NITI Aayog's new head Rajiv Kumar hints at more exits, waning 'foreign influence'
Foreign influence on Indian policy making by Indian-American economists is fading as part of the ongoing policy transformation in the NDA government, according to Rajiv Kumar, the economist who has been selected to replace Arvind Panagariya as the new vice chairman of NITI Aayog. Expressing his views in a column published in the Hindi daily Dainik Jagran on Monday, Kumar referred to the exit of Panagariya and former RBI chief Raghuram Rajan and wrote that "if Lutyens' Delhi rumours are to be believed, more such resignations can come".
In the column, Kumar also said that as a result of this transformation, the country may witness appointment of individuals with much better understanding of India's ground realities. Kumar, a DPhil in Economics from Oxford University and a PhD from Lucknow University, wrote: "A key transformation taking place on the policy front in the current central government led by Narendra Modi, is that the colour of foreign influence, especially Anglo-American, on the Indian policy making establishment that came in the last few decades, is fading away. Raghuram Rajan has already left. Now, Arvind Panagariya has also announced his resignation from his post ahead of his term being completed. If Lutyen's Delhi rumours are to be believed, more such resignations can come. In their place, we may see experts being posted who understand India's ground realities in a much better manner, and who can commit to stay and work till their term ends."
When contacted by The Indian Express, Kumar declined to comment on his column. A highly placed government source, however, told The Indian Express that Kumar "should have avoided making a comment on other economists". Kumar further wrote that even as the love for foreign goods went down in the aftermath of the 1991 liberalisation of the economy, it took a long time for the policy making establishment within the country to get rid of the "Macaulayist mentality".
During this time, Kumar wrote, experts belonging to domestic academic spheres were considered inferior to their foreign counterparts, and as a result, were not considered deserving for high-ranking positions in the government.
"During this time, 'imported experts' were regularly coming in. Another related problem that was often observed was that Indian policies would have the influence of multilateral organisations like IMF, World Bank, or those universities to which these experts would have incredible reverence," Kumar wrote. Providing the example of China, he noted that the country has always carefully listened to the experiences of the World Bank and the IMF, but formulated policies keeping in mind its goals and ground realities. Kumar has raised these issues earlier, too.
In a column titled, "Risks of Imported Expertise", published in Mail Today in May 2014, he wrote, "… an equally dangerous prospect is of 'free market-wallah NREs' (non-resident economists) based mostly in the US (UK based economists are more visible as television gladiators!) descending on Delhi in anticipation of a NDA government, which they see as more market friendly. The danger of the 'free market wallah NREs' is that they give a patently wrong interpretation to Mr Modi's one liner of 'minimal government with maximum governance'."
In his Dainik Jagran column, Kumar also criticised the Western media for being unsuccessful in fathoming the steps taken by the government towards good governance through structural reforms. He said that regardless of such criticism, done with "special intent", the government should continue on its mission. Panagariya had announced last week that he was quitting to return to academics in the US.
Kumar has held senior positions in the Ministries of Industries and Finance, and is currently serving as founding director of Pahle India Foundation, a non-profit financial, economic and political research think-tank. He is an independent member in the high-level search committee for appointment of regulators in the Indian financial sector, a government-nominated independent director on the Central Board of RBI, an independent director on the Board of Dewan Housing Finance Corporation Ltd, and a member of the Advisory Board of CISCO India. Kumar has been a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, the secretary general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and chief economist at the Confederation of Indian Industry.