Opposition leaders discuss Indian economy

Arun Jaitley, left, and Nand Kishore Singh, members of India’s leading opposition parties, spoke about the issues confronting their nation’s development at Luce Hall Sunday afternoon.
Arun Jaitley, left, and Nand Kishore Singh, members of India’s leading opposition parties, spoke about the issues confronting their nation’s development at Luce Hall Sunday afternoon. Photo by Victor Kang.

Two politicians from India’s leading opposition parties spoke on a panel Sunday afternoon about the numerous socioeconomic issues confronting their country.

Arun Jaitley, leader of the opposition in the Upper House of India’s parliament, and Nand Kishore Singh, another opposition and Upper House member, spoke at a session in Luce Hall moderated by Steven Wilkinson, director of undergraduate studies for the Ethics, Politics and Economics Program. In front of roughly 50 students, faculty and members of New Haven’s Indian community, the two discussed the possible negative consequences of the Indian government’s economic policies.

Taking aim at a recent decision by the government to allow foreign direct investment in the retail sector, Jaitley called the reforms a “knee-jerk reaction” by a prime minister who has “skated along on past reforms.” Jaitley accused the administration of not building political consensus or consulting the opposition about the investment reform. Singh went further, arguing that the government had the wrong priorities and was “breaking the social compact and social consensus” by not enacting reforms supported by the opposition.

After discussing the controversial foreign direct investment policy, the two shifted their focus to issues of emigration and internal relocation in India. Singh defended people’s right to move as they like, and warned against “artificial impediments to moving from one place to another.” He said the “asymmetry” between an aging West and young, populated countries like India would only spur emigration from the younger nations.

When a student later expressed concern about potentially unequal economic development in India, Singh responded that the country’s Gini coefficient — an indicator of income inequality — suggests that inequality has not increased in rural or urban areas over the past 15 years.

The discussion was somewhat one-sided due to the absence of Salman Khurshid, India’s minister of law and a member of the ruling party, who had to cancel his scheduled appearance because of an imminent cabinet reshuffling in New Delhi. Singh and Jaitley were at Yale as part of a tour of American universities that includes Stanford and Columbia.

The event was organized by the South Asian Studies Council, the Yale India Initiative and the South Asian Society.

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