Nobel Laureate Abhijit Banerjee Reveals What Gives Him the Stomach to Take on Political Nastiness

Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee has said “thick skin” helps him deal with criticism and political nastiness, adding that he feels “silence is very costly”.

Speaking to CNBC TV18, Banerjee said: “Thick skin, very thick skin and a little bit of — we are very political people, we live — politics is very much in our minds. So we feel that silence is very costly. We feel like influencing policy, influencing the world is in our genes.”

Banerjee has been under fire since he was awarded the Nobel Prize along with two others for their “experimental approach to alleviating global poverty”. Union Minister Piyush Goyal hit out at the economist, saying the Indian public has rejected his thinking.

The former finance minister was referring to Banerjee's critical remarks on the dire state of the economy. On the day he was conferred with the prestigious award for his work in fighting global poverty, Banerjee said "the Indian government is on shaky ground and that policies are evaluated based on accepted criteria and looked at as an option".

"I congratulate Abhijit Banerjee for winning the Nobel Prize. But, you all know about his thinking. It is left-leaning. He had sung praises for NYAY (Congress's minimum income scheme manifesto promise). The people of India have rejected this thinking," Goyal said at an event in Pune.

Goyal is among a number of BJP leaders who have criticised the Nobel Prize awardee. BJP MP Anantkumar Hegde had also sardonically described Banerjee as the "man who recommended inflation and tax rates to be raised" in the country.

On Saturday, BJP National Secretary and the party's former West Bengal unit president Rahul Sinha stoked a controversy as he mocked the credentials of Banerjee, saying people whose second wives are foreigners are mostly getting the Nobel Prize.

He also wondered whether having a foreigner as the second wife was a "degree" for getting the Nobel.

This year's Nobel Prize in Economics was jointly awarded to Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, a French-American economist and fellow US professor Michael Kremer. Duflo is Banerjee's second wife.

Banerjee had assisted the Congress to formulate the Nyuntam Aay Yojana (Minimum Income Guarantee programme), its flagship social welfare programme in its 2019 Lok Sabha election manifesto. The scheme promised to give Rs 72,000 annually to each of the 20 per cent families in poorest of the poor category. The Congress, however, lost the election.

"Those people whose second wives are foreigners are mostly getting the Nobel prize. I don't know whether it is a degree for getting the Nobel," Sinha said.

The Congress, however, has come to the Nobel Laureate’s defence, with party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi calling it “arrogance”. “So electoral victory makes Nobel experts wrong, maybe ignorant; Nyay bad because BJP returned to power. Amazing inverse logic and huge arrogance," he tweeted.