issue that is clearly hypocritical?

Who doesn't have double standards? Is India a country without double standards? Nobody is more hypocritical than Indians. We preach non-violence all the time in the name of Gandhiji and practice exactly the opposite.

That still leaves the American position unanswered.

I am not interested in answering the American position. Economic power is what governs the world. America is way above us in terms of economic power. The nuclear tests are not going to bring us on par with the US. Japan has a per capita income higher than that of America, and yet even they do not claim to be equals in economic terms.

Do you foresee any economic repercussions for India in view of the threat of sanctions?

We are not dependent on food from abroad. Or steel, We make most of our own machinery. We are not helpless. On the question of aid cutbacks, we have reached a stage in our development where we can mange without aid. All we need to do is continue increasing faster our exports to earn more foreign exchange.

What about the ongoing projects funded by the IMF and the World Bank?

The IMF and the World Bank are now very much on the defensive all over the world. The country they give full support to along with US, Indonesia, see what has happened there. The Indonesian economy has collapsed. India has in fact done far better than Indonesia. India is being demoralised by its politicians and their brand of journalists.

Do you see a positive side to the tests?

None at all! India has lost whatever image it had for being a reasonable people. Even Japan, which normally does not speak out, has condemned us. The Japanese have had good reason to respect us. After all, we never claimed compensation for the losses incurred by us in the war with Japan in the 1940s.

Some would say the tests have done wonders for national self-respect?

This government has only given reason for India to be ashamed of itself. The nuclear tests have derailed our priorities.

I was associated with Jawaharlal Nehru during the preparation of the Five-Year Plan and was entrusted with the responsibility of charting out our path for long-term development. At that time, we expected to be able to raise the rate of investment in India from 5 per cent of the national income in 1950-51 to 20 per cent of the national income over a 25 to 30 year period. We exceeded that target long ago. We now have a rate of saving and investment of the order of 27 per cent of the national income.

From the early 1990s, our national income has been therefore growing between 6 and 7 per cent per annum, whereas our original growth-rate target (set in 1951) was no higher than 5 per cent. Where we now need to concentrate our efforts is in a more equitable distribution of income and consumption.

In Kerala, and more generally in south India, primarily education and primary health standards have improved far more than most states in north India. This now relatively backward region covers Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh and has been aptly described by Professor Ashish Bose as the Bimaru (sick in Hindi) states. These are the states that the BJP government needs to focus on, especially since most of its electoral support comes from there. A few nuclear blasts will not help raise the standard of living in these states nor help the country at large, whose economy is growing rapidly.


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