Rajan Preaches Tolerance as India Beef Lynching Raises Alarm

Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan defended freedom of debate and the right to differ amid recent incidents that have raised concerns over religious intolerance in the world’s largest democracy.

“India has always protected debate and the right to have different views,” Rajan said during a convocation address at his alma mater, the Indian Institute of Technology, in New Delhi on Saturday. “Excessive political correctness stifles progress as much as excessive license and disrespect.”

Rajan, unlike his predecessors, hasn’t held back from sharing his views on topics beyond the realm of monetary policy and has in the past voiced opinion on fiscal reform, corruption and oligarchy. India’s tradition of debate and an open spirit of enquiry is critical for its economic progress, said the central bank governor, who is an appointee of the federal government.

India has seen tensions rising in recent months, with some members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party making inflammatory comments after the lynching of a Muslim man in Dadri, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, over rumors that he killed a cow and stored and ate beef, an animal sacred in Hinduism. Rajan’s speech made no reference to any of the recent issues or political developments.

While Modi has largely distanced himself from the “nationalist gibes,” he “must keep his members in check or risk losing domestic and global credibility,” Faraz Syed, a Sydney-based economist at Moody’s Analytics, wrote in an Oct. 29 report.

‘Stray Incident’

“Dadri was a stray incident,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday. “It was both unfortunate and condemnable. The guilty will be taken to task.”

“India remains a highly tolerant and liberal society,” Jaitley wrote. “Our cultural values have imbibed co-existence. India has repeatedly rejected intolerance.”

Modi’s opponents have seized on religious issues to justify blocking his reform agenda in parliament, hampering efforts to boost growth in Asia’s third-largest economy that remains below potential even while outpacing other emerging markets reeling from China’s slowdown.

Bihar Vote

India banned the screening of a documentary broadcast on the BBC that included an interview with a man convicted of a fatal gang rape in 2012, and wants to get it blocked elsewhere. Modi’s administration earlier this year suspended environmental group Greenpeace’s license and froze its bank accounts for violation of law, while philanthropic group Ford Foundation was asked to take prior approval before releasing funds.

“Tolerance can take the offense out of debate, and indeed instill respect,” RBI Governor Rajan said Saturday, according to copy of his speech on the central bank’s website. “A quick resort to bans will chill all debate as everyone will be anguished by ideas they dislike. It is far better to improve the environment for ideas through tolerance and mutual respect.”

Modi, who in a 2014 speech called for a 10-year moratorium on sectarian violence, has also been criticized for not unequivocally condemning the incidents, as he focuses on elections in the key state of Bihar. A victory there could help further his goal of controlling the upper house of the national parliament and passing stalled economic proposals.

Book Launch

The BJP’s ally in the Western state of Maharashtra disrupted events including a book launch by a former Pakistani foreign minister, culminating in several litterateurs to return national awards in protest.

“The country has to stay united,” the prime minister said at a campaign rally in Bihar last month, the Press Trust of India reported. He urged people to ignore “irresponsible” comments from politicians made to further their interests, according to PTI.

India will probably grow 7.6 percent this year, below its 9 percent to 10 percent potential expansion, according to Moody’s Analytics. Closing the gap is tough as the global environment is weak and the government has failed to deliver key promised reforms, Syed wrote. He said the elections in Bihar “could prove pivotal to Modi’s leadership.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
LEARN MORE