Dear Prime Minister Modi, here’s what you could learn from Harvard

'Mocking economists and credible academic institutions will only isolate us from the world.'

Harvard University

Dear Prime Minister Modi,

I am currently pursuing my master in public policy from Harvard University. I am from a middle-class family and my father is a public servant just like you. Before this, I have worked for over six years towards reforming the education system in India both as a teacher in a municipal school and as a policy implementer for various non-profits. I hope this proves my credentials as a hardworking nationalist.

Your remarks at an election rally at Maharajganj last week that “hard work is more powerful than Harvard” are startling. The very fact that you mentioned Harvard while campaigning in front of people who are mostly uneducated shows that you have been rattled by the observations made by some of the most influential economists in the world.

Let me tell you a few things we learn here at the university. We are trained in the “evidence based learning” approach, which helps in designing and implementing policies effectively so that disasters such as demonetisation can be avoided. We assess the pros and cons of a policy in advance and prepare an operational plan that causes minimum disruption while maximising the outcome. Your demonetisation plan could have benefitted from this approach.
We are also taught statesmanship here at Harvard, which not only builds character but also leads to bi-partisanship. A true statesman knows how to respectfully disagree and engage with an opposing ideology. Our professors always tell us that while it may be acceptable to campaign in poetry but it is always prudent to govern in prose. The vitriolic political discourse in India would do well to remember this.

While you were making these remarks in Uttar Pradesh, Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan was addressing us at Harvard and he specifically asked the university and the students to collaborate with your government. Another senior member of your party and MoS for Civil Aviation, Jayant Sinha, is a graduate from Harvard business school. The Prime Minister’s Office has officers on special duty who are alumni of Harvard university. I am sure your comments must have come across as a surprise to all these hardworking people as well.

To develop a country as diverse as India you will need the help of people who bring a different perspective to the table. Mocking economists and credible academic institutions will only isolate us from the world. People like me hope to return to India after graduation and want to join you in your quest to develop the country but such remarks will only push us away. History will be kinder to you if only you are kinder in the present.

Jai Hind!

Prateek Kanwal

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